Social and Economic: As population levels started to rise in the second half of the sixteenth century, pressure on land for food and work increased, and the enclosure of common land, whether agreed amicably among farmers or enforced illegally by greedy landlords, was seen by distressed groups as the cause of their grief. For much of the period grain prices rose ahead of wool prices and enclosure attracted less political attention. By 1590s, however, private profit was replacing communal co-operation. Allegations that common lands had been fenced off, villagers denied rights of pasturage and land converted from arable to pasture lay behind the food riots in the south-west and south-east of England in 1595 and the enclosure rebellion in Oxfordshire in 1596.
Four men gathered at Enslow Hill with the intention of seizing arms and artillery from the home of Lord Norris, the lord lieutenant of Oxford, and many more protesters but no one else joined in. It is difficult to judge whether the Oxfordshire rebels were serious about murdering seven local landlords who had enclosed the fields nearby but it could explain the reluctance of serving men to join them. Although the Privy council feared that similar plans existed to seize food supplies and attack gentry and their farms, no further disturbances occurred.
On the face of it there seemed little wrong with the organisation of this rising: the ringleaders spent a long time planning their moves and determining when and where it would take place. Unfortunately secrecy was not high on their agenda and a fair-weather colleague alerted his Lord of the intended rising. The rebel’s choice of Enslow Hill made their arrest rather predictable and the attempted rebellion was defeated before it could start.
The council from its treatment of the rebels [see below] clearly considered this rebellion threatening although in reality it never got started.
Five ringleaders were taken to London, interrogated, imprisoned for six months, tortured and then sentenced to death for making war against the Queen. In June two were hanged, drawn and quartered the fate of the rest is unknown. On four occasions the council ordered the Lord Lieutenant to make arrests even though he only believed no more than 20 men were involved. As a result many innocent men found themselves in London prisons. Clearly the privy council over-reacted out of fear that this was part of a larger conspiracy or that a similar incident might occur elsewhere. In a climate of suspicion and uncertainty, it had decided against taking any chances.
The Privy council did as a result of the rising restore land under tillage and initiate prosecutions against illegal enclosures.