The Cornish Rebels

Well, at least they can say they tried: on 27 June 1497 Michael An Gof and Thomas Flamank were executed at Tyburn for leading the Cornish Rebellion of 1497.

In all honesty, they had a fairly good reason to rebel. Henry VII had levied a hefty tax to pay for an invasion of Scotland that was essentially punishment for Scotland’s support of royal pretender Perkin Warbeck. The taxes were steep, especially for the rather poor Cornish, and violated previous royal agreements that exempted Cornwall from taxes of 10ths or 15ths of income. The Cornish were also irked by the notion of being considered part of Britain at all, since they saw themselves as distinct and had been granted a fair bit of autonomy in the past. Also, they were about as far away from Scotland as you can get and still be on mainland Britain, so they couldn’t have cared less about an invasion of such a far-away place.

In response to the tax, Michael, a blacksmith, and Thomas, a lawyer, incited a revolt and marched into Devon with 15,000 recruits. They moved on to Wells and recruited the seventh Baron Audley to their cause. They continued to march across the south of England and attempted to recruit the volatile men of Kent, who showed them the door immediately. The army arrived at Guildford on 13 June, prompting the royal family to take refuge in the safety of the Tower of London, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Cornish army set up camp on Hounslow Heath and were sent food and wine by the Lord Mayor of London.

The following day there was a small skirmish with 500 mounted spearmen sent from the city, and after that the army recamped at Blackheath, where they could look down onto the Thames and City of London. Some of the Cornish started to desert, leaving about 9-10,000 remaining.

Henry, meanwhile, had managed to pull together 25,000 men, as well as cavalry and artillery the Cornish lacked. The two armies clashed at The Battle of Deptford Bridge on 17 June and the Cornish were defeated. An Gof, Baron Audley, and Thomas Flamank were all taken prisoner.

Being a vindictive bastard, Henry extracted severe monetary penalties from the people of Cornwall, reducing whole sections of the area to penury for years to come. Estates were seized and prisoners sold into slavery. An Gof and Flamank were sentenced to the traitor’s death of being hanged, drawn, and quartered, but Henry was in a giving mood that day and allowed them both to hang until dead before they were decapitated. Audley was beheaded on 28 June at Tower Hill. All three heads were displayed on London Bridge as a warning to others.

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