In response to comments made on my previous blog post, I’m writing this post to fully answer the excellent questions received. A response on the comments section from the original post itself might get ‘lost’ as there are a number of points raised so I felt it would be far better to provide further information in the form of a new post.
I think it is important to remember that the topic is designed to be thematic. As a result, answers should also be thematic. The skill of synthesis is going to be displayed best in the stronger answers. My colleague Mike wrote a blog on ‘Five key things to remember for A Level historical themes’ and the skill of synthesis is but a part of this.
As a whole for the thematic essays what our assessors are looking for is:
If we look at the generic levels for this unit (an example can be found on page 13 of this sample assessment material), the skill of synthesis begins to appear in level 3, but is undeveloped. It is really in level 5 and 6 where the explanation and development of synthesis becomes key and this blog is really just highlighting that one aspect. Levels 5 and 6 require better focus, analysis BUT also: ‘a developed synthesis’ at level 5 or ‘a fully developed synthesis’ at level 6. So some synthesis will take a response to level 5, although very weak synthesis would be left in level 4 as the mark scheme for level 4 states ‘to reach a synthesis’. Synthesis is the crucial difference between this paper and the essays on units 1 and 2.
The examples of synthesis provided in the previous blog are not linked to the question previously and are meant purely as examples, In fact, you could probably apply that paragraph to a number of questions on the causes of rebellions in the Tudor era (drawing from the first key topic for that unit), for example ‘Religion was the main cause of rebellion in Tudor England.’ How far do you agree with this view?
If we look at that question of: ‘The Western Rebellion, more than any other rebellion, presented the most serious threat to Tudor government.’ How far do you agree? Then consider this response:
The Western rebellion of 1549 did present Edward VI’s government with a serious challenge, particularly given the context within which it took place. However, in order to assess whether it presented the greatest threat of all Tudor rebellions issues such as the numbers involved, its aims, support and location must be analysed. Given the problems that the government faced in 1549 with widespread unrest and the threat from overseas it was certainly a threat, but as it did not aim to overthrow the Tudors, unlike the dynastic rebellions of Henry VII’s reign, it was not the most serious challenge.
Although the Western rebellion was unable to raise the largest force of the Tudor rebellions, with the Pilgrimage of Grace raising some 40,000 and Kett 15,000, it was still a military threat as is evident from the number of battles, such as Clyst Heath and Sampford Courtenay, that it took government forces to finally defeat it. Other rebellions that required military force, such as Simnel or the Cornish rebels of 1497 were defeated and dispersed as a result of one battle, but the Western rebels proved a much more resilient force and therefore could be seen as the greatest threat.
The threat was even more serious because of the timing. The rebellion occurred at the same time as Kett’s rebellion and trouble in some 25 other counties in eastern and southern England. This, along with the government’s campaign in Scotland and the threat of invasion from France meant that military resources to put the rising down were limited and this allowed the rebellion to develop. This was certainly more serious than the situation in 1536 when , despite the offer of foreign help to the Pilgrims, the government did not face other unrest. However, although the rebellion was during the minority of Edward VI, the Tudors were more secure on the throne than Henry VII had been in 1487 when Simnel invaded with the help of Irish soldiers and German mercenaries paid for by Margaret of Burgundy. As henry had only just seized the throne and there was much support, particularly in the north for the Yorkists, the situation in 1487 was a greater threat, coming just two years after Bosworth than that in 1549, as in 1549 the Tudor dynasty had been on the throne for over fifty years.
The rebels in 1549, unlike those in 1487, 1491 and 1553 did not aim to overthrow the monarch and this meant that 1549 was less of a threat to the government. The rebels in 1549 wanted the government’s religious policy to be abandoned and Catholicism to be restored, whereas Simnel, Warbeck and Northumberland all aimed to overthrow the monarch. Simnel and Warbeck aimed to bring about a ‘Yorkist’ restoration and had the support of a number of nobles, which was not the case in 1549 when noble support for the Western rebels was absent. In 1553 Northumberland aimed to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne and initially at last had the support of the Privy Council, whereas in 1549 the Western Rebels lacked support from outside the region and did not have the sympathy of the ruling elite or the nobility, with the result that unlike 1487, 1491 and 1553 it lacked credible leadership.
Although the rebellion was a long way from London, which unlike Essex and Wyatt made it less of a direct threat to the capital, it did mean that it took longer for royal forces to reach the area and gave the rebels the opportunity to build up their forces. However, the rebellion was less threatening as not only did it fail to march towards London and threaten the capital as the Cornish rebels had in 1497 until they were defeated at Blackheath, but the rebels were unable to take the county town and regional capital of Exeter. In comparison The Pilgrimage of Grace was a far greater threat as it took the regional capital in the north, York, and this was repeated in 1569 when the Northern Earls took Durham and in 1549 when Kett was able to seize Norwich. Exeter remained loyal to the government throughout the siege to which it was subjected by the rebels, suggesting that they lacked both the numerical strength and support that had enabled the other rebels to take regional capitals. In comparison to both Wyatt and Essex it was also far less of a threat to the capital and therefore the government, remaining as it did in the West Country. Wyatt was able to reach Ludgate within the city and only Mary’s speech at Guildhall saved the monarchy from a more serious fate, whilst Essex’s rebellion actually took place within the capital.
However, it might be argued that the tradition of unrest in the region made it a serious threat. The area had risen in 1497 in protest against taxation to fund a war against Scotland, asserting its independent nature and how little integration there was with the rest of England. This tradition can be seen in 1549 as the Cornish rebels argued that they did not want the Prayer Book in English as they did not understand it. Despite this apparent divide from the rest of the country, the rebellion was no different from other peripheral regions, such as the north which felt excluded from the growing centralization and therefore in the Pilgrimage demanded a parliament in the north.
The Western Rebellion, although it proved difficult to suppress was not the most serious threat to the government. In terms of direct challenges to the Tudors the dynastic rebellions were a greater threat, particularly those during the reign of Henry VII when the regime was very insecure, there was still much sympathy for the Yorkist cause and there was recent evidence from Bosworth that the monarchy could be changed by force.
So here, the answer is consistently focused on the question, a range of themes are considered and there is direct comparison across the period. The opening paragraph offers a view and this is sustained through the essay with the conclusion coming back to the argument that the dynastic rebellions were a greater threat. Synthesis is present throughout and comparisons with the Western rebellion are constantly made.
We have a number of candidate style answers that might be best used to highlight it over the course of a response. These should be on the website soon, but you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 01223 553998 and we can send these through to you. You can also follow us on Twitter @OCR_History and of course as always you can add your comments below.
It might also be worth highlighting our regional networks for the Spring Term, which are A Level focussed and can be booked via Eventbrite. They’re completely free and a chance for teachers to get together to discuss ideas and talk to us as well. These are due to run at locations across the country.
Grant Robertson - Subject Specialist - History and Citizenship
Grant started working at OCR in February 2014 as a subject specialist in history and citizenship. His degree is in History and Politics, with a focus on modern European and African history and 19th century political thought. Previously, Grant was a Head of Politics, Law and Humanities in schools in Kent and Kingston upon Thames. Since working with OCR Grant has developed a growing interest in later medieval history, particularly the Mongols and pre-Tudor England. Outside of work he is an F1 junkie and a passionate Charlton Athletic fan, and a lover of long walks in the Norfolk countryside with his family.