A Remedy to these Evils: Tudor Legislation and the Enclosure Riots


A Remedy to these Evils:
Tudor Legislation and the Enclosure Riots

Teng Wen Li, University of Chicago 

(Initially published in YNUJ Volume 2, 2018)


The agricultural policy of enclosure was practiced in England from the 13th century onwards. The removal of a community’s common rights to land led to rural poverty. In response, the Tudor governments (1405 to 1603) passed anti-enclosure acts beginning from 1489. While anti-enclosure legislation could have slowed or prevented the negative effects of enclosure, by the 1530s, enclosure riots had broken out over parts of England, culminating in the 1549 Kett’s Rebellion. An analysis of Tudor primary sources reveals that legislation enacted from 1489 to 1549 was ineffective. The royal proclamations and Acts of Parliament included anti-enclosure laws, anti-riot laws, and royal pardons. Anti-enclosure laws failed to prevent further enclosure, which was the root cause of the riots. Such laws even encouraged the rioters, who felt that their actions were sanctioned by the government. Neither did the subsequent anti-riot laws stop the outbreak of further riots. Royal pardons for the rioters may also have spurred them to persist in destroying enclosures. Nevertheless, the legislation demonstrates that the government was well- intentioned and attuned to the impacts of enclosure and enclosure laws. These findings bridge the existing gap between the study of Tudor legislation and popular rebellions by social, economic, and legal historians.


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