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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 .

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Treason and plots – a tale of 1468

Lady Eleanor Butler (born Talbot) probably knew that she was dying. In the early months of 1468, she transferred the lands that were hers to transfer to her sister, Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk. Where these lands came from is something of a mystery. John Ashdown-Hill has demonstrated that they were not dower lands, could not have been inherited, and were almost certainly not bought by Lady Eleanor, as she lacked the resources. The most probable origin of this mysterious land is that it was a gift from Edward IV. As King Edward was not in the habit of gifting land to random females this is suggestive of a connection between them. Of course, some people have pointed out that the land was not particularly valuable. Oh, well that makes it OK then! The point is that land –  even small amounts of it – was not just handed out for no reason. No one has satisfactorily explained where the land came from if it did not come from the King.

Anyway, no sooner was this sorted than King Edward appointed Duchess Elizabeth to go to Burgundy with his sister, Margaret of York, on the occasion of the latter’s wedding. This involved the Duchess being in charge of the whole female side of things – no mean responsibility when around one hundred women and girls were attached to Margaret’s train. The reason for Elizabeth’s selection was probably that she was the most senior English lady who was not either a member of the royal house or a Woodville, or both. It may also have been intended as a mark of favour to her husband, John Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, who, although apparently not the sharpest knife in the drawer by a long way, was at least a loyal Yorkist.

So off they popped to sunny Burgundy, to the celebration and pageantry that John Paston felt there were no words to describe. Elizabeth’s brother, Sir Humphrey Talbot, went with her. The unfortunate Eleanor was left behind in Norfolk to die without any of her birth family around her, although one would like to think that Norfolk himself visited with the occasional bunch of flowers. She was buried in the house of the White Carmelites at Norwich.

Elizabeth had scarcely set foot back in England (round about July 1468) when two of her servants John Poynings and Richard Alford, were charged with having treasonable dealings with the agents of the Lancastrians in Kouer-La-Petite. Brought to trial, they were found guilty and were hanged, drawn and quartered.

Now, as I mentioned above, Elizabeth’s husband, Norfolk, was a loyal Yorkist. So why should his servants have been suspected of intrigue with the Lancastrians? It makes no obvious sense. Elizabeth herself – though one of the most charming individuals to appear in the Paston Letters – was in no position to do anything of significance for the Lancastrian cause even if she was that way inclined. She did not control her husband’s retainers, or his castles, or anything helpful.

One of the Lancastrian exiles present in Flanders was, however, Somerset, Elizabeth’s first cousin, and brother to her good friend Lady Anne Paston. It is possible that she sought to pass on family news to him – but if this is the explanation, the treatment of her servants was extremely severe.

So was this a shot across the bows, to warn Elizabeth to keep her mouth shut about – certain matters? Who knows.

What can be said is that on 8 December 1468 the Duchess took out a pardon for all offences before 7 December. It is quite unusual for a married woman to take out a pardon without the inclusion of her husband. In civil matters she had no separate legal standing, she was under coverture. It may simply have been an insurance for any errors or omissions committed while serving in the office of Margaret’s Principal Lady-in-Waiting. There was, after all, potentially a lot to go wrong, jewels to go missing, whatever. But it could also indicate something more sinister.

On 28 January 1469, the Duchess’ brother, Sir Humphrey Talbot also received a general pardon.

It looks to me as if in the autumn/early winter of 1468, Elizabeth and Humphrey were under royal suspicion for something. The question is, was it something they did, or something they knew?

 

 

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