The Wyatt Rebellion of 1554 aimed at preventing the marriage of Queen Mary and Felipe of Spain.
Mary and her husband Felipe of Spain
The official announcement of the marriage was published on 15 Jan 1553/4, but news of the Queens intention to marry Felipe of Spain leaked out well before it, and there were general manifestations of displeasure all over the country. Many people Catholics and Protestants, feared England would be dominated by Spain, as had already happened in the Low Countries, to Milanese, the Neapolitans, the Sicilians and the people of the Indies.
Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon
The conspirators first met at the town house of the Duke of Suffolk, who had already been implicated in the attempt to place his daughter, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne following the death of Edward VI. Among the conspirators were the three brothers of Suffolk and Sir Edmund Warner, brother-in-law of Lord Cobham and Sir Thomas Wyatts step father. They chose Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon and a rejected suitor of Queen Mary, as the figurehead; the object being to depose Mary and make Elizabeth Queen in her stead, with Courtenay as her prospective husband. Courtenay was a vain, self seeking untrustworthy popinjay. Wyatt was not invited to the meetings until the third one. He offered, if they would attempt an armed rebellion, to lead the insurgent force. It was agreed that Wyatt should raise Kent; Courtenay, Devonshire; Sir James Croft, the region of the Severn; and Suffolk and his brothers, Warwickshire, Leicestershire and the Midlands. When ready the four contingents should march on London. As Courtenay had farthest to march he was to rise first and the others in due course so as to converge on London together.
The conspirators who first met on Nov 26th were not a homogeneous group. Only one, William Thomas, Clerk to the Privy Council under Edward VI, was a strong Protestant.
Sir Peter Carew, was a maritime adventurer. William Winter, former surveyor of the Navy represented Maritime interests. Most of the rest served under the Duke of Northumberland: Sir James Croft, was Deputy in Ireland. Sir William Pickering, as Ambassador in Paris. Sir Edward Rogers, as Gentleman of the Privy Council. Sir Edward Warner as Lieutenant of the Tower. Others, such as Sir Thomas Wyatt, came from fashionable courtly families. Croft and Sir Nicholas Throckmorton had regular access to Mary. Even if Throckmorton did not speak against the marriage of the Queen with Felipe of Spain in the House, he was thought to be active against it outside and to have conspired with Sir Thomas Wyatt to prevent it.
Sir Nicholas Throckmorton
The French Ambassador, De Noailles, promised French support as soon as the rebellion was seen to be strongly backed by the people, in the form of cash, equipment and troops. An Army under Visdame would land on the East coast of Scotland and both Calais and Guienne in France should be attacked. Wyatt is known to have corresponded with De Noailles.
The concerted rising was fixed to start on 18 Mar. By the standards of most Tudor conspiracies the plot was by no means amateurish, but the number of conspirators was so large and the scope of the rebellion so wide that secrecy was impossible.
Carew, at the time about 39 years old, was a reckless, garrulous, turbulent, indiscreet character, and by his rash and precipitate actions was largely instrumental in bringing about the complete failure of the Devon rising. The weakling Courtenay was afraid to journey to Devon and remained at Court. When Courtenay failed to arrive Carew lost his head and set up his standard. Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor, through is spies heard rumours and called Courtenay to an interview; subjected him to a powerful and searching cross-examination, and extracted from the vainglorious Earl, a good deal, if not all, of the details of the conspiracy. Carew and his friends the Gibbs had lived at Court, were very little known, and were unpopular in Devon. Their appeal met with indifference. The local leaders took panic and fled. The difficulties of Winter travel and the remoteness of Devonshire prevented the conspirators in London from discovering that Carew had abandoned them, though they did learn of Courtenays treachery.
The instigators elsewhere were all arrested before they had time to mature their designs. Like endeavours made by Courtenay, the Duke of Suffolk, Sir James Croft, and Sir Peter Carew, to excite rebellion in other counties failed, Wyatt was thus forced into the position of chief actor in the attack on the government of the Queen. He straight way published a proclamation at Maidstone which was addressed 'unto the commons' of Kent. He stated that his course had been approved by 'dyvers of thebest of the shire'. Neighbours and friends were urged to secure the advancement of 'liberty and commonwealth', which were imperilled by 'the Queen's determinate pleasure to marry with a stranger'.
Wyatt showed himself worthy of his responsibilities and laid his plans with boldness. De Noailles, the French Ambassador, wrote that he was 'estime par depa homme vaillant et de bonne conduicte'; and M.d'Oysel, the French Ambassador in Scotland, who was at the time in London, informed the French King, his master, that Wyatt was 'unggentil chevallier et fort estime parmy cest nation' (Ambassades de Noailles, iii, 15, 46). Losing no time Wyatt left London for Allington. He had not intended to raise Kent so soon but realised that speed was now essential. The decisive step was taken on 21 Jan. Wyatt called his relatives, friends and neighbours to a meeting at Allington Castle on 22 Jan. These included Robert Rudstone, of Boughton Mounches, Sir Henry Isley, of Sundridge and Farningham, Henry and Thomas Vane (or Fane) of Tonbridge, George and Thomas Brooke, sons of Lord Cobham, of Cowling Castle, cousins of Wyatt, Sir George Harper, of Chart, Walter Mantell, of Canterbury, Edward Wyatt, his natural brother, and others.
A charming little picture of the home of the Wyatts of Allington is painted by Lord Tennyson in the following lines which are supposed to have been spoken by Sir Thomas Wyatt just before setting out for London:
"Ah, gray old castle of Allington, green filed
Beside the brimming meadow
That I shall never look upon you more"
Queen Mary. Act 11: Sc1
After a long and full discussion the assembly agreed that the insurrection should take place on Thursday 25 Jan. Wyatt sent a letter with the details to the Duke of Suffolk, but it was intercepted by Government Agents.
Thursday Jan 25th was market day at Maidstone, the church bells were rung, drums were beaten and a proclamation was read out. The proclamation, a copy of which he also sent to the Sheriff, Sir Robert Southwell, was also read out in other Kentish towns, including Melford, Malling, Ashford and Milton Regis.
"Forasmuch as it is now spred abrode and certainly pronounced by the lords chancelour and other of the counsell, of the Quenes determinate pleasure to marry w. a stranger: etc we therefore write unto you, because you be our neighbors, because you be our frandes, and because you be Englishmen, that you will joyne with us, as we will with you unto death in this behalfe, protecting unto you before God, that no earthly cause could move us unto this enterpise, but this alone we seke no harm to the quene, but better counset and counselours, which also we would have forborne mall other thinges save onley in this. For herein lieth the helth and welth of us al. For trial herof and mantfest profe of this intended purpose; Lo now even at hand, Spaniardes by nowe already arived at Dover, at one passage to the numbre of an hundreth passing upwards to London, in companies of ten, foure and VI (sic) with harnes, harquebusses and morrians with match light, the formest company whereof be already at Rochester. We shall require you therefore to repaire to such places as the bearers hereof shal pronounce unto you, there to assemble and determine what may be best for ye advauncement of libertie and to bring with you such ayde as you may."
The Mayor of Canterbury remained loyal to Mary, so did Rochester. Recruits began to assemble at Penenden Heath, Boxley, but the great rallying point was Maidstone. Wyatt collected 1500 men with a promise of 5000 at a later date. He then decided to raise his standard formally at Rochester, after capturing the town. He had made admirable preparations, and guns and ammunition had been stealthily got ready by his agents in London. Officers and men of the fleet, together with their guns, came over to him at Rochester where the city capitulated without opposition. Wyatt took care not to assume the appearance of a dictator, his proclamations being signed by Harper and Anthony Knyvett, as well as himself. He lingered a day at Rochester waiting for troops from Tonbridge and parts of the West Country that did not arrive. The Kentish contingent had diverted its route to attack Penshurst then moved on to Tonbridge where however the support was luke warm, while Sevenoaks and Malling declared for the Queen.
The King of France was known to be preparing eighty ships to land eighteen companies of foot soldiers in England, and De Noailles, the French Ambassador, was being closely watched. A messenger he was sending to France, was first shadowed to Rochester, where he had an interview with Wyatt, then as soon as he left the town, was intercepted by men disguised as rebels. In reality they belonged to Lord Cobham and the dispatches were transferred to Bishop Gardiner in London, who had secretly promised him a pardon if he would change sides.
When the news of Wyatt's action reached the Queen and government in London, a proclamation was issued offering pardon to such of his followers as should within twenty-four hours depart peaceably to their homes. Royal officers with their retainers were despatched to disperse small parties of Wyatt's associates while on their way to Rochester; Sir Robert Southwell, Sheriff of Kent, broke up one band under an insurgent named Knyvett at Wrotham Hill and routed them in an ambush; Lord Abergavenny defeated another reinforcement led by Sir Henry Isley; the citizens of Canterbury rejected Wyatt's entreaties to join him, and derided his threats. Wyatt maintained the spirit of his followers by announcing that he daily expected succour from France, and circulated false reports of successful risings in other parts of the country. Some of his followers sent to the council offers to return to their duty, and at the end of Jan Wyatt's fortunes looked desperate. But the tide turned for a season in his favour when the government ordered the Duke of Norfolk to march from London upon Wyatt's main body, with a detachment of white-coated guards under the command of Sir Henry Jerningham. The manoeuvre gave Wyatt an unexpected advantage. The Duke was followed immediately by five hundred Londoners, hastily collected by one Captain Bret, and was afterwards joined by the Sheriff of Kent, who had called out the trained bands of the county. The force thus embodied by the government was inferior in number to Wyatt's, and it included many who were in sympathy with the rebels. Norfolk was about to attack Wyatt entrenched in Rochester when 500 of his "whitecoats" with cries of "A Wyatt A Wyatt, we are all Englishmen" changed sides. With them went Brett and Sir George Harper back to Wyatt. The Duke with his remaining forces fled leaving guns treasure and baggage. All the Londoners went over to Wyatt. The Duke with his principal officers fled toward Gravesend.
On Jan 30th Wyatt left Rochester, (diverting to Cowling Castle 4 miles away to storm Lord Cobhams castle which surrendered after a feeble pretence of resistance) and advanced on Gravesend with a force between two and three thousand men. BEF setting out he allowed certain sick prisoners to buy what they needed and provide for themselves in Rochester on condition that they did not take advantage of his generosity and move on to London. It is on record that they lost no time in breaking their promises and reaching London. Wyatt made a fatal mistake in waiting two days, Wednesday and Thursday 31 Jan and 1 Feb, following his departure from Rochester. On reaching Dartford he paused to receive emissaries from Queen Mary inviting him to formulate his demands, but this was only a means of gaining time. The best, though prejudiced account, of these discussions is given by John Proctor, master of Sir Andrew Juddes School at Tonbridge. News then came that the Duke of Suffolk with the Midland contingent had been defeated. Suffolk was captured hiding in a hollow tree. This left Wyatt entirely alone.
Nothing had been done to fortify London, until the Queen went to the city, when as the result of a passionate speech and fear that the rebels might sack London, the citizens united to defend the Capital.
Wyatt now pressed on passing through Gravesend and Deptford to Southwark, where he spent a day and a night attempting unsuccessfully to get his guns and men across the Thames, as London Bridge had been cut. Wyatt decided to see for himself how well London Bridge was defended: "At eleven at night he caused the wall of a house adjoining the gatehouse of the bridge at the Southwark end to be stealthily broken down so that the flat leads over the gatehouse could be reached. He then climbed onto the roof itself. With a handful of men he climbed over the parapet onto the gatehouse roof, prised open a window and went down a winding staircase, only to find when he reached the ground floor that they were in the living room of the gatehouse keepers lodge, with the keeper and his family sitting round the fire. Wyatt signed to them to keep still and silent if they valued their lives. They then proceeded onto the bridge itself only to find a complete span had been demolished and guns posted covering the open space between the broken ends. Wyatt perceived the impossibility of a direct attack on the bridge and withdrew as he had come"
Through Dartford and Gravesend he marched to Blackheath, where he encamped on 29 Jan 1553/4. The government acknowledged the seriousness of the situation, and sent Wyatt a message. On 1 Feb 1554 Mary proceeded to the Guildhall and addressed the citizens of London on the need of meeting the danger summarily (read her speech). Wyatt was proclaimed a traitor. Next morning more than twenty thousand men enrolled their names for the protection of the city. Special precautions were taken for the security of the courtand the Tower; many bridges over the Thames within a distance of fifteen miles were broken down; all peers in the neighbourhood of London received orders to raise their tenantry; and on 3 Feb a reward of land of the annual value of one hundred pounds was offered the captor of Wyatt's person.
The same day Wyatt entered Southwark, but his followers were alarmed by the reports of the government's activity. Many deserted, and Wyatt found himself compelled by the batteries on the Tower to evacuate Southwark. On 6 Feb (Shrove Tuesday), a wet and dark day, it was decided to leave Southwark and try to cross the river at Kingston. The river was crossed without difficulty, and a plan was formed to surprise Ludgate. On the way Wyatt hoped to capture St. Jame's Palace, where Queen Mary had taken refuge. Owing to the rain the roads were a mass of mire, dung and great water-filled pits. It took the rebels ten hours to cover ten miles. Their guns, on improvised wooden carriages moved heavily, hauled by mules and dispirited men pulling on ropes, but inspite of every difficulty they crossed at 11pm, leaving Kingston behind them they came to the flat marshy lands of Brentford, rain continued heavily and men began to desert, including many "whitecoats". At Turham Green the naval gun carriages broke down and the guns rolled off into the mud. The rebels were brought to a halt and valuable time was lost trying to retrieve them. In the confusion, Harper again defected, escaped to London and betrayed Wyatts plan. The rebels proceeded over Sandford Bridge, down Acton Road into the village of Knightsbridge.
When it was know in the city that Wyatt was at Knightsbridge the drums were sounded at 3am in the morning and all fighting men were told to go to Charing Cross. By 8am more than ten thousand were ready waiting for Wyatt to advance, with guns pointing towards the rebels. Since Wyatt had chosen to attack the city, he was not able to extend his battle front as he drew near to the city gates. It was therefore decided to avoid a head on clash and to attack the flanks and trap him against the closed and guarded gates. Between 8 and 9am he was less that half a mile from the bridge by the "Spitalhouse", (hospital) a little west of Camden House. The rain stopped and it became a bright cold day. Between 1 and 2pm he came to Hyde Park Corner, then an open field, and moved in the direction of Fleet Street and Ludgate. Three of his officers, the Knyvetts and Cuthbert took a lane leading through Tothill to Westminster. The main body marched along Pall Mall towards the open spaces of Charing Cross, up the Strand and into Fleet Street to reach Ludgate. Courtenay, the original figure head of the rebellion was with the Queens men at Charing Cross, and on seeing the rebels approach, set off in flight to Whitehall.
As Wyatts rain sodden men came marching up Fleet Street a column of 300 men-at-arms of the Royal Force came down the street on the other side, and the two bands passed one another in silence. As he advanced with his men barricades were erected behind him, and at each road intersection bodies of men were placed to prevent escape down side streets. Not till the trap had been completed did the Queen’s Commander, the Earl of Pembroke, show his hand leading a force of cavalry with Sir Humphrey Clinton. Half of Wyatts men had passed through and beyond Charing Cross when the cavalry charged from both sides, cutting Wyatts column into two pieces. Most of the officers were in the van and they struggled on determined to reach Ludgate. As they drew near they burst out with their battle cry "A Wyatt! A Wyatt!" Knyvett force now attempted to rejoin the main body at Charing Cross, but found the way blocked by the Queens archers and were routed. Knyvett and other officers hacked their way through and galloped up the Strand to join their Commander at Ludgate.
Ludgate was an extremely old gate, its walls six feet thick and they defied assault, (it was pulled down in 1586). Walking up to the gate, Wyatt knocked heavily and demanded to be admitted. However, William Howard, Lord Admiral had already secured control of the gate with a force of the Queens men and refused to open it. Wyatt replied "I have kept touch" meaning that he had kept his word to his London friends by reaching the gate on the appointed day. It was now up to those inside the city to force a passage for him, but there was no sound of revolt from within. Adjoining Ludgate Hill was the tavern know as "La Belle Sauvage" a coaching house; Wyatt entered the courtyard and sat down on a bench, with only a handful of men left. His rearguard was cut off and dispersed and he had no means of forcing the gate. He decided to retreat and with only 60 men turned back to Charing Cross. At Temple Bar a powerful contingent engaged him. The savage contest lasted an hour, when the Norroy Herald called upon him to stop, shouting out "Perchance ye may yet find the Queen merciful, the rather if ye stint so the loss of so great a bloodshed as is like to be". Wyatt interpreted this as a promise of pardon but the herald had no authority to offer such things. Just then Sir Maurice Berkeley came up entirely unarmed and added his persuasion to that of the herald. He received Wyatts sword and Wyatt was mounted up behind him. The Knyvetts, Alexander Brett and young Cobham also surrendered and were carried by other gentlemen up behind them, on their horses. All were taken to the Privy Council at Westminster, and then by barge to the Tower. Chroniclers record that Wyatt was wearing a shirt of mail with sleeves very fair, and over it a velvet cassock and a yellow lace, with the windlace (strap) of his dagger hanging on it. His boots were equipped with spurs and he wore a good hat of velvet decorated with broad bonework lace', (i.e. lace plaited by means of bone bobbins on a pillow). Knyvett, Cobham and Brett also wore shirts of mail and velvet coats.
After being taken to Whitehall, Wyatt was committed to the Tower, where the lieutenant, Sir John Brydges (afterwards first Lord Chandos), received him with opprobrious reproaches. On his arrest the French Ambassador, De Noailles, paid a tribute to his valour and confidence. He wrote of him as 'le plus vaillant et asseure de quoye jaye jamais ouy parler, qui a mis ladicte dame et seigneurs de son conseil en telle et sigrande peur, qu'elle s'est veue par l'espace de huict jours en branalede sa couronne' (Ambassades de Noailles, iii, 59). On 15 Mar he wasarraigned at Westminster of high treason, was condemned and sentenced to death (Fourth Rep. Deputy Keeper of Records, App, ii, pp. 244-5).
Many of the prisoners taken that day were locked up in the prisons at Marshalsea, the Kings Bench and the Tower, but there was not room for all of them and many were lodged in churches, crowded together waiting till gallows could be erected for their hanging. On 9 Feb Wyatt was joined in the Tower by George, Lord Cobham, Anthony Knyvett, Hugh Booth, Thomas Fane, Sir George Harper, and the small youth Edward Wyatt, bastard brother of the rebel leader whom Bishop Gardiner afterwards referred to as "one little Wyatt who might be usefully interrogated, (presumably on the rack) to see if he knew anything of his father relations with Princess Elizabeth". Gardiner exact words to Sir William Petre, Governor to the Tower, were: "Whether ye press him to say the truth by sharp punishment or promise of life". Leaders from other groups joined them, the Duke of Suffolk, Sir James Croft, Sir Henry Isley, Sir Gawen Carew, the two Culpeppers, Cromer and Thomas Rampton. Conditions in the Tower were so crowded that the churchmen, Cramner, Ridley and Latimer had to share the same cell. Every member of the Grey and Dudley families was in the Tower expecting the death penalty. Both Gardiner and the Imperial Ambassador Simon Renard insisted that the Queen should show no mercy, and death was the sentence for any harbouring a rebel, with the result that hundreds were handed over by tavern keepers and the like.
Courtenay was sent to the Tower on 9 Feb and on the 10 the prisoners concerned in the rebellion were arraigned; 42 Kentish men were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. By the eve of Thursday from eighty to a hundred bodies were swinging at the gates of the city; even St Pauls Churchyard had its dangling bodies. De Noailles wrote to his master "every cross road presented the horrid spectacle of suspended humans corpses". Lord Dudley, Jane Greys husband, was beheaded on the 12 at Tower Hill, and Lady Jane Grey immediately afterwards on Tower Green. Wyatt himself witnessed her execution from the window of his cell in the White Tower. A great batch was dealt with on the 13th; two were gibbeted at Cheapside, one quartered at Aldgate, three hanged at Leadenhall one was hanged and quartered at Newgate, three were hanged at Holborn, three at Bermondsey Street, three at St Georges, for at Charing Cross. On the 14 more rebels were put to death. The bodies were left hanging for twenty four hours and were not cut down till the following morning. Afterwards their remains were sent to Newgate, there par boiled, quartered, and the heads and bodies hanged over the gate. The terrible slaughter went on throughout the 15th. At Westminster, ten of Wyatts chief men were condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered. On the 16 Brett and twenty other prisoners were carried into Kent by Sir Robert Southwell, as sheriff, and housed at Maidstone Jail, until they were hanged at Maidstone, Rochester or Sevenoaks. Maidstone lost its Charter which was not restored until 1559 by Elizabeth. On the 17th The Duke of Suffolk was beheaded, and on the 19 Thomas Cobham and little Edward Wyatt were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. There seemed no end to the revenge.
Lord Cobham, lucky as ever, had been released with Sir William Brooke and George Brooke on the intercession of Count dEgmont.
Wyatt himself was arraigned on Mar 14th, before the Lord Chief Justice, together with Sir Edward Hastings and Master Bourne the Queens secretary. A complete record of this trial exists. Every effort was made, including the use of the rack, to make Wyatt implicate Elizabeth. Even his wife was sent for and promised his life if she would use her power to make him confess what they wished but he refused to implicate her. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. He was subjected to fresh tortures after the trial in the hope of wringing from him an admission of Elizabeths guilt. On Feb 25th Sir John Bourne reported to Gardiner that he had "laboured to make Sir Thomas Wyatt confess concerning the Lady Elizabeth ... but unsuccessfully, though torture had been applied".
On the day appointed for his execution (11 Apr) Wyatt requested Lord Chandos, the lieutenant of the Tower to permit him to speak to fellow-prisoner, Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon. According to Chandos' report Wyatt on his knees begged Courtenay 'to confess the truth of himself'. The interview lasted half an hour. It does not appear that he said anything to implicate Princess Elizabeth, but he seems to have reproached Courtenay with being the instigator of his crime (cf. FOXE, Acts and Monuments, iii, 41, and TYTLER, Hist of Edward VI and Mary, ii, 320). Nevertheless, at the scaffold on Tower Hill he made a speech accepting full responsibility for his acts and exculpating alike Elizabeth and Courtenay (Chronicles of Queen Jane and Queen Mary, p 73; BATLEY, Hist. of the Tower, p. xlix).
"I assure you that neither they
nor any other now in your durance (the Tower)
was privy to my rising".
Dr Weston, Marys clerical advisor attempted to flatly contradict this statement and was hotly resented by the crowd. It was against the protocol of capital punishment. The block stood ready and close by a basket half full of sawdust. Taking off his gown, he "untrussed his points" (unfastened the lace that secured his doublet) shook hands with the officials present, himself tied his own handkerchief over his eyes, and laid his head face downwards on the block. The masked executioner took of his head with a single stroke. After he was beheaded, his body was subjected to all the barbarities that formed part of punishment for treason. BEF quartering the body the executioner lifted the head and removed the handkerchief to show there had been no substitution. One quarter was hung at Mile End Green, the second at Newington, the third near St Georges Church, Southwark and the fourth besides St Thomas of Waterings. The head was placed upon a stake upon the gallows of High Hill. On the 17 Apr, six day after the execution, the head was stolen, presumably by friends. It was never found.
On 17 Apr Throckmorton he was indicted of treason at Guildhall and brought to trial on a charge of being the ‘principal deviser, procurer and contriver of the late rebellion: and that Wyatt was but his minister’. To the discomfiture of the crown he put up such a masterly defence that he was acquitted, but in the expectation that a further charge could be brought against him he was not released until 18 Jan 1555, when he retired to his home in Northamptonshire. Lord Thomas Grey, (Suffolk’s brother) was executed on Apr 24th; William Thomas on May 18th. The higher social status of the rebels, the more lenient the treatment. Winter, Warner, Rogers and Arnold, were never brought to trial at all, and received pardons in due course. Carew and Gibb, (Devon Rising) were brought to the Tower later but were released. Croft was tried, convicted but pardoned 2 years later.
Wyatts property was confiscated and shared among greedy nobles who frequented the court, though later Elizabeth restored Boxley to his eldest legitimate son, George. Allington Castle was given to Sir John Ashley, Master of the Crown Jewels. Grant of Administration of a person dying intestate was granted in 1559 to John Bereford of Middle Temple, Edward Warner, and Dame Elizabeth, (his wife, mother of Wyatt) Canterbury repaired it walls against Wyatt and asked that the cost thereof might be deducted from the balance of funds from the sale of defunct church ornaments, but Mary refused and claimed all the money.
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