Cornish Rebellion Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The unsuccessful Cornish Rebellion of 1497, also known as the Perkin Warbeck conspiracy, which began as a protest against exorbitant taxation, revealed the existence of widespread popular discontent with Henry VII and even of efforts to replace him on the throne.

Summary of Event

By the end of the fifteenth century, the inhabitants of Cornwall had resented for more than one hundred years the gradual replacement of their language by English, which they saw as a threat to their cultural identity. These feelings may explain their enthusiastic support of the Tudor pretender, who became King Henry VII, against Richard III, for Henry emphasized his Welsh birth and claimed descent from the Celtic king Arthur. Cornish Rebellion (1497) Henry VII Michael An Gof Flamank, Thomas Touchet, James Warbeck, Perkin Daubney, Giles, Lord Henry VII (king of England) Richard III (king of England) Warbeck, Perkin Oby, John Michael An Gof Flamank, Thomas Touchet, James Daubney, Giles, Lord

However, in 1476, Henry VII crippled the Cornish economy by suspending the operation of the Western Stannaries, or tin mines, because the miners had rejected his new regulations. He also imposed exorbitant taxes, which in many cases amounted to tripled assessments. The Yorkists Yorkists took advantage of the situation by having their own pretender, Perkin Warbeck, issue a statement in September, 1496, urging subjects who were unhappy with the harsh tax policies of Henry VII to rebel and put Warbeck on the throne as Richard IV. Taxation;England

When the Cornish did rebel, however, their uprising began as a purely local matter. In mid-May, 1497, his neighbors in western Cornwall accused a Penryn provost, John Oby, of siphoning off a portion of the taxes they had paid rather than transmitting them to the crown. Soon their attack on Oby flared up into a full-fledged revolt. It was led by Michael An Gof, a blacksmith, with Thomas Flamank, a lawyer, as his second in command. Among the rebels were numerous members of the clergy, who had been especially hard hit by the new tax policy; gentry unhappy about the loans to the Crown they had been forced to make; and an assortment of people from the lower ranks of society. The gathering army marched eastward toward London, where their stated aim was to persuade Henry VII to dismiss two of his advisers, John Morton and Sir Reginald Bray.

As they marched to London, the rebels attempted to drum up support for their cause and to swell their ranks. Although the people of Exeter, in Devonshire, showed little interest, the rebels found many sympathizers in Somerset, including one nobleman, James Touchet, Lord Audley, who joined them at Wells early in June. Lord Audley’s motive for disaffection is not clear. Suggestions that he was impoverished are unfounded, for in actuality he was well off. However, it is true that after becoming king, Henry VII seems to have forgotten the fact that the Audleys had been his supporters during his exile. Lord Audley may have been particularly angry when he saw the Audley interests ignored and royal preferment instead going to rivals like John Cheyne.

In any case, Lord Audley’s participation in the rebellion supports the theory that its ostensible purpose, to draw the attention of the king to the grievances of his subjects, was at this point no longer the intent of many of the rebels. Evidence has been found that messages were sent from Wells to the pretender, offering to help him take over the throne, though it is unclear whether they reached him before the battle that ended the rebellion.

By now, there were at least fifteen thousand men in the rebel forces, perhaps many more. From Wells, the rebels sent messengers north to Bristol, ordering the town to surrender. It has been suggested that they intended to fortify that coastal town and bring Warbeck there from Scotland, where he had taken refuge. However, when the mayor of Bristol defied the rebels and refused to capitulate, the rebel leaders decided to speed up their march on London. They split their forces, and Michael An Gof led his men southeast to Winchester, then northeast to Farnham and Guildford, approaching London from the southwest. Audley marched north to Wallingford, near Oxford, perhaps intending to draw the king’s army in the wrong direction, perhaps planning to cross the Thames and attack London from the north.

The rebellion broke out so suddenly and developed so rapidly that Henry could very well have been overwhelmed before he realized what was happening. Fortunately, during his long and hazardous exile, he had learned how to respond rapidly to a crisis. Hastily Henry called back the troops that were on their way north to invade Scotland. By the second week of June, he had gathered a large force at Woodstock, and soon he was on his way toward Wallingford. Meanwhile, he sent Giles, Lord Daubney, to the south.

At Guildford, some five hundred of Daubney’s men attacked the rebels and sent them scurrying into Kent, where they hoped to augment their numbers. However, finding no support there, they turned back north toward London, finally arriving at Deptford, just above Blackheath. Though they were now in sight of London, their professed goal, the rebels were becoming disheartened; some of them even approached Daubney with an offer to surrender their leaders in return for a general pardon. The offer was rejected, and on June 16, the rebel army encamped at Blackheath Blackheath, Battle of (1497) .

When the sun rose on June 17, according to some accounts the rebel forces had been so lessened by desertions that they now numbered no more than nine thousand. The king had twenty-five thousand men. Significantly, one-fourth of them had been provided by some twenty of his nobles, who had proven their loyalty to Henry by thus responding to his urgent summons.

During the first attack by the royal army, the rebel bowmen acquitted themselves well, according to one report killing three hundred of Henry’s men; later on, the Cornishmen managed to capture Daubney, though they released him unharmed. However, the rebels never had a chance of winning the day. Many of them were killed and many more, including the three leaders, were taken prisoner. By two in the afternoon, Henry was back in London giving thanks at St. Paul’. Ten days later, Thomas Flamank and Michael An Gof were hanged and quartered at Tyburn. Lord Audley was arrayed in a ragged coat of armor made of paper, then taken from Newgate to Tower Hill, where he was beheaded. Henry pardoned the other prisoners but levied heavy fines on everyone who had been involved in the rebellion.

Significance

Although the defeat of the rebels at Blackheath halted Scotland’s sponsorship of the Yorkist pretender, it did not end the Perkin Warbeck conspiracy. Later in 1497, Warbeck landed in Cornwall, raised a following of eight thousand men, and prepared to face the king’s forces. However, during the night he slipped away from his army and fled toward the coast. After he had to surrender, he confessed that he was a fraud. His disillusioned supporters were left to pay the fines that were always the king’s preferred method of punishment. Thus, the year 1497 marked the turning point of Henry VII’s reign. After twelve years of peril from plots and uprisings, he was firmly established on the throne.

However, Cornwall was not yet reconciled to being assimilated by England. Over the next 150 years, there would be four more major rebellions in Cornwall and four incursions into England. The Cornish clung stubbornly to their culture and their language until finally, in 1648, when the Cornish Royalists were defeated by the Roundheads, Cornwall had to abandon its tradition of cultural independence and become just another county in England.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Arthurson, Ian. The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy, 1491-1499. 1994. Reprint. Wolfeboro Falls, N.H.: Alan Sutton, 1998. A thorough, well-documented study of the Cornish Rebellion and its historical background. Notes evidence of Warbeck’s involvement in the conspiracy and also points out possible reasons for Lord Audley’s actions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fletcher, Anthony. Tudor Rebellions. 4th ed. London: Longmans, 1997. Contains a brief summary. Includes maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gairdner, James. Henry the Seventh. 1926. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1989. Explains why Cornwall was a hotbed of rebellion, while counties such as Kent refused to become involved.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mackie, John Duncan. The Earlier Tudors, 1485-1558. 1952. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. A short, readable account, containing some details not found in other sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stoyle, Mark. “Cornish Rebellions, 1497-1648.” History Today 47 (May, 1997): 22-29. Presents convincing evidence that the five Cornish rebellions were not merely protests against specific measures but were actually expressions of cultural nationalism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Williamson, James A. The Tudor Age. 3d ed. Reprint. London: Longman, 1979. The uprising is seen as to some degree a continuation of the struggle between York and Lancaster.

1455-1485: Wars of the Roses

1483-1485: Richard III Rules England

Beginning 1485: The Tudors Rule England

1489: Yorkshire Rebellion

Dec. 1, 1494: Poynings’ Law

Aug. 22, 1513-July 6, 1560: Anglo-Scottish Wars

1536 and 1543: Acts of Union Between England and Wales

Oct., 1536-June, 1537: Pilgrimage of Grace

1549: Kett’s Rebellion

Jan. 25-Feb. 7, 1554: Wyatt’s Rebellion

Nov. 9, 1569: Rebellion of the Northern Earls

1597-Sept., 1601: Tyrone Rebellion

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