The Wyatt Rebellion of 1554

Saturday, December 28th, 2019

The Wyatt Rebellion of 1554

The Wyatt Rebellion was an uprising named after Thomas Wyatt, an English politician and rebel leader. It arose durin the reign of Mary I out of fear that England would once again be Catholicised, and there was serious concern about the determination of Queen Mary I to marry Philip of Spain.

Initial Plans:

There were four chief rebel leaders throughout this rebellion: Sir Thomas Wyatt, Sir James Croft, Sir Peter Carew, and Henry Grey. They  were each from different counties and wielded significant power. They all planned to raise rebellions in their counties and then march on London on 18 March 1554. What they hoped would result from this was for Mary to be replaced on the throne with Elizabeth, her half-sister, who would go on to marry Lord Devon. Furthermore, they hoped for a fleet of French ships that would prevent Philip of Spain from reaching England.

The rebellion gained momentum when Lord Devon was arrested by Simon Renard, the Holy Roman Empire’s ambassador to England. Renard suspected a plot and, after interrogation, Lord Devon confirmed it.

The Rebellion:

Of the four chief rebel leaders, Thomas Wyatt was the only one to raise a substantial force. Wyatt occupied Rochester on 26 January and issued a proclamation to the country. Wyatt soon had around three thousand men at his command, which was increased to around four thousand once the Duke of Norfolk sent a detachment of London militia known as ‘Trainbands’ against him, who then switched sides to join Wyatt.

Elizabeth had been summoned to the court for her own protection. The Queen and Council asked Wyatt for his terms, to which he demanded the Tower of London, and power over the Queen. These demands where so crazy that an initially sympathetic London turned against him.

Mary’s supporters blocked Wyatt’s army from entering the city, and with the help of Sir John Brydges who was prepared to fire the guns of the Tower on London Bridge,  drove Wyatt away. Soon after the army broke up having been confronted by the inhabitants of Ludgate.

The Execution:

Thomas Wyatt was beheaded at Tower Hill, quartered on the scaffold and his bowels and genitals burned beside that same scaffold. His head and quarters were placed in a basket and carried to Newgate to be parboiled.

Why not set them alight too?

In England burning was used for women accused of treason while men were hanged, drawn and quartered – although parts of them (like Wyatt’s bowels and genitals) were sometimes burned. Most commonly, however, burning was used for men or women found guilty of heresy. To find out more about how fire was important in the Tudor ages, read the chapter on fire in Histories of the Unexpected: The Tudors.

Written by Tom Johnston

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