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?