Will government pardon heroic Norfolk man hanged for treason?

The world is full of past injustices, but can they be put right centuries later by our present politicians?

image Norwich North MP Ian Gibson is today leading a debate in the House of Commons hoping to overturn the conviction of Norfolk hero Robert Kett, who was executed for treason in 1549 after fighting off the advances of a royal army with his 16,000 men.

It happened because the men were starving. During the Tudor period, large numbers of farmers changed from growing crops to raising sheep. This involved enclosing arable land and turning it into pasture for sheep.

Sheep farming became so profitable that large landowners image began to enclose common land. For hundreds of years this land had been used by all the people who lived in the village. Many people became furious about this and began tearing down the hedges that had been used to enclose the common land; they had, in effect, been left to starve as they had no land of their own.

Kett and his angry men marched to Norwich, but the mayor  refused to let Kett’s army enter the city. However, Kett and his men, armed with spears, swords and pitchforks, successfully stormed the city walls. The government was shocked when it heard that Kett and his rebels controlled the second largest city in England.

Eventually, Kett was captured and executed for treason. Now Ian Gibson is hoping that he can help overturn this conviction by 7 December – the anniversary of Robert’s and his brother William’s death.

He says that Kett is recognised today as a “courageous leader” in a struggle for better conditions for the poor, and the government should recognise this too.

“I have put down this early day motion to raise awareness of the issue and I have also written to the Ministry of Justice asking them to work with us to overturn this unfair verdict of treason”

This sad story reminded me of the unfortunate Littleport Rioters whose hungry bellies caused by high bread and wheat prices led them to the gallows too, or deportation, after they stole and ran amok in the Ely area, close to where I live.

The Littleport Riots happened after the victory over Napoleon in 1816 and England was left in a very poor condition. Hundreds of people across the country were not only poor but at the point of starvation.

I am struck by the bravery and desperation of these poor souls who fought against authority as a last resort because of their hunger. Centuries later, food riots are still raging today in parts of the world, and food today is a political weapon. This story shows a map of the world where food riots have happened recently.

Can government today overturn injustices from the past 450 years when laws were different? Should the Littleport rioters, and others like them, be pardoned too? Where do you draw the line?


  1. Hi Ellee,
    I have added you to my facebookand hope that I have the right person.

    Best wishes

  2. How crazy – why doesn’t he grant his descendents, if he had any, the freedom of the City of Norwich instead?

  3. Hi Michael, yes, that would be fine. I have never joined a group of rebels before!

  4. Hi Ellee,
    thank you for your comments. Would it be ok to add you to my face book account as I have a site just for Ketts Rebellion?
    Many thanks

  5. That’s all well and good but hasn’t he got something more productive to do with his time? Maybe helping some of his constituents with their problems should be more his priority.

  6. A pardon achieves nothing but the publicity an EDM gets may get Kett’s story some worthwhile publicity.

    Should the story be known more widely? Yes!

    Is th EDM worthwhile? No!

  7. Michael, thank you too for your comment. I saw you briefly on the BBC News before I had to dash out to Cambridge Toastmasters. If you could please keep me informed on the outcomes of this EDM, I would be most grateful. And good luck with your book.

  8. Q9, bread does cost over £1, it is nearer £1.50 in some places for the brown, wholesome stuff. But I take your point.

    Deb, I agree with your views on this. Kett wins my total admiration for standing up for the poor man the way he did. This story would make a wonderful film. When are you going to start writing a blog, btw?

    Maalie, sometimes closure is not possible, however desirable.

    Jams, I read up about Admiral Byng, it was very interesting, another man who died unjustly. As you say, it is important that their legacy lives on.

  9. Bloody Norfolk farmers always moaning about something….

  10. I think this sort of posthumous pardoning may be relevant if there are living relatives who might then obtain “closure” but maybe this case is going back rather a long way!

  11. As a symbolic gesture to a historic figure who derseve to be better remembered it is not a bad thing. But it is just a symbolic gesture. As for a pardon? Mr Gibson has less chance than the move a couple of years ago to get Admiral Byng pardoned.

    THe best legacy is to ensure that he and many others are remembered

  12. Deb Roberts

    The good people of Norwich can be justly proud of Ketts fight .
    A wealthy landowner(he owned the Manor of Wymondham )and owner of enclosures himself when his own enclosures were torn down he didnt go for the culprits but decided to lead them .
    However , he doesnt need a pardon at this late stage nor apologies .
    No more than do we need to apologize for the slave trade (we can also remember that it was the British who first realised how loathsome and immoral was the trade and sent the Navy to free those on the Arab trades vessals ) nor for such as Oliver Cromwells revolting actions in Ireland ( my family were Catholic , Jacobite and land owners , we were decimated )
    kett can be remembered in that in his actions ,along with so many other good folk of conscience over hundreds of years , he was part of the making this land .
    We now need to remember what it was he and so many others were striving for , freedom , liberty and justice .
    We are in greater danger now than for many a long year in loosing all these.
    In Ketts many demands to King Edward IV was the following at item 25.” We pray that no manor of person having a manor of his own shall be no others bailiff but only his own “

  13. I very interesting post, I hadn’t heard of Robert Kett before.

  14. Kett was undoubtedly a hero in his locality, and I’d like to think I could have been as brave as that under the circumstances. But there’s no doubt that he broke the law of the time and that he knew it. He must have expected his fate. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the situation, nothing can now be done to alter it.
    By all means remember the man and applaud his humanity, but remember that the law was different then.

  15. I am a writer working on a book on Robert Kett. I contacted Dr Ian Gibson MP on presenting an early day motion on Robert Kett. This is very important as the people of Norwich still regard Robert Kett as a hero.

  16. No I dont think the wrongs of 450 years ago can be put right now – and let’s face it there are plenty of other things that need fixing!

  17. Heroism & valour is always a two edged sword.
    George Washington may have been simply a rebel as far as the red coats were concerned, yet he became the father of the most ‘powerful’ nation on earth.

    Alas in this day and age, we cannot really appreciate what it is to be hungry – and I don’t just mean for a day.
    Sure those in power and with the monet can still be insensitive to the needs of the less well off – but never to the point where thousands of starving and/or landless people are forced to riot.

    Mind you I always wonder what would happen in England, if in a recession a ‘government’ decided not to increase benefits and state pensions in line with inflation – and people were unable to buy food, never mind pay the rent.

    Fortunately even petrol prices are going down. Less than a pound in Esso petrol stations. 96.9p

    But imagine if bread went over a pound a loaf.
    Imagine if all eggs (not just organic or free range) were more than a pound for half dozen.
    Imagine if chicken were a fiver a pop
    Imagine if a pound of potatoes were a pound a pound.
    Imagine if rice which doubled in price over the last twelve months, doubled again …

    Would reducing taxes be of any use to those who don’t earn enuff to pay taxes
    or would an increase in benefits and/or food subsidies be the answer.

    I note it is not beer drinkers but pub landlords in Cambridge who are demanding a reduction on taxes on beer.

    And I also note that though the pound has gone down against the dollar, petrol prices at the fuel pump are still going down … go figure!

  18. What a staggering waste of time and money. Maybe he should raise an EDM asking for the Israeli government to pardon Jesus Christ while he’s at it.

    We’ve got enough problems to deal with right now without dealing with the injustices of people who died 450 years ago.

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