In the chaotic summer of 1549, amidst a backdrop of nationwide civil disorder subsequently termed the 'commotion time', the popular uprising known as Kett's Rebellion erupted in East Anglia on 12 July. While the revolt was initially indistinguishable from the spate of riots occurring elsewhere in England, it rapidly escalated from a small-scale anti-enclosure protest at Wymondham into a well-organised insurgency that captured Norwich on 24 July, maintaining control of the city and much of the surrounding region for over a month. During this time, the rebels, under the nominal leadership of Robert Kett, a tanner and local landowner, established fortified camps throughout the county, the most renowned of which overlooked Norwich from Mount Surrey atop Mousehold Heath, and unsuccessfully petitioned the government of Edward VI to address a series of agrarian grievances. Refusing to disperse, the insurgents withstood an attempt by William Parr, Marquis of Northampton, to oust them from Norwich in late July before a much larger government army, led by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, reached the city on 24 August and drove them out during three days of intense fighting. Having lost control of Norwich, Kett's followers redeployed to the nearby valley of Dussindale on the evening of 26/27 August, where they awaited the arrival of Warwick's soldiers on the following day. The resultant confrontation, fought on 27 August, was brief but sanguinary, with the rebel army being shattered in a decisive engagement in which a reported two to three thousand insurgents and an unspecified number of loyalists were killed.
In addition to its importance in the history of Kett's Rebellion, the battle of Dussindale also has broader implications for the study of Tudor warfare, about which relatively little is known. Although England periodically invaded France throughout the early to mid-16th century no large-scale battles were fought, while intermittent conflict with Scotland produced only two major actions, at Flodden (1513) and Pinkie (1547), amidst a host of smaller skirmishes and raids. This is problematic in the context of long-running European conflicts such as the Italian Wars (1494-1559), with the comparatively few examples of Tudor tactics, technologies, and organisation being used (Oman 1937; Cruickshank 1969) to suggest that England took little part in the supposed Military Revolution of the late 15th and 16th centuries (Roberts 1967; Parker 1976). While historians (Phillips 1999a; Raymond 2007; Grummitt 2008) have begun to challenge such views, collectively asserting that Tudor England adhered to ongoing tactical and technological developments, including the growing use of gunpowder weapons, a broader range of examples is required to corroborate these claims. Dussindale can thus contribute to this debate by providing a previously unconsidered case study of a mid-16th-century battle fought between opposing English armies, expanding the currently limited sample of actions from which conclusions can be drawn (Foard and Morris 2012).
The battle apparently involved approximately 15,000 combatants, with both sides making use of artillery and the loyalist force containing a large cavalry contingent. Accounts also imply that Warwick and Kett's armies employed different military technologies, with the former being equipped in the continental fashion, with pikes and firearms, and the latter bearing England's traditional weapon systems of longbow and bill. Previous comparisons between these sets of armaments have asserted the superiority of European-style 'pike and shot', but have often done so on the basis of works written in the context of the longbow's eventual withdrawal from service in the later 16th century (Oman 1937). The fact that Dussindale offers a mid-century example of opposing forces using these weapons in action gives the battle a high potential to further nuance this discussion, and to act as a potential testing ground for England's traditional and modern armaments. Additionally, the firing of gunpowder small arms and artillery pieces during the action may have deposited substantial quantities of lead or lead-composite shot within the battlefield area, with such artefacts having a far greater rate of survival than the ferrous arrowheads typically used in late medieval English warfare (Foard and Morris 2012). As a result, archaeological work on the battlefield could serve to augment the collection of mid-16th-century weapons and ammunition recovered from the 1545 Mary Rose wreck, the largest assemblage of its kind in Britain (Hildred 2011).
Despite Dussindale's significance, many aspects of the encounter are still opaque, with contemporary and later accounts furnishing only perfunctory descriptions of its tactical details, while the site and geographical extent of the battlefield remain unconfirmed. Although Carter (1984) employed a series of underused 16th- and 17th-century maps and written sources to assert the probable location of the battlefield, her hypothesis has yet to receive adequate attention or recognition from subsequent historians. This article will address these issues, testing Carter's theory with the help of geographical information systems (GIS) to plot the sources she identified and establish Dussindale's position within the modern landscape. The use of GIS not only enables distances and topographic features to be mapped more accurately than was previously possible, but it also unlocks the option of visualising Dussindale as it was in 1549 through a series of methodologies known as terrain reconstruction. The application of these processes permits discussion to advance beyond the battlefield's location, enabling the environment in which the opposing armies fought to be reconstituted and its probable impact on the battle discerned.
The article will briefly summarise Dussindale's narrative accounts, as well as the written and cartographic sources that can be used to locate and define the site. It will then outline the ways in which terrain reconstruction methodologies of map regression and military terrain analysis can be employed to scrutinise these materials further, before producing a speculative plan of the battlefield based upon these data. Interpretation of the rival armies' personnel, armaments, and tactics will form a vital prerequisite to assessing where, and in what manner, they arrayed their forces. Having defined both armies, and asserted their probable deployments based upon this characterisation, the article will then produce a stage-by-stage overview of the battle, interpreting narrative accounts in the context of the historic terrain.