The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

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Monday, April 11, 2022

The Lavenham Rebellion of 1525

Holingshead's Chronicles records a rebellion which broke out amongst the weavers of  Hadleigh, Lavenham, and Sudbury, in the year 1525 during Henry VIII's reign. 10,000 men converged on Lavenham. An eyewitness reported that the militants only failed because loyal townsmen led by Sir John Spring had removed the clappers from the bells of Lavenham church, which were to have been rung to signal the start of the uprising. The cause of all the ill-feeling was the 'Amicable Grant', a direct tax unsanctioned by parliament  Henry VIII required additional funds of £800,000 for his war in France, and so Wolsey resorted to the Amicable Grant to avoid having to ask Parliament. Unfortunately, the economy was in recession and 'no man in the country has money to buy or lend'. Discontent reached dangerous levels across England when the 'Amicable Grant provoked reactions ranging from reluctance to outright refusal.

Holingshead wrote 

"The people began to rise on account of the heavy taxes and the general decay of work, the clothiers and farmers being unable to employ them.

The Duke of Suffolk who had a commission to raise the subsidy in Suffolk, persuaded the rich clothiers to assent thereto, but when they came home and turned off their workmen, they assembled in companies, although the harness was taken from them by the Duke's orders, and openly threatened to kill the Cardinal, the Duke, and Sir Robert Drury;

And having got together at Lavenham about 4,000 strong, they rang the bells to alarm the neighbourhood. Upon which the Duke broke down the bridges, to prevent their joining, and immediately sent to the Duke of Norfolk to raise what men he could in Norwich and that County.

Being a great force, he went out and communed with them himself and demanded to know what they would have. John Green, their leader, in the name of them all, assured him that they meant no harm to the king or to the laws, to whom they would be obedient, affirming that Hunger was their captain, the which with her cousin Necessity brought them thus to do, telling him that they and all poor people lived not upon themselves, but the substantial occupiers and traders, and now that they through such payments as were demanded of them, were not able to maintain them in work, they must of necessity perish for want of sustenance.

The Duke hearing them was right sorry, and promised if they would go home quietly he would get them pardon, which he honourably performed after their departure, for he and the Duke of Norfolk came to Bury St. Edmunds where the country people came in their shirts with halters about their necks, begging him to remember his " promises; and thus the two Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk so wisely managed themselves that all were at peace; and they had the good word of the Commons, and the exacters of the subsidy ceased. The leaders of the rebels were sent to the Fleet, but were soon after pardoned and dismissed.


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