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AGENT 2007: NORTHAMPTONSHIRE’S STUART REBELS
Write Dope on Pnuk part 31
If I ask you to think about the rebels of the reign of King James I (VI of Scotland) I don’t blame you for only remembering the Gunpowder Plot. November 1605 and Robert Catesby and his co-conspirators (including Francis Tresham) hire mercenary Guido Fawkes to light the fuse on 36 barrels of explosive under Parliament. Make no mistake about it; these were religious extremists who planned to return Britain to the Catholic faith by the most direct method to hand, a swift and bloody revolution.
This was not the only insurrection of the era and I maintain that another is far more deserving of our celebration. For the roots of this other rebellion we must look at the history of enclosure.
Following the Black Death in Britain in the 1350s the shortage of labour had contributed to the social pressures that lead to the Peasants Revolt of the 1380s. In the fifteenth century, the price of wool started to rise and sheep farming, previously conducted on more marginal land not suitable for arable cultivation, became more profitable. The landowners started to enclose the old communal fields. They also enclosed the commons and the wastes, sometimes going as far as to demolish villages to turn them all over to sheep. These landless people now migrated to the towns, adding to the population there.
By the middle of the sixteenth century, with the sale of monastic lands to the wealthy, the pace of enclosure was such that risings occurred against the practice and Parliament regularly looked into it, for it was itself concerned.
In 1604, Sir Edward Montagu spoke in the House of Commons about “the depopulation and daily excessive conversion of tillage into pasture” in Northamptonshire.
In May, 1607 around a thousand landless people occupied The Brand near Newton, not far from Corby. John Reynolds who was known, because of a distinctive bag, as Captain Pouch, led them. In this leather bag he said he had sufficient matter to defend them. As the numbers of these Levellers (so known because they levelled, or pulled down, fences) had grown, so similar revolts, destroying hedges and filling in ditches, broke out in Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Huntingdonshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Warwickshire.
On June 8, local landowners, including both Edward Montagu and the Tresham family, lead their armed servants to The Brand to put down this rebellious activity. 40-50 of the Levellers were killed in the battle, three more were taken away to be hung, drawn and quartered, and the Midlands Revolt was over. When John Reynolds's bag was searched, it was found to contain a lump of green cheese.
This had been a stand against the growth of capitalism as it tried to destroy the lives of the common folk. And despite the failure of the revolt, their grievances were not forgotten. In 1620 the greatest English judge Sir Edward Coke stated that depopulation was against the laws of the realm, and that enclosers who kept a shepherd and a dog instead of a flourishing village community were hateful to both God and man. Something certain superstores could equally be told today.
And this was not the last of agrarian rebellion in Northamptonshire. In 1650 a group of Diggers in Wellingborough attempted to occupy the common in order to be able to grow food for their impoverished families.
Thus it is the pleasure of the Decentral Committee of The Invincible Army to name John Reynolds, aka Captain Pouch, as worthy of the term Atriarch.
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