On or around this day in 1497, around 10000 – lightly – armed Cornish rebels gathered on Blackheath preparatory to marching on London to protest against oppressive royal rule and punitive taxation (suspension of the privileges of the “Stannary Charter” of 1305). Unfortunately for them, they failed to rally any support there from the Kentish, who were rightly fearful of a reprisal of the sort that had been meted out to them for their support of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381 and Jack Cade’s rebellion in 1450. It was thus a comparatively weak force, further diluted by desertion, that eventually lighted out for London, and certainly one that was easily crushed by the king’s 20000-strong professional army at the Battle of Deptford Bridge (also known as the Battle of Blackheath). Contemporary records indicate that between two hundred and two thousand Cornishmen were killed in the battle, along with between eight and three hundred of the king’s men. The principal rebel leaders Michael Joseph the Smith (An Gof) and Thomas Flamank were captured at the battle and hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn ten days later, whereupon their heads were put up on pike-staffs on London Bridge. Flamank was quoted as saying “Speak the truth and only then can you be free of your chains”. Nonetheless, the persecution and pauperisation of the Cornish continued for many years to come.
The Cornish Revolt is discussed on our “Rebellious London” themed special.
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