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Has Dussindale been in the wrong place for 470 years?

PUBLISHED: 17:08 24 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:08 24 October 2018

Author Leo Jary with his new book.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Author Leo Jary with his new book. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2018

A military historian who has studied Kett’s rebellion for decades suggests a new site for the final battle

Author Leo Jary with his new book.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYAuthor Leo Jary with his new book. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

One of the best known events in Norfolk history could be rebooted.

For centuries people have thought that the final battle of Kett’s Rebellion was fought east of Norwich, either on the edge of what now remains of Mousehold Heath, or close to modern-day Dussindale. But military historian Leo Jary, believes the battle site was actually just north of the city centre.

He said: “Forty years experience of working for the Ministry of Defence told me there was something wrong with the idea that the final battle, that saw Kett’s defeat, took place to the east of the city. Contemporary writers wanted to cover-up the fact that the king’s commander, Warwick, had made many mistakes in the campaign and had done little to prevent the rebels from challenging him so close to the city. It could be that the actual name of the battle site was suppressed in order to allow Warwick to save face.”

The rebellion, in 1549, revealed the desperation of the poor after their common land was fenced off by landlords. Robert Kett, a landowner himself, was convinced the rebels were right. Their demands included the ending of a kind of agricultural slavery and, when they were refused, the thousands of rebels captured Norwich. A royal army was scattered, but then a second army was sent in and although many of its weapons were captured, the ensuing battle of Dussindale was a disaster for the rebels. Three thousand were killed and Kett himself was captured in Swannington the following night, tried for treason in London, and hanged at Norwich Castle. His brother was hanged from the tower of Wymondham Abbey on the same December day.

Leo has been intrigued by the history of Kett’s Rebellion since he was a student in the 1950s. Studying the contour lines of a large-scale map he had painstakingly traced, he became convinced that the final battle could not have been fought on the suggested site, but instead took place in an area he calls Magdalen Hill between Magdalen Road and Waterloo Road, with Kett’s men sweeping down from the grassy vantage point still called Kett’s Point off Mousehold Lane

Using his own military and geographical knowledge, and the maps and illustrations he created during his research, he sets out his findings in a fascinating book, Kett 1549: Rewriting the Rebellion.

Now retired, his career was spent as an illustrator, working on projects for the Ministry of Defence including drawing the pictures and maps for training manuals covering everything from battlefield tactics to tank maintenance.

Once he had retired he began writing and illustrating his own books. The first, Through Ancient Gates, brings the lost walls and gates of Norwich back to life with beautifully detailed drawings.

Leo, lives close to the area he believes is the battlefield site. “The battle was an important point in history, not just Norwich history but English history. If Kett had won the battle one wonders what would have followed. The history of the whole country could have been different,” he said.

Kett 1549: Rewriting the Rebellion, subtitled Closer to the Truth about Robert Kett and his Noble Cause, is published by Cromer-based Poppyland Publishing. Poppyland’s Gareth Davies said: “The rebellion itself is not only an important episode in Norwich’s radical past but also part of Norfolk’s story and of national significance.

Christopher Sansom, who writes as CJ Sansom, and whose own novel, Tombland, based on Kett’s Rebellion is out this month, has written the foreword to Leo’s book and said: “I am entirely convinced by his carefully considered arguments which has much influenced my own writing.”

Gareth Davies added: “The fact that CJ Sansom draws on the work for his latest writing shows how new ideas on the past can influence present fiction.”

Kett 1549: Rewriting the Rebellion, by Leo R Jary, is published by Poppyland Publishing on October 30.

The author will be signing copies of the book in Jarrold, Norwich, from 10.30am-12.30pm on Saturday, November 10.

Tombland by C J Sansom was published in October. The seventh novel of his history mystery series is set in Norwich during Kett’s rebellion.

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