To what extent were political factors responsible for Tudor rebellions in the period 1529-1569?

Though certainly a contributing factor to most of the Tudor rebellions, political grievances were not the most significant factor in explaining the outbreak of Tudor rebellion.

In the case of Wyatt’s rebellion in 1554, political grievances may well have been the most important factor due to the prospects of Mary’s marriage to Philip, England’s fear of losing independence and Spanish interference in court; however, under further inspection, it was unlikely to be the sole reason. Political grievances arise predominantly concerning the issue of individuals’ power in government, such as is the case of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. In this rebellion, some of the nobility lost their favour in court and, whilst a contributing factor from the point of view of the gentry, it is highly unlikely that it is the dominating reason as to why 40,000 rebels rose. One of the only rebellions where politics is the most prominent factor is the rebellion of Rhys ap Gruffudd. In this case, the foremost issue was his personal protest against having his Marcher Lordship removed – though it is arguable that this was barely a rebellion at all due to the lack of support it received.

A more significant factor responsible for Tudor rebellions was religion. Religious grievances were a major cause for rebellion in the Pilgrimage of Grace. First of all, the name alone suggests that the rebellion has religious roots and the fact that the rebels sported badges and banners depicting the five wounds of Christ further supported this theory; historian DG Newcombe stated that ‘religious issues dominated the minds of those who rose’. Also, in the case of the Northern Earls’ rebellion in 1569, the aim of rebellion was to replace the monarch with a Catholic queen, obviously suggesting religious motives. Even where Wyatt was driven by Mary’s marriage, the only evidence of violence in the rebellion was the attack on the property of the Catholic Bishop of Winchester implying that there were some religious motives behind the rising.

Another significant factor responsible for Tudor rebellions is economic and social grievances. Kett’s rebellion in 1549 was triggered by economic causes, specifically the use of illegal enclosures. Economic grievances were also present during the Pilgrimage of Grace; at the time of the rebellion the government were trying to collect an unpopular subsidy from communities in the North. Also, the appearance of government commissioners generated wild rumours of increasing taxes, possibly sparking a riot from the commoners. Even the rebellion of Rhys ap Gruffudd had economic roots. The people of Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire refused to pay legal dues creating further tension between them and the Crown.

In conclusion, there are several factors surpassing politics in importance, significantly religion. However, it is argued by many historians such as DG Newcombe who stated that with regards to the Pilgrimage of Grace ‘the roots of the movement were most decidedly economic, its demands predominantly secular, its interest in Rome almost negligible’. This suggests that rebellions during the Tudor period can be attributed only to a combination of factors.

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