Regional variation in rebellion and disorder
This map is supplementary material for the course Investigating the Elizabethans.
Map of Elizabethan England. Click on the regions highlighted for more information explaining why particular parts of the country were prone to rioting and disorder.
Known for its volatility in the medieval period, by the sixteenth century Wales was stable and appears to have been happy to conform to Elizabeth’s Protestant religious settlement.
Ireland was extremely unstable during Elizabeth’s reign. This was due in part to religious conflicts within Ireland and also to the government’s policy of ‘plantation’, which was essentially an early form of colonization where native Irish lands were confiscated and redistributed to ambitious English settlers.
There were a series of outbreaks of rebellion, culminating in a major rebellion in 1595 which came to be known as the ‘Nine Years’ War’ or ‘Tyrone’s Rebellion’ after its leader, the Irish Earl of Tyrone.
The South West
The South West had been known for rebellion earlier in the sixteenth century, with a major outbreak in 1549, sparked by resistance to the introduction of a new Protestant Prayer Book. By Elizabeth’s reign the situation had calmed down – in part because of the government’s brutal response to the 1549 rising.
There were occasional outbreaks of dissent and the region remained both geographically and conceptually distant from central government in London.
Like the South West, East Anglia had been the scene of major rebellion in 1549, though here the unrest was not connected to religion but to disputes within local government. The region was prosperous and wealthy during Elizabeth’s reign, which resulted in stability.
The North of England was the region that most concerned Elizabeth’s government. The majority of the population in this part of the country remained Catholic.
In 1569 a major Catholic rebellion took place, focused around the area north of Durham and led by the powerful local lords, the Earls of Westmorland and Northumberland. The City of York stayed loyal to Elizabeth and the situation fizzled out.
London’s exceptional size and population, coupled with the presence of several of the key locations of government, meant that maintaining order was very important.
There were outbreaks of dissent during Elizabeth’s reign, focused on food shortages and racial tensions, with immigrant populations arousing particular hostility, but the government moved swiftly to regain control and also worked to pre-empt disruption by diverting food supplies to London at times of shortage.
One of the more baffling episodes in the Elizabethan period was the so-called ‘Oxfordshire Rising’ in November 1596.
In essence, four men gathered on Enslow Hill in the expectation of meeting a larger group anatagonised by the ongoing economic crisis. The group dispersed after a couple of hours and were afterwards rounded up by the authorities, two men executed and two dying in prison after interrogation.The strength of the government’s response suggests the anxiety felt by those in charge regarding outbreaks of disorder.