the lavenham rising 1525


About 3 months


Across at least 5 counties in eastern and south- eastern England


Locals below gentry status. No major leaders were identified because the king agreed pardons. Protestors told Duke of Norfolk: “You ask who is our captain… his name is Poverty”


  • Major protests in Suffolk, and taxpayer discontent elsewhere
  • Wolsey is forced to climb down and Henry abandons his aggressive foreign policy
  • Ringleaders appear before the Star Chamber but are pardoned
  • Henry puts all the blame on Wolsey – first step on road to his fall in 1529
  • Tudors change policy to collect more tax from the rich and less from the peasantry in future

Main causes

Tax. Henry VIII sought £800,000 of new tax – a huge sum – in the form of a forced loan, not ordered by parliament, to back his planned invasion of France

Subsidiary causes

Unemployment in the affected areas was rising sharply at the time, and inflation rising fast – 12% fall in peasant’s real income in this decade, prices up 60% since 1500

Degree of threat

Major – for policy, but not for the person of the king. A successful rebellion, but never a political threat to the throne


Resistance to the Amicable Grant can be seen as the product of a Tudor regime that had forgotten the lessons of the earlier tax revolts in Yorkshire and Cornwall.

Since 1497, the state had significantly increased its efforts to raise tax revenues in order to fund a growing administration and a much more ambitious foreign policy.

  • From 1515: Increased assessments on land, income and private assets Wolsey would collect from each individual on the basis of whichever of these would yield the largest sum; a fundamentally unfair process that was widely resented
  • A further hike in the 1520s – to catch the French at a moment of weakness after a severe defeat in Italy – saw Wolsey demand up to a sixth from the laity and a third from the clergy

It is notable that protests were are their strongest not in the poor north but the prosperous south – this was because most of the tax was collected from the relatively well off. There had been a series of good harvest in the early 1520s so there was no real dearth or suffering. However, there were economic problems – fast rising inflation and increased unemployment.

Resentment at the tax was the product of 3 main factors.

  • It was not a one-off. It followed several earlier large demands.
    • A huge loan of £250,000 had been raised in 1522-3
    • Four subsidies across four years had been granted by parliament in 1523 – the Amicable Grant was on top of all these
  • Despite promises, no loan had been repaid
  • It was non-parliamentary – a forced loan ordered by Wolsey. There was resentment that the commons had not had a chance to have a say on whether or not the tax should be granted

The scale of the protest and the unwillingness of the local nobles and gentry to force payment meant collection of the tax had to be first scaled back, then abandoned.

However… although taxation was at an unprecedented peak in the 1520s, you must note that even the failure to raise the Amicable Grant did not deter the government from pushing ahead with further demands. By the 1540s, 15 years later, taxation was at the highest it had been for more than two centuries. What had changed was that Henry took care to collect much more of it from the wealthy, not the peasants.

Reasons for success

  • Widespread protest – in at least 5 counties. Essex, Kent, Warwickshire, Norfolk and Suffolk
  • Rare example of multiple classes uniting – tax affected laity and clergy; nobility resented being made responsible for its collection and threatened with dire consequences if they failed
    • Lord Lisle threatened with execution for failing to collect tax in Berkshire
  • Protestors avoided violence and made it clear they were loyal to the crown and only protesting against this specific tax
    • Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk impressed by a calm demonstration in Suffolk – instead of attacking they wrote to London to request respite for the commons
  • Protestors were ready to march London, bringing the focus of the rebellion to the capital. And there was enough discontent and sympathy inside London for the king not to be certain of their loyalty – the Londoners were the first to be informed that the tax demanded would be halved
  • Because the protests went on for some time, the king’s councillors got good information from the countryside and warned Henry of the likely dire consequences of not backing down. There was much better understanding of the feelings of the commons than in other rebellions in this period.

Key stats, quotes & views

  • There were large gatherings of protestors. 4,000 rebels assemble at Lavenham in Suffolk and are willing to march on London. The Lavenham rebels outnumbered the forced available to the Duke of Suffolk
  • Suffolk gauged the mood of his troops and realised they sympathised with the rebels. He told Wolsey his men “would defend him from all perils, but against their neighbours they would not fight”


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