- The 1549 Rebellions and the Making of Early Modern England
In telling the story of the 1549 rebellions, Andy Wood utilizes an event that is oftentimes neglected in the already full and rich narrative of the Tudor period to address issues related to class, religion, and speech. Wood states at the outset that his book "aims to dispel the notion that 'the masses of the Tudor period' were 'inarticulate'" (xiii). Although Wood in no way romanticizes the 1549 rebellions, he points out that the defamation of the name of leader Robert Kett in the years subsequent to the event occurred in part as an attempt to restore order within society and brand the rebellions as traitorous acts of the lower class. The author stresses that local politics, court politics, and religion were inseparable, and that [End Page 1361] officials frequently used the language of class to divide and subdue the lower classes.
The 1549 Rebellions and the Making of Early Modern England is divided into three parts: context, political language, and consequences. As a part of the contextual setup, Wood not only outlines the events of the summer of 1549: he makes connections between those events and other localized rebellions in years past to point out a pattern of lower-class repression and reaction. In fact, Wood sees the 1549 events less as early modern rebellions, more the end of a cycle of late medieval ones. In relation to language, it is clear that the Tudor authorities dismissed lower class reaction to perceived oppression and utilized strong linguistic cues to subdue and demoralize the masses. Most telling is the prevalent use of silence as a tool. As is typical in gender discussions of this period, the admonishment to be silent is frequently directed towards the lower class. The poor, in addition to women, were to be quiet, both in deference to their betters and as a tool by which the authorities maintained control of an ordered society. Any deviation from such silence, as was the case in 1549, was marked by Tudor officials as so much noise, commotion, or hurly-burly. Wood heavily relates the consequences of the 1549 rebellions to the making of meaning —how these events are remembered, not so much the reality of the moment. As there are a limited number of accounts of Kett's Rebellion, later centuries were dependent upon these often skewed narratives. Wood outlines how these accounts differed from what we know of actual events, and how the changes affected the legacy not only of Kett himself, but of lower-class society as a whole. By fashioning Kett as just a member of the rabble, the created memory of the events also contributes to the decline of insurrection that begins in the Elizabethan period and lasts until the Civil War era.
Wood makes great use of primary documentation in his analysis of the events; however, his analysis of surrounding events and opinions is the most telling. For example, even though we have no direct speeches from Kett himself, Wood's inclusion of the voices of other rebels and commoners not only tells the story of the uprising, but also of the surrounding opinion and how it shifted from year to year and village to village. The author utilizes a wide variety of archival sources to strengthen his argument, especially from Norfolk, the center of the commotion. The depth of source material makes this text a useful resource for scholars. Due to the specificity of the subject, this work might not be appealing to the general reader, although the writing is quite clear and the narrative entertaining. Any upper-level history student, graduate student, or scholar of the Tudor period would find this text appealing, particularly if he or she is investigating class or memory. Wood neatly weaves a story that is important on its own into a larger picture of the meaning of language and events in the creation of a national memory...