The Battle of Fleet Street
What has gone down in history as Wyatt’s Rebellion ended with a rather grubby fight in London, followed by the executions of about 90 of those involved in the rising, many others prudently let off by Queen Mary upon the advice of certain counsellors. But with a little better leadership it is possible that Mary’s reign could have been ended.
The impending marriage of Mary Tudor to Philip of Spain was not to the taste of many in England. Committed Protestants naturally feared the worst for their cause, but more broadly many were concerned that just as had happened with the Netherlands and various Italian states Spain once with a foothold would take control and rule England pitilessly.
A conspiracy of nobles and gentry agreed to launch risings in the Midlands, Devon and Kent, but it was a poorly organised and less-than-secret affair. Only Sir Thomas Wyatt in Kent succeeded in raising a rebel force, numbering perhaps 4000, the Duke of Suffolk failing dismally in the Midlands, as did Sir Peter Carew in the West Country.
Wyatt at Maidstone proved himself capable, soon capturing Rochester and with it winning naval materiel and men. The Duke of Norfolk was sent with a small force to attack Wyatt, but this in fact aided him – 500 of Norfolk’s men defected to the rebels, and the government force fled in disarray, leaving weaponry and treasure.
During much of the crisis London was ambivalent, and had Wyatt marched on the capital without delay he may have prevailed, but he prevaricated for two days before acting, and then was further delayed by a ruse of the government which sent emissaries to Dartford to talk with him, with no intention of compromise.
From Dartford he proceeded to Blackheath , and thence to Southwark . From that point on his plans began to unravel. Mary had persuaded the City that Wyatt would loot it; a reward was placed on Wyatt’s head; offers were made of pardon for those quitting the rebels; and appalling wet weather slowed the march and made it difficult to drag captured artillery along. And fatally for his cause a loyal force of perhaps 10,000 was gathered at Charing Cross, led by the Earl of Pembroke – though it seems that at a critical point in the February 7th end-game this force for a time did not move against the vulnerable rebels, showing perhaps little affection for the new Queen who was at Whitehall with her guards. The Mayor of London had armed men at every gate, intent more on protecting property within the walls than the Crown.
Wyatt, after using his artillery ineffectively, was forced to circumvent St James’ Park (then a hunting ground protected by a wall) heading for Charing Cross. A cavalry charge split Wyatt’s column, the leader at its head making for Ludgate which he found shut against him. Rather charmingly if pathetically Wyatt then went to the pub – the Belle Sauvage on Ludgate Hill, before heading back along Fleet Street towards Temple Bar, like Ludgate barricaded against him. A fierce fight continued for some time in Fleet Street, but the end was inevitable.
The prisons in London were so crowded with captives that churches were pressed into service. The captured Wyatt was executed on April 11, having witnessed from his cell in The Tower the death of Lady Jane Grey . She had played no part in his rising, but Mary judged it dangerous to let a potential focus for future rebellions remain alive. Elizabeth was briefly imprisoned, but as Wyatt had even under torture refused to incriminate her, she was spared Lady Jane’s fate.
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