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Uniting the Kingdoms? 1066-1603

 
   

England

The Voice of the People

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Down the ages, individuals such as Alfred the Great, Hereward the WakeGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window and Robin Hood have been represented by later generations as embodiments of an 'English' spirit, because of their stands against either foreign invasion or corrupt government. But the growth of English identity was, in fact, slow and uneven. Patriotic language was often used by the leaders of popular protest, but sometimes this was more a strategy to gain legitimacy and support than a genuine expression of a sense of being English.

The most important medieval protest was the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. The movement began in response to frequent war taxes, in particular the poll tax, but grew into a protest against the state of English society in general, including the unpopular Statute of Labourers oppression by lay and clerical landowners. Wat Tyler led a band of artisans and agricultural workers to London, where King Richard II agreed to meet them in person. However, Tyler was killed, the mob was dispersed and the leaders hanged.

 

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The Death of Wat Tyler

 

Enquiry into protests against the crown

Protest about royal government erupted in 1450 in a rebellion led by Jack Cade. The rebels were based in the south-east and represented a wide cross-section of the local community. They marched on London, complaining about the disastrous state of the war in France and the rise of a corrupt, closed circle of 'favourites' around the king, Henry VI. Although the revolt petered out, a commission was summoned to look into grievances in Kent, and similar issues were raised again at the beginning of the Wars of the RosesGlossary term - opens in a pop-up window.

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The Pilgrimage of Grace took place in 1536 in response to the suppression of the monasteries. Although many individuals had benefited from the sale of monastic land, many more opposed the process. The rebellion began in Lincolnshire but quickly spread further to the north of England, where monastic houses played a greater role in society. The movement quickly collapsed, however, and its leaders, including twelve abbots, were hanged.

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Detail from Parliament at Work. By permission of the British Library.
 
Detail from Parliament at Work. By permission of the British Library.