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Department of History

Staff Profile

Publication details for Professor Christian Liddy

2015 'Urban enclosure riots: Risings of the commons in English towns, 1480-1525', Past & Present 226, pp. 41-77

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

The process of enclosure, in which hedges, ditches and gates were erected to extinguish or inhibit common rights to land, is usually associated with agrarian society. The enclosure riot, in which hedges were uprooted, ditches levelled and gates destroyed, has been regarded therefore largely as a rural phenomenon.1 It has generated considerable interest from those working at the interstice between social and political history, in the increasingly productive field of popular politics in early modern England. The enclosure riot has been singled out as ‘the pre-eminent form of social protest’ from the 1530s to the 1640s.2

A generation or so earlier, the enclosure riot left its mark upon the urban landscape. There were five major enclosure riots in York within fifteen years: in 1480, 1484, 1486, 1492 and 1494. In Coventry seven riots on a comparable scale occurred, in 1481, 1489, 1494, 1495, 1509, 1524 and 1525. In February 1495 a furious Henry VII summoned the mayor of York to Greenwich and told him that, if the current regime did not return peace to the city, ‘I most and woll put in other rewlers that woll rewle and govern the Citie accordyng to my lawez’.3 In 1496, after two successive years of enclosure riots, Henry exhorted ‘all the cominaltie’ of Coventry to obey the mayor and aldermen, and cautioned, in the strongest possible tone, against the making of unlawful conventicles and assemblies ‘for the pretense of any right’.4 In 1525 Thomas Grey, the second marquis of Dorset, reassured Henry VIII that he had an army of several thousand men camped outside Coventry in the event of further disorder.5 Enclosure riots, many of which elicited intervention from Westminster, proliferated in this period in towns and cities across England: in Nottingham (1483, 1511 and 1512), Colchester (1489), …