For a complete account, see: SOSKERNOW, Friends of Cornwall
Henry VIII, King of England, died in 1547, and was succeded by his son Edward VI. The young kings uncle Edward Seymour became Protector. He was quite incapable of appreciating the complexities that faced him and delicacy with which he would have to tread in pursuit of his aims. His inheritance was a formidable one. The treasury was empty; prices were soaring owing to Henry's debasement of the currency; trade was in confusion, and the acquisition of monastic lands by the gentry had intensified the enclosure movement and consequent unemployment and distress of the peasants. He tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the Scots to join a voluntary union with England , but , was rejected. On 10 Sep the Protector destroyed the chances of a reconciliation by invading Scotland and defeating the Scots at the Battle of Pinkie. In domestic affairs, the protector proceeded with moderation in consolidating the Protestant Reformation in England. He repealed Henry VIII's heresy laws, which had made it treason to attack the kings leadership of the Church.
In Cornwall discontent mounted mainley due to the newfagled religion that the distant London goverment was foisting on them. For the Cornish, particularly the purer Cornish-speaking Celts of the west, were now fanatically attached to the Roman Church as they had bitterly opposed to it a few centuries before. Superstitious and therefore conservative, they feared change and the unknown.
The Church had not yet been relieved of all its superfluous wealth; the Monasteries had gone, but chantries, religious gilds and collegaite churches remained. Much of the biggest of the Cornish collegsite foundations was Glasney. It was not difficult to find witnesses who were ready to swear that the buildings had been neglected, and that the provost and his priests were more given to drinking and the chase than to religion. In spite of the attempt of the local gentry to reatain the place as a fortress, the church was stripped of its lead, bells and plate, the buildings were sold, and soon there was little trace of were the three centuries old college had stood. Crantock and the other collegiate houses were dissolved and their lands seized by the crown, though most of their churches were spared, and St Buryan remained a deanery for another three centuries.
In 1548, orders were issued that festivals were no longer to be celebrated with Popish paraphernalia as candles, ashes and palms, there was to be no making of holy bread and holy water, and all images were to be removed.
William Body, who had leased the archdeaconry of Cornwall from an illegitimate son of Wolsey; was happy destroying the images in Helston church in Apr that year. A mob of possibly up to three thousand men assembled to join a group of parishioners from St Keverne led by Martin Geoffrey, their priest and William John Kilter a yeomen of Constantine. Body took refuge in a house, but was dragged into the street and stabbed to death. The western justices could do nothing, but help soon came from the eastern gentry and the incipient revolt was crushed.
Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity in Jan 1549, enforcing the use of the Book of Common Prayer, a simplified form of service in English instead of the old Latin Mass to which the people had been accustomed for centuries. The Prayer Book was first used on Whitsunday. the people of Stanford Courtney in Devon made their priest put on his vestments and say Mass. The movement spread, and within days the Cornish parishoners were also demanding their Masses.
Bodmin, was a natural centre for resistance, and there the insurgents gathered under the leadership of the mayor, Henry Bray, and two staunch Catholic landowners, Sir Humprey Arundell of Helland and John Winslade of Tregarrick.
Many of the gentry with their families sought protection in the old castles. Some shut themselves in St Michael's Mount where the rebels besieged them, and a bewildering smoke-screen made of burning trusses of hay, combined with a shortage of food and the women's distress, forced them to surrender, fortunately with out casualties. Sir Richard Grenville found refuge in ruinous Trematon. Deserted by many of his followers, the unwieldy old man was enticed outside to parley. He was seized, the castle surprised, the ladies stripped of their finery, and the men including Sir Richard, bundled into Launceston gaol. The the insurgents crossed the Tamar into Devonshire.
Meanwhile Somerset has sent Sir Peter Carew and his brother, Sir Gawen, to treat with the Devonshire rebels assembled at Crediton until Lord Russell could muster a sufficient force to cope with the rising. But the Carews were representatives of the very thing against which the people had risen, gentry who had profited from the spolaition of the Catholic Church with everything to gain by forcing through the Protestant Reformation, and their interference merely inflamed the rebels further. They chased the gentry out of the neighbourhood, imprisoning those whom they caught, and entrenched themselves behind the little river Clyst, four miles east of Exeter.
By the end of Jun the Corishmen arrived, and the combined forces closed in on Exeter in the hope that the City would join them. But although they had many sympathisers within the walls, the mayor and corporation refused to open the gates, and a five weeks siege began. It was now the rebels finally formated the demands they sent to the government. The old Latin service was to be restored with all the ritual to which they were accustomed. The Cornishmen made the statement "and so we Cornishmen, whereof certain of us understand no English, utterly refuse this new English". (The main language of Cornwall was Cornish and apart for that they were used to the Latin Mass). Half the monastic lands that had fallen the lot of the gentry were to be restored.
Probably very few gentry cared a straw whether the church service was in English or Latin and communion in one kind or two, butthey were stirred to the bottom of their purses by the suggestion that they should restore the plundered property of the church, and against those closed protestant ranks the Catholic peasantry stood no chance.
At the beginning of the month of Jul Russell and his son Francis, had arrived at Honiton, only fifteen miles east of Exeter, though he dare not attack until the promised reinforcements of Italian and German troops arrived.The final humiliation of any government, to use foreign mercenaries against its own countrymen.
Exeter could not hold outmuch longer. The seige had lasted nearly a month, and the citizens, reduced to making bread out of bran they normally fed the pigs, were on the verge of surrender. However, the rebels could not afford to wait untill Russell was reinforced, and advanced to Fenny Bridges, within two miles of Honiton, to attack him. Russell was to clever for them, surprising their main body in the marshy meadows, where they were saved only by the arrival of another band of Cornishmen. John Hooker the Exeter historian wrote "The fight for the time was very sharp and cruel"..."For the Cornishmen were very lusty and fresh and fully bent to fight out the matter" They were thrown back, however , though Russell dared not pursue them far with hostlie country behind him. A few days later the mercenaries arrived under Lord Grey and Russell was able to take the offensive.
Russell left Honiton on 3 Aug, stricking along the ridge that runs south-west to Woodbury. The next day, Russell's troups forced a passage of the river at Clyst St Mary, where after an alarm, he gave the order to kill all the prisoners they had taken.
The 5th, the final engagment came, the rebels were outmanoevred and surrounded, and great was the slaughter and cruel was the fight, and such was the valour and stoutness of these men that the Lord Grey reported himself that he never in all the wars that he had been did he know the like. The Devonshire men went north up the valley of the Exe, where they were overtaken and cut to pieces by Sir Gawen Carew, who left the corpses of their leaders, hanging on gibbets from Dunster to Bath.
For ten days Russell remained in Exeter rejoicing at his victory, where encouraged by the liberated gentry, he dealt out justice to the rebel leaders in his hands. One of them was the vicar of St Thomas's, just outside the walls on the west bank of the Exe. He was hung on gallows from the top of his church tower, having a holy-water buchet, asprinkle, a sacring bell, a pair of beads hanged about him.
The came the news that the Cornishmen under Arundell has re-formed and taken position at Sampford Courtenay, the little village some fifteen miles north west of Exeter. Russell advanced with his troups, now reinforced with a strong contingent of Welshmen. After a desperate fight stormed the village on the evening of 17 Aug. The rebels were finally broken, though most of them escaped in the dusk, including Arundell, who fled to Launceston. There he was to be captured and taken to London with Winslade, who was caught at Bodmin.
Winter, Arundell and Winslade with two of their Devonshire comrades were hanged and dismembered at Tyburn.
Sir Gawen Carew got all Arundells estates, and Sir Peter all Winslade's, save Tregarrick and other Cornish manors that he had made over to his wife. She married again, her husband, John Trevanion, made sure that her son William never came into his father's estates. He sold them to the Bullers, Mohuns and Trelawnys, and William Winslade an impoverished Catholic exile, led a walking life with his harp to gentleman's houses. Russell got the Earldom of Bedford and another vast grant of lands, including Boconnoc.
Russell left the agreeable task of finally settling the scores with the Cornish to Sir Anthony Kingston. A number of priests were hunged, including Richard Bennet, vicar of St Veep.
Even Richard Carew, no sympathiser with the rakehells, had to admit that Anthony Kingston "left his name more memorable than commendable amongst the townsmen (of Bodmin), for causing their mayor to erect a gallows before his own door, upon which (after feasting Sir Anthony) himself was hanged. In like sort (say they) he trussed up a miller's man thereby, for that he presented himself in the others stead, saying he could never do his master better service". Nor had the townsman of the far west any better reason to remember Sir Anthony with affection when John Payne, portreeve of St Ives, was strung up by his orders, an event commemorated on a plaque on the wall of the Catholic church four centuries later.
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