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From the Lizard to Deptford Bridge – a guest post

An Gof and the Cornish Rebellion 1497

As the early summer sun seared upon Bodmin Moor, sweeping south westwards to Goonhilly Downs , which straddles a swathe of the Lizard Peninsula , the tortured arid landscapes  weren’t the only features of 1497 Cornwall, threatening to ignite in a blaze of fiery agitation. In  1337 the great Plantagenet King Edward III decreed his young son (Edward) “Duke of Cornwall”. The relevant  Charter recognized that Cornwall , was one of the “remarkable places in our kingdoms”. The Duchy acknowledged Cornwall’s “difference” while maintaining a substantial connection to the dynastic regime . It also took jurisdiction of an earlier institution called the Stannaries, which were re-founded  in 1201 during the reign of King John. They offered Cornish tinners (who in 1586 were reported to be “so rough and mutinous , multitude , 10,000 or 12,000 the most strong men in England”! ) licence from the  regular system of law. The Stannary Parliament enjoyed considerable authority which could even overrule Westminster laws. However, there was no exemption from the king’s taxes. 

By  the early 1490s, due to a diminishing  annual tin yield, all was not well . Tensions arose when the Council of Prince Arthur, Duke of Cornwall , declared tougher regulations for the tin industry. Subsequently  as might have been expected of a maverick spirited people the rules were mostly breached . This show of audacity was swiftly curtailed  by an indignant Henry VII who suspended the Cornish Stannary government . Thus the scene was set for an even  greater conflict which revolved around the enduring contention of taxation.

Perkin Warbeck, who was a pretender to the English throne had garnered support in Scotland , which had the effect of precipitating additional national taxes to finance military action against his northern allies. John Arundell , Richard Flamank, John Trevenor, and Thomas Erisey, were the tax assessors in Cornwall. Not surprisingly the hard pressed  Cornish were soon griping about the unwelcome burden to be foisted on them . The initial expression of blatant insurrection was voiced in  the distant parish of St Keverne, situated on the Lizard Peninsula .  The poorest were exempted from the tax, and  it’s been indicted that a prime motive for the dissenters’ rage was the detested tax collector Sir John Oby. The chief advocates of Cornish disapproval were a tough St Keverne,  blacksmith called Michael Joseph , known as An Gof (The Smith) and an  articulate Bodmin lawyer , Thomas Flamank ; son of the tax assessor Richard Flamank . Consequently  their impassioned rhetoric had the effect of giving rise to an insurgent march towards London. On reaching Wells, in Somerset, they were joined by James Tuchet, “Lord Audley”, who became the commander of the force . By June , the rustic band of brothers were closing  on their destination but were to be disappointed as they weren’t reinforced by the previously rebellious men of Kent. Some became disheartened and deserted the cause. The Great Chronicle of London , described a rebel army of 15,000 who were “favoured” by the people of the territories they’d passed through….”but  which became reduced to between 9,000 -10,000 when it eventually  set up camp at Blackheath.

Tragedy at Blackheath:

The rebel encampment was wisely sited on top of a hill ; the plan being  to attack Henry Tudor’s  army (whose total number of 25,000 included 8,000 soldiers assembled by Lord Daubeney in readiness for war with Scotland) from the high ground ; however, in reality victory over  well equipped troops under experienced leadership  by a company  of peasants armed with little more than bows, arrows, scythes and pikes would have been a miracle . Thus, on the morning of the 17th of June 1497, the Cornish found  their position surrounded by the king’s  forces , though Henry, himself  with a huge reserve and artillery kept out of danger at St George’s Fields, in the suburbs of London !  Rebel archers were stationed to block entry to their chosen ground via Deptford Bridge ; letting fly with arrows a full yard long , “so strong and mighty a bow the Cornishmen were said to draw” ! Though initially tested , Daubeney broke through with (depending on conflicting sources) reported losses of between 8 to 300.  Inexperience told when the Cornish  failed to support the archers defending the bridge, offering Royal troops  the opportunity to storm across to engage their men  who had  neither horse nor artillery . Soon , outnumbered and with vastly inferior weapons, the rebellious enterprise, whose slain were put at between 200 and 2,000, which had started out with such burning  fervour was over and, by 2pm Henry VII was riding triumphantly through London . The three principal leaders of the rebellion were all captured and executed . An Gof and fellow Cornishman Flamank, were both drawn, hanged and quartered at Tyburn, on the 27th of June 1497 while Audley, their noble associate was beheaded at Tower Hill on the 28th. Their heads were then gibbeted on London Bridge.

So it was that the Cornish Rebellion of 1497 ended in military defeat , yet has since catapulted the names of it’s valiant local  heroes to Cornish legendary status. Uncannily  the last words of An Gof, are reported as being that he should have “a name perpetual and a fame permanent and immortal” . Thomas Flamank’s were said to be, “Speak the truth and only then can you be free of your chains”.

Other names mentioned as having joined the 1497 uprising are :

John Trevysall from Madron
William Antron from Antron
John Tresynny from Penryn
John Rosewarne from Rosewarne
Ralph Retallack from St Columb
Richard Borlase from St Wenn
Thomas Polgrene from Polgrene
John Allan from Stoke Climsland
William Ham from Stoke Climsland

Fifty priests and 69 women were also involved .

If Henry Tudor thought that the crushing of the Cornish at Blackheath , would discourage them from further insurgence, he was mistaken and, a mere two months later, they were again mobilising ; this time under the leadership of none other than Yorkist pretender Perkin Warbeck, who was proclaimed King Richard IV at Bodmin! A new force, numbering in the region of 6000 men which included members of the minor Cornish gentry marched into Devon, where they laid siege to  Exeter, but following hand  to hand fighting were repulsed and moved on to Taunton , which was the place where, bewildered and vexed, they were deserted by Warbeck ! Following their surrender some  were executed, but the majority were pardoned ; those with material resources having to pay for the privilege .

Henry VII imposed heavy fines  on Cornwall, which only served to sustain resentment . However, by 1508 he opted for a change in strategy to gain the allegiance the Cornish, with the Charter of Pardon, which restored the Stannaries.

 

Article by Max Retallack, a descendent of Thomas Flamank : 2019

Flamank Coat of Arms : Thomas Flamank was co leader, with Michael Joseph “An Gof “, of the Cornish Rebellion of 1497.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Statue depicting Cornish 1497 Rebellion leaders Michael Joseph “An Gof” and Thomas Flamank , sited at the entrance of the village of St Keverne, Cornwall, to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the uprising .

Did Richard hear the old Welsh legend of the Twrch Trwyth…..?

 

 

Twrch Trwyth - 1

I have often wondered why Richard chose a boar as his cognizance. There are other heraldic beasts and symbols that might have appealed to him, but it was a white boar that he chose. Why? Well, from all accounts, he was only a child when he made the decision, so what might have drawn him to this particular creature?

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There is a very famous, very large boar in the old Welsh stories, called the Twrch Trwyth, which means “the boar, Trwyth”. He is really a prince, but so wicked that he and his children have been cursed. This terrible creature and his family led King Arthur and his knights a merry chase from Ireland, across Wales, and thence over the Severn to Cornwall. He was never caught. Might such a story have engaged the attention of the boy Richard? After all, he lived for a while at Ludlow Castle, right in the Welsh Marches, where he was as likely to hear Welsh stories as English and French.

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It does not take much for me to imagine Richard, together with other noble boys of his age, gathered around by firelight on a winter night, listening rapt as an old Welsh retainer tells them the adventures of the Trwch Trwyth. The picture below may be taken in bright daylight, but when the sun goes down and darkness sets in, the atmosphere would be perfect for some storytelling.

Ludlow in winter

The tale of the Twrch Trwyth comes from a much longer story, that of Culhwch and Olwen, in which Culhwch falls in love with Olwen, a giant’s daughter, and seeks her hand. The gist of the action is that the giant sets Culhwch a list of tasks which must be completed before Olwen is given up. The format is much the same as the Twelve Labours of Hercules. Anyway, one of these tasks is to find Trwyth and retrieve the comb, scissors and razor he carries between his ears. Cwlhwch must obtain the help of King Arthur and his best knights to hunt the great boar and its equally monstrous sons, which are all rampaging around Ireland.

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by Margaret Jones

 

And so the famous hunt begins, first in Ireland, and then across to Wales, where Trwyth and his sons cause more havoc. Trwyth himself evades capture, but one by one his sons are trapped and killed. Hunters are killed too, but Arthur continues the pursuit.

Arthur and the Twrch Trwyth by Margaret Isaac

Reaching the mouth of the River Wye, Trwyth seems cornered at last, and the hunters manage to retrieve the comb, scissors and razor, but Trwyth escapes into the estuary of the River Severn, and manages to swim across to the Gloucestershire shore. There he dashes on toward Cornwall. Arthur’s two best hounds chase after him, but Trwyth reaches Land’s End and leaps into the sea, followed by the hounds. All three disappear forever.

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What a wonderfully exciting yarn to listen to. What heroic images conjured in small boys’ minds. Did Richard hear it? Was he in awe of the Trwch Trwyth’s amazing stamina and bravery? Did he admire the way even King Arthur was unable to capture his prey? Did he think to himself that one day, he would have a boar as his mascot? A Twrch Trwyth of his own. A magical white (white animals were always special and sought after) boar to carry into battle in his name, as befitted the House of York?

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Well, Richard might never have heard the story, of course, but I still find it an attractive possibility. And I do like to envisage that scene at Ludlow, boys—and girls, of course—gathered around of an evening as a Welsh storyteller entertains them with tales of magic and myth.

Land's End

 

 

 

Tintagel-More Kings Than Just Arthur

Tintagel in Cornwall is best known for its connections to King Arthur. However, the castle, although reputed in folklore to be Arthur’s birthplace, does not date from the Dark Ages but from medieval times, being first built by Earl Reginald, the illegitimate son of Henry I, then later remodelled by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, younger brother of Henry III.  Earl Richard built most of what we see today, including the ‘Iron Gate’ which guards the cove, as well as the curtain walls, the buttresses augmenting the great hall, and the grand entranceway leading out into the nearby valley.

At one time  a chapel to St Julitta stood within the castle walls; although Tintagel was described as ‘ruinous but still strong’ in the 1470’s, King Richard III appointed a chaplain, John Leicrofte to St Julitta’s in 1483. A few years later, not long after Richard’s defeat at Bosworth, Henry VII made one John Upcoate captain of the castle for his ‘services beyond the sea.’

Just above the ruins, standing alone and isolated from the village, is an ancient church dedicated to a very obscure Cornish Saint called  Materiana. William of Worcester, journeying through Cornwall in 1478, wrote that she ‘performed a miracle on a man out of his mind, and on one woman and a certain girl upon the Feast of St James.’

In the 15th c, the patronage of Tintagel and St Materiana’s church was entailed to Alice Chaucer, and upon her third marriage to William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, the advowson was given to the couple for life.

Eventually this passed to their son John de la Pole (father of John, earl of Lincoln, Richard III’s designated heir after the death of his son). John’s wife was Elizabeth of York, sister to Edward IV and Richard III, and it was likely that Edward asked John and Elizabeth to relinquish rights of patronage. This was done by letters patent in June 1480.

At this particular time, Edward was busy remodelling the Chapel of St George at Windsor, and therefore the remote the Cornish church of St Materiana was assigned to the dean and canons of St George’s ‘to hold to them and their successors forever.’

Even today, whenever a new priest is needed for the parish, the appointment is made by St George’s chapel. The ties between Windsor and Tintagel, created by Edward IV, have never been broken in 500 years.

(Photos show the ruined castle with St Materiana’s church on the cliff, sections of the ruins, and a tile with the eagle of Richard of Cornwall.)

The Nanfans and the shadow of Raggedstone Hill….

Malvern_Hills_-_England

It was a member of the Nanfan family of Birtsmorton Court in Worcestershire (Sir Richard Nanfan, Deputy Lieutenant of Calais) who told tales to Henry VII about Sir James Tyrell giving succour to the fugitive Yorkist de la Pole brothers, Edmund and Richard. Tyrell had done this knowing full well that the elder brother, Edmund, planned to take the throne from Henry. Nanfan’s action led to Tyrell’s eventual execution, after the so-called confession that he murdered the boys in the Tower on the orders of Richard III.

However, it is not this aspect of the Nanfan family’s history that I am about to relate here, rather is it the dreadful curse that is supposed to have been cast upon one of Sir Richard’s ancestors, a Sir John Nanfan (there was more than one, and I cannot say exactly which it was).

Birtsmorton Court

The Nanfans originated in Cornwall, but occupied Birtsmorton Court for about 300 years all told. As you will see from the photograph above, the moated house has to be one of the most beautiful in the realm. Weddings are held there now, and such a spectacular setting cannot help but make it sought after. The house nestles in the eastern shadow of the Malvern Hills. Oh, how frequently we use that expression, “in the shadow of”. It generally means nothing sinister, but in the case of the Nanfans of Birtsmorton, it  had supposedly fatal consequences.

North-west of Birtsmorton, just a little closer to the hills, is Little Malvern Priory, and it was one of the monks from here who cursed the Nanfans. It began when Sir John Nanfan enclosed land on Raggedstone Hill (one of the spine of the Malvern Hills that can be seen from three counties – see photograph at the top of this page) that the priory believed was its property, not his. One November day, Sir John found one of the monks on this disputed land and ordered him away. The monk stoutly insisted that the land didn’t belong to the Nanfans, and that if Sir John persisted in trying to steal it, God’s wrath would descend upon him.

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The summit of Raggedstone Hill showing how it deserves its name. Photograph from geography.org.uk

Well, Sir John wasn’t going to be spoken to like that, and told the monk what he could do with his threats. The monk calmly excommunicated him and warned that whenever the shadow of Raggedstone Hill fell upon Birtsmorton Court, the oldest son of the family would die within a year. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the shadow fell thus that very day. Nor was it a coincidence that Sir John’s son and heir died in the allotted time.

Supposedly the shadow of the hill can only fall on the house on a certain November day, and if the sun isn’t shining at the time, i.e. is hidden by cloud, no prophesy can come true.

According to the legend, Nanfan heirs did indeed die within a year of Birtsmorton Court being darkened by the shadow of the hill. Roy Palmer, in Herefordshire Folklore, lists that one fell from a horse, another was a casualty in the Civil War (the only royalist to die in a skirmish in the Leadon Valley), and yet another died in a duel after the Restoration. When the elder branch of the Nanfans withered, the malediction transferred to a junior branch, and so on.

It has to be conceded that the Nanfans do not have the legend to themselves. Another version is that it was the Druids who from the hilltop cursed the Romans down below.Duids cursing the Romans

Is any of it true? Well, there will be some incident at the heart of it, a confrontation, and maybe someone wished something nasty on someone else, but that will be the end of it. I do not believe in curses. Um, well, not really….

 

The First Cornish Rebellion

(guest post by Max)

Fire raging, Wild south-west .
Bright beacon blazon sad oppressed.
Michael Joseph, Martyred name .
Behold him lead the fervent flame.
Artisan of iron and steel.
Man of Cornwall, Steadfast zeal.
Justice, Law, Flamank’s desire.
One and all for rustic shire.
Flag of Piran, Cross of white .
Proclaiming peasants’ human right.
Forward growing wrathful crowd.
Spitting fury, Raucous, Loud.
Provision , weapons, Marching hike .
Dagger, arrows, scythe and pike .
At Deptford Bridge, longbows let fly.
Lethal tears from anguished sky.
The hammer wields, Strike forth, Retreat.
Unyielding anvil scorns defeat .
Forge embers cooling tempered glow.
Shackled rebels, Gloating foe.
Harsh ruthless hurdle , chained astride.
Vindictive captors, Hope denied.
Savage torment, Tortured, Slain.
Defiant words survive disdain !

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