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Cornish Rebellions

So I am not Cornish, and have no special link with Cornwall, other than being of a Celtic nation, but here is  a site on Cornwall's most exciting story.

 

Cornish rebellion under the Tudors, 1497, and 1540s. The Cornish rebellion of 1497, and Prayer Book Rebellion of the 1540s.

The Cornish Rebellion of 1497 was a popular uprising by the tin miners of Cornwall in the south west of Britain. Its primary cause was the raising of war taxes by King Henry VII on the impoverished Cornish tin miners for a campaign against Scotland, motivated by brief border skirmishes that were inspired by Perkin Warbeck's pretence to the English throne. Tin miners were angered as the scale of the taxes violated previous rights granted by Edward I of England to the Cornish Stannary Parliament which, exempted Cornwall from all taxes of 10ths or 15ths of income. Tin miners also felt that they had no involvement in wars with Scotland as they lived so far from it, considering it an English matter; most Cornish were not English speaking at this time.
In reaction to King Henry's tax levy, Michael Joseph (An Gof), a blacksmith from St. Keverne and Thomas Flamank a lawyer of Bodmin, incited the people of Cornwall into armed revolt against the King.

An army some 15,000 strong marched into Devon, attracting support in terms of provisions and recruits as they went. Apart from one isolated incident at Taunton, where a tax commissioner was murdered, their march was 'without any slaughter, violence or spoil of the country'.

From Taunton, they moved on to Wells, where they were joined by their most eminent recruit, James Touchet, the seventh Baron Audley, a member of the old nobility and an accomplished soldier. Despite this welcome and prestigious acquisition of support, An Gof, the humble blacksmith remained in command of the army. Audley joined Thomas Flamank as joint 'political' leader of the expedition.

After issuing a declaration of grievances, the army left Wells and marched to Winchester via Bristol and Salisbury in a remarkable unopposed progress right across the south of England. At this point, having come so far, there seems to have been some questioning of what exactly should be done. The King had shown no sign of willingness to concede the issue and, far from home, there must have come to the leadership the belated cold realisation that only force of arms would resolve the matter one way or the other. Flamank conceived the idea of trying to broaden the rising; to force the monarch into concessions by mobilising wider support for the Cornishmen. He proposed that they should head for Kent, 'the classic soil of protests', the home of the Peasant's revolt of 1381 and Jack Cade's rebellion, to rally the volatile men of Kent to their banner. It was a subtle and ambitious strategy - but sadly misinformed. Although the Scottish War was as remote a project to the Kentishmen as to the Cornish, they not only declined to offer their support but went so far as to offer resistance under their Earl. Sadly disillusioned, the Cornish army retreated and some of the fainter hearts (and wiser heads) quietly stole away back to their homes. The remainder, let go the pretence of acting against the King's ministers alone - they were prepared to give battle against the King himself.

Moving back west, by Tuesday 13th June 1497 the Cornish army arrived at Guildford. Although shocked by the scale of the revolt and the speed of its approach, Henry VII had not been idle. The army of 8000 men assembled for Scotland under the command of Giles, Lord Daubeney, Henry's chief general and Lord Chamberlain was recalled. Then, by a curious paradox, the Earl of Surrey (the very area under occupation), was sent north to conduct a defensive, holding operation against the Scots until such time as the King had quelled his domestic difficulties. The Royal family (and the Archbishop of Canterbury) moved to the Tower of London for safety whilst in the rest of the City there was a feeling akin to panic. It is said there was a general cry of 'Every man to harness ! To harness !' and a rush of armed citizenry to the walls and gates. Then, the same day that the Cornish arrived at Guildford, Daubeney and his men took up position upon Hounslow Heath and were cheered by the arrival of food and wine dispatched by the Lord Mayor of London. ]

The Crown decided to take the offensive and test the strength and resolve of the Cornish forces. Lord Daubeney sent out a force of 500 mounted spearmen and they clashed with the Cornish at 'Gill Down' outside Guildford on Wednesday 14th June 1497.

The Cornish army left Guildford and moved via Banstead and Chussex Plain to Blackheath where they pitched their final camp, looking down from the hill onto the Thames and City of London. Somehow An Gof held his army together, but faced with overwhelming odds, some Cornish deserted and by morning only there only some 9-10,000 Cornish stalwarts left in arms.


The Battle of Deptford Bridge took place on 17th June 1497 on a site in present-day Deptford south-east London, adjacent to the River Ravensbourne and was the culminating event of the Cornish Rebellion. Henry VII, had mustered an army of some 25,000 men and the Cornish lacked the supporting cavalry and artillery arms essential to the professional forces of the time. After carefully spreading rumours that he would attack on the following Monday, Henry moved against the Cornish at dawn on his 'lucky day' - Saturday (17th June 1497). The Royal forces were divided into three 'battles', two under Lords Oxford, Essex and Suffolk, to wheel round the right flank and rear of enemy whilst the third waited in reserve. When the Cornish were duly surrounded, Lord Daubeney and the third 'battle' were ordered into frontal attack.

At the bridge at Deptford Strand, the Cornish had placed a body of archers (utilising arrows a full yard long, 'so strong and mighty a bow the Cornishmen were said to draw') to block the passage of the river. Here Daubeney had a hot time of it before his spearmen eventually captured the crossing with some losses (a mere 8 men or as many as 300 depending on one's source). The 'Great Chronicle of London' says that these were the only casualties suffered by the Royal forces that day but, in view of the severity of the later fighting, this seems most improbable.

Through ill-advice or inexperience, the Cornish had neglected to provide support for the men at Deptford Strand bridge and the main array stood well back into the heath, near to the top of the hill. This was a mistake since a reserve force charging down from the high ground might have held the bridge bottleneck and made the day a far more equal contest. As it was, Lord Daubeney and his troops poured across in strength and engaged the enemy with great vigour. Daubeney himself was so carried away that he became isolated from his men and was captured. Astoundingly enough, the Cornish simply released him and he soon returned to the fray. It would appear at this late stage, the rebels' hearts were no longer in the battle and they were already contemplating its aftermath and the King's revenge.

The two other Royal divisions attacked the Cornish precisely as planned and, as Bacon succinctly put it: being ill-armed and ill-led, and without horse or artillery, they were with no great difficulty cut in pieces and put to flight. Estimates of the Cornish dead range from 200 to 2000 and a general slaughter of the broken army was well under way when An Gof gave the order for surrender. He fled but only got as far as Greenwich before being captured. The less enterprising Baron Audley and Thomas Flamank were taken on the field of battle.

At 2pm in the afternoon, Henry VII returned to the City in triumph, knighting deserving parties on the way, to accept the acclamation of the Mayor and attend a service of thanksgiving at St Paul's.

In due course, severe monetary penalties, extracted by Crown agents, pauperised sections of Cornwall for years to come. Prisoners were sold into slavery and estates were seized and handed to more loyal subjects. For the ring-leaders however, in the context of 15th century statecraft, there could be no mercy.

An Gof and Flamank were executed on 27th June 1497 and suffered the traitor's fate of being hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Audley was beheaded on the 28th June at Tower Hill. Their heads were displayed on pike-staffs ("gibbeted") on London Bridge. An Gof is recorded to have said before his execution that he should have "a name perpetual and a fame permanent and immortal". Thomas Flamank was quoted as saying "Speak the truth and only then can you be free of your chains". The remaining rebels were sent home, ending the rebellion.


1997 was the 500th anniversary of the An Gof uprising and a commemorative march (Keskerdh Kernow 500) was held, which retraced the route of the original march from St Keverne, Cornwall via Guildford to London. A statue depicting An Gof and Flamank was unveiled at An Gof's home town of St. Keverne and a commemorative plaque was also unveiled at Blackheath.

The Prayer Book Rebellion or Western Rebellion was a popular rising occurred in the southwest of England in 1549.

In the 1540s the government of Edward VI introduced a range of legislative measures as an extension of the Protestant Reformation in England & Wales, the primary aim being to remove certain practices from the church which were perceived as being too Catholic. In 1549 the Book of Common Prayer in English replaced the four old liturgical books in Latin. The change was widely unpopular amongst religious conservatives — particularly in areas of traditionally Catholic religious loyalty, for example, in Devon and Cornwall.

Some commentators believe that the roots of the rebellion can be traced back to the Cornish Rebellion of 1497 and the subsequent destruction of monasteries from 1536 through to 1545 which brought an end to the formal scholarship that had sustained the Cornish and Devonian cultural identities. The smashing and looting of colleges like Glasney and Crantock played a significant part in fermenting opposition to future cultural reforms. Apart from being missed as centres of indigenous culture, many would have seen these institutions as being a bridge to the Celtic past, a link to a time before the perceived imperial overlords achieved ascendancy, back even to the Christianised paganism of their forefathers.

When traditional religious processions and pilgrimages were banned, commissioners were sent out to remove all symbols of Roman Catholicism. Within Cornwall, this task was given to William Body, whose perceived desecration of religious shrines angered many. The anger was great enough that on April 5, 1548 Body was murdered by William Kylter and Pascoe Trevian at Helston.

Immediate retribution followed with the execution of twenty eight Cornishmen at Castle Terrible. One execution of a perceived "traitor of Cornwall" occurred on Plymouth Hoe — town accounts give details of the cost of timber for both gallows and poles. Martin Geoffrey, the priest of St Keverne - near Helston, was taken to London. After execution his head was impaled on a staff erected upon London Bridge.

Cornwall at this time was not majority English speaking, provoking a reaction to the introduction of English to the service. Certainly in Cornwall this provided a major reason for the rebellion. The articles of the rebels states: "and we the cornyshe men (whereof certen of vs vnderstande no Englysh) vtterly refuse thys new english". However, the Duke of Somerset's reply asked why the Cornishmen should be offended for having the service in English rather than Cornish, when they had before had it in Latin and not understood that?

The new prayer book was not uniformly adopted, and in 1549 the Act of Uniformity made it illegal, from Whitsunday 1549, to use the old prayer book. A number of magistrates were given the task of enforcing the change.

Following the enforced change on Whitsunday 1549, on Whitmonday the parishioners of Sampford Courtenay in Devon convinced the priest to revert to the old ways, likening the English prayer book to "but a Christmas game". Justices arrived at the next service to enforce the change. An altercation at the service led to a proponent of the change (William Hellyons) being killed (by being run through with a pitchfork) on the church steps.

Following this confrontation a group of parishioners from Sampford Courtenay decided to march to Exeter to protest against the introduction of the new prayer book. As the group of rebels moved through Devon they gained large numbers of supporters and became a significant force.

Marching east to Crediton, the Devon rebels lay siege to Exeter, demanding the withdrawal of all English manuscripts. Although a number of the inhabitants in Exeter sent a message of support to the rebels, the city refused to open its gates. The gates were to stay closed because of the siege for over a month.

Both in Cornwall and Devon, the issue of the Book of Common Prayer seems to have been the straw that broke the Camel's back. To decades of oppression were recently added two years of rampant inflation, in which prices had doubled. Along with the rapid enclosure of common lands, the attacks on the Church, which was felt to be central to the rural community, lead to an explosion of anger.

In Cornwall, an army gathered at Bodmin under the leadership of the mayor, Henry Bray, and two staunch Catholic landowners, Sir Humprey Arundell of Helland and John Winslade of Tregarrick.

Many of the gentry with their families sought protection in the old castles. Some shut themselves in St Michael's Mount where the rebels besieged them, and a bewildering smoke-screen made of burning trusses of hay, combined with a shortage of food and the women's distress, forced them to surrender. Sir Richard Grenville found refuge in ruinous Trematon. Deserted by many of his followers, the unwieldy old man was enticed outside to parley. He was seized; the castle surprised, the ladies stripped of their finery, and the men, including Sir Richard, were bundled into Launceston gaol. The Cornish army then proceeded to march east across the Tamar border into Devon to join with the Devon rebels near Crediton.

The slogan "Kill all the gentleman and we will have the Six Articles up again and ceremonies as they were in King Henry VIII's time" highlights the religious aims of the rebellion. However it also implies a social cause (a view supported by historians such as Guy and Fletcher). That later demands included limiting the size of gentry households — theoretically beneficial in a time of population growth and unemployment — suggests a possible attack on the prestige of the gentry. Certainly such contemporaries as Thomas Cranmer took this view, condemning the rebels as deliberately inciting class conflict in this demand, "to diminish their strength and to take away their friends, that you might command gentlemen at your pleasures".

In London, King Edward VI (Henry VIII's son) and his Privy Council became alarmed by this news from the West Country. On instructions from the Lord Protector the Duke of Somerset, one of the Privy Councillors, Sir Gawain Carew, was ordered to pacify the rebels. At the same time Lord John Russell was ordered to take an army, composed mainly of German and Italian mercenaries, and impose a military solution.

The rebels were largely farmers armed with little more than pitchforks and in an initial skirmish the mercenary arquebusiers killed over a thousand at Crediton.

Confronations then also took place at Fenny Bridges (where the result of the conflict was inconclusive, but 300 rebels were reported to have died), and subsequently at Clyst St Mary (where over a 1,000 rebels were reported to have been killed).

On 5 August, the final engagement came; the rebels were outmanoeuvred and surrounded. Lord Grey reported himself that he never in all the wars that he had been did he know the like. A group of Devon men went north up the valley of the Exe, where they were overtaken by Sir Gawen Carew, who left the corpses of their leaders hanging on gibbets from Dunster to Bath.

The Cornishmen under Arundell along with a number of the surviving Devon rebels re-formed and took position back at Sampford Courtenay, the village some fifteen miles north west of Exeter where the rebellion had started. Russell advanced with his troops, now reinforced with a strong contingent of Welshmen. After a desperate fight stormed the village on the evening of 17 August, the rebels were broken; many escaped including Arundell, who fled to Launceston. There he was to be captured and taken to London with Winslade, who was caught at Bodmin.

1,300 died at Sampford Courtenay and 300 at Fenny Bridges. Further orders were issued on behalf of the king by the Lord Protector, the Duke of Somerset, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for the continuance of the onslaught. Under Sir Anthony Kingston, English and mercenary forces then moved throughout Devon and into Cornwall and executed or killed many people before the bloodshed finally ceased. Proposals to translate the Prayer Book into Cornish were also suppressed. In total 4,000 people lost their lives in the rebellion.

There was also a rebellion sixteen 48, five hundred rebels fought for a royalist rebellion against parliament, so not a rebellion in a sense.

Some Cornish were involved in the Monmouth Rebellion.

Manx Rebellions

Also the Isle of Man has had reellions. There were stirrings of one in 1643. You could call Illiam Dhone's Manx millita taking some forts as a rebellion, though it could be considered part of the English Civil War, what some call the less succinct but more gramatically correct War of the Isles (Seeing it occurred across the BritishIsles with so many sides.

The 19th Century saw brave Chartist style campaigns for democratic home rule, which like the Chartists saw results.

As I have birthplaces of Scottish, Irish and Welsh leaders pages, I can say a similar page for Cornwall. Well Australia has had 2 PMS of strong Cornish ancestry, Bob Hawke, and Robert Menzies, plus 3 PMs of South Australia were born in Cornwall, all 19th Century,  Plus 1 leader of the Northern Territory was born, there, plus at least sixteen premiers of Australian  states and territories claimed some Cornish ancestry.

Plus 1 19th Century Leader of Manitoba was born in Cornwall. plus 1 US President R Hayes, had some remote Cornish ancestry, as did FDR, from the same 17th Century person.

For the Isle of Man, the most significant politician, outside of Mann, as many of it's leaders, and rulers were born there was surely Dan Quyale, who was Vice President of the USA, in 1988 to 1992.

The prayer book rebellion in the 16th Century in Cornwall and Devon involved a guy based at Saint Michael's Mount.

And Perkin Warbeck took that site for a while. 

See my pages below

 
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