Cornish Rebellion of 1497 was a popular uprising by
the people of Cornwall in the far
south west of Britain.
primary cause was response of people to the raising of war taxes by King Henry
VII on the impoverished Cornish,
to raise monies for a campaign against Scotland, motivated
by brief border skirmishes that were inspired by Perkin Warbeck's pretence to the English
Commemorative plaque in Cornish and
English for Michael Joseph the Smith (An Gof) and Thomas Flamank
mounted on the north side of Blackheath common, south east London,
near the south entrance to Greenwich Park.
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
reaction to King Henry's tax levy, Michael Joseph , a blacksmith from St. Keverne and Thomas Flamank a
lawyer of Bodmin, incited
many of the people of Cornwall into armed revolt against the
some 15,000 strong marched into Devon, attracting
support in terms of provisions and recruits as they went.
one isolated incident at Taunton, where a tax
commissioner was killed, their march was 'without any slaughter,
violence or spoil of the country'.
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
From Wells to Winchester and Kent
issuing a declaration of grievances, the army left Wells and marched
to Winchester via Bristol and Salisbury, remarkably unopposed as they progressed across the
south of England.
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
Peasants' Revolt of 1381 and
Jack Cade's rebellion, to rally the
volatile men of Kent to their
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.
back west, by Tuesday 13 June 1497 the Cornish army arrived at
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,
, 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
decided to take the offensive and test the strength and resolve of
Lord Daubeney sent out a force of 500 mounted
spearmen and they clashed with the Cornish at 'Gill Down' outside
Guildford on Wednesday 14 June 1497.
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.
Gof held his army together, but faced with overwhelming odds, some
Cornish deserted and by morning there remained only some 9-10,000
Cornish stalwarts left in arms.
Battle of Deptford Bridge
Battle of Deptford Bridge (sometimes called the Battle of
Blackheath) took place on 17 June 1497 on a site in
present-day Deptford south-east London, adjacent to
Ravensbourne and was the culminating event of the Cornish
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 (17 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.
Cornish force at the bridge
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
Continuation of the battle
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
gave the order for surrender. He fled but only got
as far as Greenwich before being captured.
The less enterprising
were taken on the
field of battle.
Henry VII had 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
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. The remaining rebels that escaped went home
ending the rebellion.An Gof and Flamank were both sentenced to the
traitor's death of being hanged,
drawn and quartered
. However they "enjoyed" the king's mercy
and were allowed to hang until dead before being decapitated.
executed at Tyburn on 27 June
An Gof is recorded to have said before his execution
that he should have "a name perpetual and a fame permanent and
. Thomas Flamank was quoted as saying "Speak the
truth and only then can you be free of your chains"
as a peer of the realm, was beheaded on the 28th June at Tower
Hill. Their heads were then displayed on
pike-staffs ("gibbeted") on London Bridge.
Keskerdh Kernow (Cornish: Cornwall marches
was a commemorative march which retraced the original
route of the Cornish from St. Keverne to Blackheath, London, to
celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Cornish Rebellion.
A statue depicting the Cornish leaders, "Michael An Gof" and Thomas
Flamank was unveiled at An Gof's home town of St. Keverne and a
commemorative plaque was also unveiled on Blackheath common.
References in literature
The rebellion is referred to several times in Wolf Hall
, the 2009 Man Booker Prize
winner written by Hilary Mantel
. The protagonist of the book,
, is a young boy in
London during the panic caused by the approach of the rebels; he
also remembers the events later in the book.