A Norfolk Rising - Kett's Rebellion

I just read "Robert Kett and the Norfolk Uprising" Joseph Clayton. First published 1912.

I have read the story years ago, but reading this book brought to me just how a significant, and underplayed story this was. I don't think that it is well known outside of Norfolk. 16th Century English peasants were rebelling against a background of both religious strife, and from economic changes in agriculture - where many people were being cast aside as surplus to requirement, as land owners enclosed the old medieval communal arable fields to replace the old commonwealth with sheep pastures, that were becoming more profitable. Many English peasants were losing their livelihoods and homes, while at the same time, laws were introduced to punish the homeless poor with whipping, mutilation, slavery, and hanging.

Peasants uprisings were popping up all over England, but often lacked leadership, and were easily suppressed. However, here in Wymondham in 1549, a local land owner named Robert Kett, and his brother William, sided with the rebels, destroyed their own enclosures, then joined them. Robert Kett led the rebellion to the walls of the nearby City of Norwich. At it's peak, his peasant army reached an estimated 20,000. An army to suppress them which included Italian knights was sent from London. They were beaten by the peasants, who then took control of Norwich. Kett held courts in front of an oak tree, known as the "Tree of Reformation", on a wooded hill just outside of the City, where he held his main camp. Rebels captured wealthy landlords and farmers from the surrounding countryside, and they were tried for crimes against the people. None were executed. The maximum punishment was to be gaoled in the City. It seems that Kett was quite a humanitarian for his time, and in some ways reminds myself of another Norfolk man 300 years later, Thomas Paine.

A second more organised army with artillery was sent from London. The rebels withdrew from the City back to their hill camp. In the ensuing battle though, the rebels not only held, but appeared to be winning, to the point when the mayor and alderman started asking the army to leave. Then fresh reinforcements arrived from London, 1,500 Germanic knights. At the same time, desperate for resources, Kett abandoned his hill base, to fight the reinforced army in a dale on the edge of Norwich. This mistake cost him the battle. Some of the peasants bravely held out, to the point where the aristocratic general almost begged them to surrender, with personal promises of pardon. When they did surrender, he did of course, hang them, as was the practice in many suppressed uprisings in English history.

Robert and his brother were captured, tried in London, then brought back to Norfolk to be executed. Robert was hung and gibbeted from the walls of Norwich Castle. William was hung and gibbeted from the West Tower of Wymondham Abbey, only 150 yards from where I now live. 

From a population genetics point of view, I would be interested to know just how many ethnic German and Italians were in London at this time - that their mercenaries were so available to the Crown.

From a genealogical point of view, I do wonder if, or who any of my ancestors were in that 20,000 strong peasant army in 1549.

Immigration into East Anglia

Hear a sentence like "immigrants in Eastern England", and many people might think of the recent immigration from countries such as Poland, Lithuania, and Romania.  However, I'm interested in the longer picture, and how that has impacted the genetic genealogy of East Anglians.

I have noticed, that my mother's 23andMe ancestral composition, is more similar to those of some Dutch testers, than most Irish, Scottish, or West British testers.  23andme has reported at least one small segment shared with a Dutch tester.  My mother on Ancestry Composition speculative mode, scored only 36% "British & Irish", followed by 13% "French & German", 4% "Scandinavian", 2% "South European", and 40% unassigned "Broadly NW European".

My first reaction was that the 23andme calculators and references were confused by relatively ancient admixture, specifically Early Medieval Immigration between the 5th and 11th centuries AD.  The Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods.

However, I'm beginning to review how I see the history of East Anglia.  I think that like many people, I've underplayed the contribution not only of earlier unrecorded immigration events, but also of ongoing later immigration from the European Continent, into East Anglia.

A shock historical suggestion, is that during the late 16th Century, almost a third of the population of the City of Norwich, belonged to an immigrant community of Dutch, Flemish, and Walloon protestants, that had recently settled there, as refugees from persecution on the Continent.  I don't know how many of these immigrants, into centres such as Norwich, Ipswich, kings Lynn, and Great Yarmouth, left descendants in East Anglia.  My parent's recorded Norfolk ancestry is very rural - outside of Norwich.  However, how much DNA did these more recent immigrants leave behind in Norfolk, and East Anglia as a whole?

The immigration events of the 5th to 11th centuries AD into East Anglia, were most likely the most significant.  However, I believe it is wrong to see them as the only immigration events.  The POBI Study found DNA evidence of an earlier, perhaps late prehistoric immigration from the Continent.  Caesar claimed that the people that he called the Belgae had recently immigrated to South East Britain, from the area that is now Belgium.

Neither were the Anglo-Saxon, Dane-Law, nor Norman immigration events the last to the region.  It continued as a background, with occasional known events, such as the Strangers from what is now Belgium and the Netherlands, to Norwich.  East Anglia has always had stronger connections to across the North Sea, than some other regions of Britain. Therefore it should be no suprise, that my mother, with her strong recorded East Norfolk ancestry, has an autosomal ancestry composition, that resembles the Dutch, more than the Welsh or Irish.

I visited the Bridewell Alley Museum today, for the first time for many years, and picked up a new book: Strangers.  A History of Norwich's Incomers by Frank Meeres 2012.  It's full of references to the history of immigration into Norwich.  I thought that it might be useful, to harvest some of the continental immigrant surnames mentioned in this book:

Medieval

  • Addurge (French)
  • Asger (Bruges, Belgium).
  • de Norwege (Norway)
  • Dutchman
  • Glasier (French)
  • Hensser  (Dutch)
  • Isborne 
  • Jevort (French)
  • Johnson (Dutch)
  • Kempe de Gaunt (Ghent)
  • Kenneton (French)
  • Mouner  (French)
  • Oreng (French)
  • Peterson (Dutch)
  • Petirson (Dutch)
  • Rijsel (Flemish)
  • Tiphany (French)

In 1343, a boat capsized at Cantley.  It had passengers from Latvia and Sweden.

The Strangers 1560 - 1600 AD

In 1571, a return of the Strangers, recorded that there were 4,013 Strangers in Norwich.  This included 868 Dutchmen, and 203 Walloon men.

  • Bateman
  • Clarebote (Winnezele)
  • Clapettia
  • Clercke (Dutch)
  • Baet
  • Bake (Ypres)
  • Bartingham (Dutch)
  • Coene (Ypres)
  • Dedecre (Dutch)
  • De Linne
  • De Mol
  • De Turk (Flanders)
  • Der Haghe
  • Des Passett
  • Faber (East Flanders)
  • Goddarte
  • Gruter (Antwerp)
  • Herjtes (Flemish)
  • Hodgeson (Dutch)
  • Johnson (Dutch)
  • Keerlinck (Ypres)
  • Lewalle (Walloon)
  • Moded (Antwerp)
  • Navegeer
  • Le Dente
  • Poultier (Dieppe)
  • Powells (Dutch)
  • Steene (Dutch)
  • Vamboute (St Jans-Kappel)
  • Van Brugen (Dutch)
  • Waells (Houtkerke)
  • Wervekin (Ypres)

These are just the surnames of some of the Norwich Strangers, mentioned in the above book.  Just how much did they, and others, contribute though, to the genealogy of Norfolk and East Anglia.  Most belonged to aspiring classes of artisans and merchants.  Weavers, printers, hat makers, etc.  How much of their DNA might have seeped into the surrounding countryside?

Giving up Ancestors

I don't have to give these two up. My great grandfather Fred Smith, holding the hand of his daughter and my late grandmother Doris Smith around about 100 years ago in Norwich.

Trimming the branches

I make mistakes.  Genealogy is rarely perfect.  A part of the fun of the pastime, is in validating, verifying, and proving descent.  Sometimes though, the desire to simply add branches and histories, overtakes the quality control.  I'm guilty of that.  I've recently made a number of mistakes in my genealogical research.  A very good researcher would not make those mistakes in the first place.  They would research methodically and carefully, recording every data, looking for correlations - before they accept descent.  I on the other hand, still have a lot to learn.  However, I am willing to sometimes go back, check, check again, and if I'm not happy, remove ancestors, remove branches, remove histories.

With my recent return to genealogy, and my baptism into internet genealogical resources, I've witnessed the pitfall of the new age of research.  Family History websites push other people's trees and research at you.  However, so, so many of those that I've looked at, are erroneous, poorly sourced, and copied around like a mutated gene.  I want to create an ancestral record and history that is better than that.  I have an awful lot of work to do.

My recent mistakes have been shameful.  I made the above mistake - allowing MyHeritage.com to add branches to a couple of lines.  On checking their sources, and researching for myself, I couldn't validate the connections.  I removed them.

I wrongly identified a service record as belonging to a great grandfather.  That one hurt.

I extended my paternal surname line with too much haste.  I grabbed at a probable ancestor.  Later checks revealed a doppelganger.  I've had to go back to the drawing board, removing three generations from that line.

I don't regret these mistakes.  I'm always checking for validity.  A good quality family tree is better than a massive, old, but incorrect record.  The fun is after all, in the research, and that seems to go on forever.

Preserving our genetic heritage

The above portrait is of my great uncle Leonard Smith, with my grandmother, Doris Smith of Norwich.  Taken circa 1904.

Preserving our genetic heritage

I've ordered a genetic profiling kit to test my mother.  I want the results 1) for phasing with my own results, in order to better understand where different segments on my chromosomes originate from - from which parent.  2) because I feel that my mother has a particularly rich, documented, and very localised Norfolk ancestry.  Finally 3) because I feel almost duty bound to do so, while I can.  I've lost my father.  My mother will not always be here, as neither will I.  I wont always have the chance to do this.  By examining Mum's SNPs, I'll be able to find out exactly what SNPs my late father gave me.  I think that I've seen programs that try to rebuild the DNA of a missing parent, by combining the results of their children or / and other relatives.

This has lead me to ponder over the future.  Will we want to preserve the genetic scans of our parents and grandparents?  Will the desire to capture photographic images of our elders, then to preserve them long after they've gone, transform itself into a desire to preserve genetic profiles?  Will we value the raw data of their SNPs?  Will great granny's genome be handed down in the form of binary data from chip to chip?  Will families pride themselves on the ownership of a SNP scan data from a great great grandparent?