The Black Heath Rebellion

(16 Jun 1497)

Western followers of Henry VII were assured after his victory at Bosworth. The Courtenays were restored, Edward Courtenay of Boconnoc became the new earl of Devon, Sir Thomas Arundell got back the estates that had gone to Sir James Tyrrel, and the Teffry brothers, John (Knighted at Milford Haven) and William received far more than they had lost. Richard Edgcombe was knighted at Bosworth.

Arthur, Henry's three year's old eldest son, became Duke of Cornwall; and thanks to the diplomatic skill of another Cornishman Sir Richard Nanfan, became betrothed to the little Catalina of Aragon.

Things were not well in Cornwall at this time. The Tinners were depressed and discontented, a number of them raided Peter Edgcombe's tin-works at Tremodret and then came the exactions levied to pay for a war against the Scots.

For the people of Cornwall nothing could have been more remote than forays on the Scottish border, and nothing better calculated to infuriate the impoverished tinners, most of them in debt and entangled by userers, than being taxed and taxed heavily, to repel them.

When therefore in 1497, the collectors began their exactions in the West they met sullen resistance, particularly at St Kevern near the Lizard, where Michael Joseph assumed the leadership of the people. Joseph, a blacksmith from St. Keverne, known in Cornish as An Gof (The Smith), was their main leader. Passive resistance was fanned into active revolt when Thomas Flamank voiced the popular discontent, and bands of men began to talk of marching to London to rid the king of his evil advisors. Flamank was the son of estate owner Sir Richard Flamank, from Bodmin. In his twenties, he was an eloquent lawyer in the King's court. Along with Joseph, they led an army of some 3,000 soldiers from Bodmin over the River Tamar into England.

Thus began, so many centuries after their conquest, the first Cornish incursion into England (Columbus was in America, Cabot in Newfoundland and Vasco da Gama on his way to India ). In the long days of early summer the ill-armed Cornishmen marched through Devon and Somerset, picking up recruits on the way, until they reach Wells, where they were joined by James Touchet, Lord Audley of Heleigh, who took over command. Flamank persuaded the rebels that they should march peacefully to carry their grievances to the King. They had only bows and arrows and simple country tools, and they marched without violence receiving support along the way. Their numbers increased daily and so did their fervour.

By the beginning of Jun they were South of London in high hopes of being joined by the men of Kent. They were disappointed , however, and the fainter-hearted rebels began to slink away. Well they might, for Henry VII had an army of ten thousand man under Lord Daubeney ready to set out for Scotland, and this was the force that confronted the Cornishmen when they reached Blackheath on 16th Jun Many of them counselled surrender, but their leaders had not marched to London to throw themselves at the King's mercy, and prepared for battle. That night there were many desertions. the Next day Saturday, the rebels who were only armed only with bows, bills and other country weapons were advanced by the royal forces, the ill- organised Cornishmen, though they fought bravely enough, were soon routed. About two hundred of them were killed, Audley and Flamank were captured on the field, and Joseph was taken as he fled for sanctuary at Greenwich.

After the battle King Henry rode in triumph through the city, followed by the blacksmith "clad in a jacket of white and green of the King's colours, and held as good countenance and spake as bodly to the people as he had been at his liberty".

On the following Monday Joseph , Flamank and Audley were examined in the Tower of London and a week later condemned to death.

On Tuesday 27 Jun, Flamank and Joseph were dragged on hurdles from the Tower to Tyburn where they were Hanged, disembowelled and hacked into quarters as was the custom of the age.

As a peer, Lord Audley was treated less barbarously. He was drawn from the said gaol in Newgate unto Tower Hill where he was be-headed on Wednesday 28 Jun.

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