Crossing the Tamar – 1497 Cornish uprising.

Extract from John Angarrack’s  ‘Our Future is History‘…

To place additional pressure on Cornish society, the Duke’s father, Henry VII, rescinded the right of the Cornish to seek recourse to justice through their customary legal system. As soon as the limited protection from the Stannary Charters was withdrawn, a new imperial taxation measure was proposed. This period brought an ambitious and belligerent imperial state into direct confrontation with a recalcitrant peripheral nation.

Although the newly proposed levy of the tenth and fifteenth was, like that which was resisted in 1338, illegal under the terms of the 1305 Charter, London wanted it both ways. Instead of accepting profits from mineral extraction in return for a measure of devolved autonomy, they now wanted maximum profit, total conformity and blind obedience. The constitutional ‘High Noon’ brought about the complete breakdown in relations between Cornwall and England.

Old law books suggested to Flamank that is was unlawful for the men of Cornwall to have to contribute towards Henry’s aspirations.

Unrest grew first in the far West where Michael Joseph an Gof [The Smith] rallied support on the grounds of Cornwall’s inability to pay. At St Keverne he gathered a body of determined men and set out for Bodmin.  On arrival, lawer Thomas Flamank explained the unlawful nature of the tax. No doubt, grounds for complaint would also have included the double Cornish tribute based on Cornish racial difference. With their cause made just, the lesser gentry [landowners with a common element of Cornishness] joined the protesters.

That June upward of 10,000 Cornishmen crossed the Tamar determined to inform the imperial overlord [who they rather optimistically assumed to be badly informed] of the true legal position. Three weeks later, exhausted, malnourished, ill-armed and encamped on Blackheath field overlooking London, the uncompromising nature of English autocracy began to dawn on them.

What faced them was one of the most formidable fighting forces ever assembled. An army greater than that which the King of England had amassed to prise the Crown from Richard III, greater even than that which had subdued the might of all France at Agincourt. The Cornish civil rights protesters faced an onslaught from twenty-five thousand well paid, highly disciplined and heavily armed English footsoldiers, spearsmen, archers and armoured cavalry.

Thoughts of their homeland, of loved ones left behind, and the certain fate that would befall them once battle was joined, played on the minds of the Cornishmen now in a foreign land. But the point of no return had passed, what was done could not be undone. As the sun rose the following morning, with the Cornish preparing to sell their lives as dearly as possible, the thundering English onslaught was launched.

As is usual in these circumstances, English diplomacy was based on a Stone Age philosophy whereupon all those that resist English imperial policy are eventually bludgeoned into submission. On this occasion, although the Cornish fought bravely; outmatched, outnumbered and out-manoeuvred, it was carnage. Those not butchered where they stood were hunted down like vermin. Many were captured and sold into slavery. This is how the militant English behave when their desire to impose their will upon others is resisted. This instinctive hostility to the thought of non-English people possessing rights can be found today in the reaction to our struggle for due deference, parity of esteem and equality before the law.

The figures for Cornish dead are given by Chancellor to the Duchy of Cornwall Francis Bacon, Peter Beresford Ellis, Neville Williams, William Blake, Lake’s History of Cornwall and just about everyone else as two thousand. Bard of the Cornish Gorseth A.L. Rowse lowers this figure tenfold.

The Cornish leaders were rounded up and tortured before facing the inevitable show trial. Then came the public humiliation of being dragged upside down on a wooden frame for five miles through central London to the place of judicially approved murder. And yet, with the English court sealing a most terrible fate, Angof could still defiantly boast that he would:

“Have a name perpetual, a fame permanent and immortal.”

And so he would if the forcibly imposed English state-education system did not, for political reasons, deselect aspects of history they consider inappropriate. The Christian sentence as announced and executed:

The court doth award that you be led back to the place from whence you came and from thence be drawn upon hurdles to the place of execution. And there you shall be hanged by the neck, and being alive cut down. And then your privy members to be cut off, and your entrails to be taken out of your bodies and you living, the same to be burnt before your eyes.

And your heads to be cut off, and your bodies to be divided each into four quarters and your heads and quarters to be disposed of at the pleasure of the King’s majesty.

This is the stock from whence we came, and their martyrdom forms part of our common heritage. Angof’s fine words, uttered in defiance of his vengeful persecutors, are not the words of a mealy-mouthed tax evader. He was a civil rights leader, and his sacrifice, together with that of his fellow countrymen, exhibits an incalculable love for his homeland. Deeds such as this deserve proper recognition for they convey a passion and conviction borne of prolonged and systematic  injustice.

3 thoughts on “Crossing the Tamar – 1497 Cornish uprising.

  1. Tony Piper says:

    I shall always be haunted by the memory of hearing the late Mr Recorder Paul Laity, reading the 1497 version of the death sentence at Marble Arch (Tyburn) on 27th June 1997. A real impact to hear the pronouncement read by a real Judge. Paul’s early & untimely demise has left a vacuum which exists to this day.

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