the cornish rising 1497

Duration

About 3 months

Leadership

  1. Original “head captain” was a blacksmith called Michael an Gof.
  2. Later leaders were Thomas Flamank, a gentleman from Bodmin, and then Lord Audley – discontent Somerset minor noble. No major figures emerged as leaders

Outcome

  1. 5,000 rebels marched more than 250 miles to London. They attracted no extra support but were not stopped – the largest force they faced was only 500 strong
  2. Rebels defeated at Blackheath, outside London – at the symbolic spot where Peasants Revolt and Cade’s Rebellion men had camped.
  3. Henry punished only the rebel leaders – all 3 were executed – but levied large fines on the county. Cornwall was quiet until 1549.

Main causes

Raising of a subsidy – forced loan – for “irrelevant” war vs Scotland

Subsidiary causes

Henry had issued new regulations on tin mining and suspended the privileges of the Stannaries – the local Cornish court and parliament. This hit both at the key contributor to the Cornish economy and at local independence from the centre

Degree of threat

Moderate – 15,000 rebels reached outskirts of London. However they did not garner support outside West Country and did not intend to overthrow the king. Their army was not professional or well equipped

Narrative

Cornwall was distant from London – indeed from England as a whole – and inhabited by a different race of people – Celts, related to the Welsh and Bretons. Even in the 1490s many commoners spoke Cornish as their first language. They felt different and had their own local courts and parliaments (stannaries) which administered strictly local interests, such as managing investments in Cornish tin mines.

Westcountrymen were concerned by the threat from France but had little interest in the threat of Scotland – which Henry felt acutely once Warbeck based himself there. There was bitter resentment when parliament voted £120,000, in the form of one subsidy of £60,000, and two fifteenths and tenths (taxes on property, 1/15th in the country and 1/10th in towns) to fund a Scottish war. This was three times the amount demanded by Henry in any earlier year.

Encouraged in their early protests by a lawyer, Richard Flamank – whose father was actually one of Henry’s 4 tax commissioners for Cornwall – an orderly army of commons marched north to Wells in Somerset, where an impoverished and embittered local noble named Lord Audley, seized the chance for greatness by agreeing to become their leader.

The determination of the Cornishmen was impressive – they reached London, 250 miles from home, and their army was probably the largest raised by rebels in this period – and took Henry (who was in the north) by surprise. But they raised no support. Devon was traditionally hostile to the Cornish (which makes the two counties’ coming together in 1549 more impressive). Kent failed to rise in support despite the Cornish symbolically making camp at the spot outside London chosen by Jack Cade’s Kentish rebels in 1450. This was a major disappointment to Cornish hopes, and the Londoners refused to open their gates to them.

Henry marched hastily south with an army of about 8,000, gathering more men on the way until he had 20,000+. At least a third of the Cornishmen deserted on hearing of his approach. The rest stood their ground, but the battle that followed was very short, compared to East Stoke, and the Cornish quickly fled. About 1,000 were killed.

The leaders – An Gof, Flamank and Audley – were all captured and executed.

Henry then fined all others involved with special severity. A total of £15,000 was raised. But Cornwall remained unhappy – as shown by the support Warbeck raised there some months later. Henry was forced to cancel plans to send the quartered bodies of An Gof and Flamank to Cornwall for fear that that would cause more trouble.

Reasons for failure

  • Cornish were “too different” to attract support in the south of England. Many spoke a different language
  • Poorly equipped. Cornish had no cavalry or artillery, or even good weapons and armour. They were faced by a professional army
  • No support from any nobles with any resources.
  • No sympathy for the rebel cause among Londoners

Key stats, quotes & views

  • Rebel force was twice size of initial royal army (but much less well trained)
  • Henry raised £15,000 in fines from Cornwall and the counties along the rebel route as punishment. ‘The less blood he drew, the more he took in treasure.’ Francis Bacon

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