“Let God Work!”: Drama and Rebellion in Fifteenth-Century East Anglia

  • Kellie Robertson
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In a 1449 petition to Henry VI, John Paston asked not only for the return of one of his occupied manor houses, but he also lamented the general lawlessness that plagued East Anglia as a result of the depredations of William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, a favorite of Henry VI. While gentry families like the Pastons were subjected to systematic bureaucratic extortion and oppression by Suffolk’s minions, it was not just local property owners who were outraged by these persecutions. When the rebel Jack Cade, encamped on Blackheath with at least 3000 followers, addressed his own petition to Henry VI in June 1450, he too emphasized the lawlessness of the country that had resulted from Suffolk’s political policy as well as the correlative harm done by his unscrupulous associates. The rebels’ petition protested abuses of the legal system that victimized small landholders and poor manorial tenants who, afflicted by maintenance and purveyance, were forced to labor for and pay rents to whoever claimed a manor on a given day.2 That Cade specifically asked for the repeal of the labor statutes as part of his program of demands showed a responsiveness to the concerns of the lowest elements of society; its significance was to become even more pronounced in the aftermath of the unsuccessful uprising, when labor unrest became indissolubly associated with rebellion.


Fifteenth Century Labor Legislation Labor Unrest Manorial Court True Labor 
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© Kellie Robertson 2006

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  • Kellie Robertson

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