470 Years from Kett: Economic and Spiritual Injustice

470 years ago today, ‘the commotion time’ came to a bloody end. Led by Robert Kett from Norfolk, 16000 working folk seized Norwich to demand a fairer society. They sent 29 demands down to the government in London. Firstly, they wanted economic justice:

We pray your grace that where it is enacted for Inclosyng that it be not hurtfull to suche as haue enclosed saffren groundes for they be gretly chargeablye to them and that ffrome hensforth noman shall enclose eny more.

To ‘enclose’ meant to replace the open fields which were worked by peasant farmers with hedged fields- much as we have today- so sheep could graze without wandering. Wool had become more profitable than renting land to tenants, so consequently, they were turned out and replaced by sheep. 

We pray your grace that no lord of no mannor shall comon uppon the Comons 

Lords and gentry took land which was available to all- the village commons- enclosing it, depriving the poor of grazing for their few animals. Hence no lord shall ‘comon upon the commons’.

As well as these (perfectly reasonable, in my view) demands, they also make spiritual requests, showing that these men had been affected by the recent reformation of the church:

 [W]e pray that [any prest] or vicars that be nat able to preche and sett forth the woorde of god to hys parissheners may be clerely putt from hys benyfice and the parissheners there to chose an other or elles the pateron or lord of the towne.

These men understood that poverty was not just an economic state, but a spiritual one, also. Here, they ask for clergymen who cannot ‘preach and set forth the word of God to his parishioners’ be put out of the church, and the parishioners choose another who can. Just 14 years after the publication of Coverdale’s Bible, these ‘rebels’ are complaining about vicars who cannot or will not preach to them.

These demands were ignored and their authors violently subdued by a royal army, the leaders executed and the men and their families dispersed from their camp on Mousehold Heath. True justice- economic, legal or moral, will never be fully achieved until such time as Christ returns to rule. Even today, many parish churches are occupied by clergy who do not set forth the word of God, receiving the church’s pay but offering no nourishment to those who would listen. Even so, Lord. Come quickly!

 

Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,

And princes will rule with justice.

A man will be as a hiding place from the wind,

And a cover from the tempest,

As rivers of water in a dry place,

As the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.

The eyes of those who see will not be dim,

And the ears of those who hear will listen.

Also the heart of the rash will understand knowledge,

And the tongue of the stammerers will be ready to speak plainly. 

Isaiah 32:1-4

 

Quotes from Kett taken from the British Library Archive