British Rebellions and Riots

This latest entry in the Freelance Quizbowl University series covers notable rebellions and riots in British history.  These events are organized in chronological order.  Please note that some of the events and clues listed here are beyond the difficulty of most high school events.  This list should not be considered as an endorsement of any particular event appearing as an answer at a regular or novice difficulty high school tournament.


The Anarchy – 1135-1154 – Name given to the turbulent rule of King Stephen I.  Also called the Nineteen Year War.  Its origins trace back to a succession crisis between King Stephen and Empress Matilda (aka Queen Maude), who was the daughter of King Henry I.  Henry I’s only legitimate heir had died in the White Ship Disaster.  The most famous incident in this conflict was Matilda’s daring escape from a besieged Oxford Castle, where she fled across the snow to Wallingford.  The conflict was ended by the Treaty of Wallingford, which was signed between King Stephen and Matilda’s second husband, Geoffrey the Handsome of Anjou.

Peasant’s Revolt – 1381 – Also called Wat Tyler’s Revolt, after its leader.  Not to be confused with the Peasant’s War, which took place in Germany during the time of Martin Luther.  Occurred during the early reign of Richard II.  Peasants were especially upset about the poll tax that Richard’s regents had issued, as well as the general labor shortage resulting from the Black Death.  Others involved in this revolt included John Ball, a Lollard preacher who asked, “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was the gentleman?” and Jack Straw, who led the “Men of Essex”.  The rebels were able to take the Tower of London and kill the Archbishop of Canterbury.  When the rebels gathered at Smithfield, Tyler met with King Richard II and allegedly made a move towards his dagger, which caused William Walworth, the Lord Mayor of London, to kill him.

Jack Cade’s Revolt – 1450 – Rebellion against King Henry VI led by a Kentish man named Jack Cade.  Cade claimed he was actually Jack Mortimer, a relative of Richard of York.  Cade’s rebels took London and proclaimed Cade the Lord Mayor, but they were soon defeated by royal authorities.  Cade himself appears in Shakespeare’s play, Henry VI.

Pilgrimage of Grace – 1536 – Name given to the rebellion against Henry VIII severing ties with Rome and forming the Church of England.  The rebels were especially upset about Henry’s Dissolutions of the Monasteries, where monastic land and property was seized by the crown.  The rebels also were opposed to the Ten Articles, which were guidelines set by Thomas Cranmer for the Church of England.  The revolt was led by Robert Aske, who agreed to dismiss the rebels after receiving promises of reform by the king.  Because these reforms weren’t actually carried out, the same group of rebels revolted again in Bigod’s Rebellion.

First Jacobite Rising – 1715 – The first of two rebellions against Protestant rule following the Glorious Revolution, an event where the Catholic, James II, was replaced by the Protestant monarchs, William and Mary.  In Ireland, this revolt largely had the support of Catholics, although in Scotland it also attracted non-Catholics who advocated causes like absolute monarchy.  The rebels in this revolt were mainly Scottish Highlanders who supported the cause of James Francis, a Stuart known as the Old Pretender.  People who participated in this revolt were known as the “Fifteen” after the year when it took place, 1715.  The rebellion ended with the Battle of Preston (not to be confused with the battle of the same name from the English Civil War), where the rebels were defeated.

Second Jacobite Rising – 1745 – Like the First Jacobite Rising, this rebellion was based in Scotland and sought to return a Stuart monarch to the throne of England.  In this case, the rebels rallied behind Charles, The Young Pretender (also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie).  This rebellion broke out during the War of the Austrian Succession and had the backing of the French monarchy, which was at war with England at the time.  Rebels were known as the “Forty Five” after the year in which this rising took place.  The rebellion ended when the rebels were defeated at the Battle of Culloden, where the Duke of Cumberland was victorious.

Gordon Riots – 1780 – Riots that broke out in London in a fervor of anti-Catholic sentiment.  Restrictions against Catholics in the Popery Act of 1698 had recently been eased.  In reaction to this, Lord George Gordon, a member of Parliament, introduced a measure to try to reverse these concessions to Catholics.  This sparked his supporters to start rioting for six days in London.  Many of the rioters wore blue ribbons in their hats to match the style of Lord Gordon.  On “Black Wednesday” during the riots, several rioters broke into a distillery owned by Thomas Langdale and drank themselves to death.  The riots were put down by John Wilkes, the co-namesake of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  They also served as the backdrop for Charles Dickens’ novel, Barnaby Rudge.

Peterloo Massacre – 1819 – In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, the Manchester Patriotic Union organized a speech to be given by Henry Hunt in St. Peter’s Fields in Manchester that was to advocate for Parliamentary reform (none of the three Reform Bills had yet been passed).   William Hulton and General L’Estrange decided to arrest Hunt and other speakers shortly after the speeches began and to disperse the crowd that had gathered.  In doing so, the cavalry charged the crowd and ended up killing 15 people.  The massacre was named for the Battle of Waterloo.  In response to this event, Parliament passed the Six Acts, which cracked down on the rights of radicals to organize and publish.  It also resulted in the founding of The Guardian newspaper and prompted Percy Shelley to criticize the government’s actions in The Masque of Anarchy.