The Newton Rebellion and Massacre
The British landed classes since the Conquest and possibly before have been able to amass vast estates thanks to the patronage of monarchs – Henry VIII ’s Dissolution of the Monasteries one major such measure – and via exploitation of a legal system which its opponents lacked the skills and funds to combat. Early in the reign of James I both gentry and nobility were involved in enclosing land that had for centuries and longer been in common use.
In Northamptonshire and surrounding counties in 1607 such land grabbing led to increasing discontent among the peasantry, the great families such as the Montagus, Spencers and Mildmays growing richer by removing one of the already precarious means of support that country-folk enjoyed.
Just outside the hamlet of Newton near Kettering the gentry family of Tresham was fencing off common land that had since time immemorial been part of Rockingham Forest where commoners could graze their animals, especially the pigs that were a winter lifeline. Under the leadership of a tinker named John Reynolds who gained the sobriquet Captain Pouch (he had a pouch that contained, he said, something that would miraculously protect his followers), what we would now call direct action ensued: fences were destroyed, ditches filled in.
King James had become increasingly annoyed and perhaps worried by large gathering of peasants protesting against enclosure in the Midlands. In May 1607 he issued a proclamation promising ‘sharper remedies.’ Newton became the testing ground of such remedies.
The militia refused to support the Deputy Lord Lieutenants who had arrived in Newton to put the rising of 300 or so villagers down, so on June 8th the great families used a force comprised of their own servants. When warnings to disperse were ignored by the mob the force charged, and after a short fight the crowd was routed. Between 40 and 50 of their number were killed, women and children among them, and many more injured. Leading figures in the rising taken captive were tried, and soon hanged and quartered. One of those judiciously murdered was John Reynolds. His pouch was pathetically found to contain a small piece of cheese.
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