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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 .

THE DARRELLS OF LITTLECOTE

Littlecote House in Wiltshire, now a Warner’s hotel (those with very long memories might remember it as a sort of theme park/tourist attraction in the 1980’s) is considered to be one of England’s most haunted houses. Amongst the many spooks that haunt its halls is a burning baby, said to be the spirit of  a child murdered by Wild William Darrell, the master of the house in the 1570’s, who supposedly threw an  illegitimate infant into the fire directly after its birth. (He was later said to have been killed by falling off his horse when the baby’s apparition appeared before him–he then became a ghost himself.)

Whether any part of the legend is true or not (and there’s some evidences parts of it are), there were certainly Darrells living at Littlecote house long before Wild William or the Tudor/Elizabeth mansion we see today–back in the late medieval period.

One of its residents at that period was Margaret Beaufort. No, not THAT Margaret Beaufort but the ‘other one’, who also had a notorious son called Henry. She was the mother of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Daughter of Edmund Beaufort, second Duke of Somerset and Lady Eleanor Beauchamp, Margaret first married Humphrey Earl of Stafford, son of the first Duke of Buckingham (also called Humphrey) and produced Henry and another son (Humphrey again!), whose ultimate fate is unknown. (He was taken into Elizabeth Woodville’s household and made a Knight of the Bath at the same time as Henry but references to him vanish after that–presumably he died young.)

Humphrey Stafford was badly wounded at the first battle of  St Albans and never seemed to fully recover. He died a few years  after the battle, possibly of plague, possibly through effects of his injuries, making Henry the heir to his grandfather’s title at the tender age of 4/5.

Margaret soon remarried,  to Richard Darrell of Littlecote. They had one daughter, Margaret (Henry Stafford’s half-sister), who married James Tuchet, 7th Baron Audley. James was one of the commanders in the Cornish rebellion against Henry VII in 1497. He was captured, along with the other leaders of the rebellion, and executed on Tower Hill on June 28.

Although now a hotel, Littlecote House still allows non-residential visitors to look around the gardens, several of the interior rooms rooms, and visit the amazing Roman mosaic that lies within its grounds. Look for the sign that says ‘day parking’ and park there for access.

 

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