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The Midland Revolt was a popular uprising which took place in the Midlands of England in 1607. Beginning in late April in Haselbech, Pytchley and Rushton in Northamptonshire, and spreading to Warwickshire and Leicestershire throughout May, riots took place as a protest against the enclosure of common land.
The riots drew considerable support and were led by "Captain Pouch", otherwise known as John Reynolds, a tinker said to be of Desborough, Northamptonshire. He told the protestors he had authority from the King and the Lord of Heaven to destroy enclosures and promised to protect protesters by the contents of his pouch, which he carried by his side, which he said would keep them from all harm. He urged his followers to use no violence in their efforts to destroy the hated enclosures. 3000 protesters were recorded at Hillmorton, Warwickshire and 5000 at Cotesbach, Leicestershire. A curfew was imposed in the city of Leicester, as it was feared citizens would stream out of the city to join the riots. A gibbet was erected in Leicester as a warning, and was pulled down by the citizens.
The culmination of the Midlands Revolt was the Newton Rebellion. In early June, over a thousand protesters had gathered in Newton, near Kettering, Northamptonshire to protest against the enclosures of Thomas Tresham, pulling down hedges and filling ditches. King James I issued a Proclamation and ordered his Deputy Lieutenants in Northamptonshire to put down the riots. Women and children were part of the protest.
The Treshams - both the family at Newton and their more well-known Roman Catholic cousins at nearby Rushton Hall, the family of Francis Tresham, who had been involved two years earlier in the Gunpowder Plot and had apparently died in the Tower of London - were unpopular for their voracious enclosing of land. Sir Thomas Tresham of Rushton was known as "the most odious man in the county". The old Roman Catholic gentry family of the Treshams had long argued with the emerging Puritan gentry family the Montagus of Boughton House about territory. Now Tresham of Newton was enclosing common land - The Brand - that had been part of Rockingham Forest.
Edward Montagu, one of the Deputy Lieutenants, had spoken against enclosure in Parliament some years earlier, but was now placed by the King in the position effectively of defending the Treshams. The local armed bands and militia refused the call-up, so the landowners were forced to use their own servants to suppress the rioters on 8 June 1607. The Royal Proclamation was read twice. The rioters continued in their actions and the gentry and their forces charged. A pitched battle ensued. 40-50 were killed and the leaders of the protest were hanged and quartered.
At St Faith's Church in Newton there is a memorial to the men who were executed. Parish and Assize records have disappeared. The Tresham family declined soon after. The Montagu family went on through marriage to become the Dukes of Buccleuch, one of the biggest landowners in Britain.
The Newton Rebellion was one of the last times that the peasantry of England and the gentry were in open conflict.
John Reynolds' pouch was found after he was captured. It was opened - all that was in it was a piece of green cheese. Captain Reynolds was hanged.
- John E. Martin, Feudalism to Capitalism (London 1983)
- Steve Hindle, "Crime & Popular Protest" in Coward, Barry Ed A Companion to Stuart Britain (Oxford 2003)
- Walter, John. "Reynolds, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/67261. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)