The following article was originally published in a 2013 edition of The Cornish Banner (An Baner Kernewek). It was written due to the wrong information printed in the A-level textbooks that I had started to use when becoming a teacher. The textbook managed to completely confuse and muddle the events of 1497, and so after my contact to the publisher was basically ignored, I decided to write an article instead.
I thought it was a good idea to post the article here in the month of June – the same month in which the Cornish marched to Blackheath to highlight their grievances to the Tudor monarch Henry VII. Although the end was a disappointment for Cornwall, the legacy of 1497 lives on.
1497 was a dramatic year for the land of Cornwall and its relations with the recently formed Tudor England state. People rebelled and hell was unleashed. An A-level History textbook takes up the story:
The 1497 rebellion followed attempts to raise tax in Cornwall for a war against Scotland in retaliation for the Scots’ support for Perkin Warbeck. The unpopular tax was apparently collected aggressively in Cornwall with many examples of maladministration and corruption. Parliament had attempted to protect the poorest subjects from paying this tax by stipulating that no one should pay unless he had an income of over 20 shillings a year from land, but this was not applied in Cornwall. Many Cornishmen were poor, just scraping a living as tin miners or farmers, and they resented paying tax for a border raid against the Scots. Cornwall’s remote geographic location and vigorous regional identity, sparked by poverty, fuelled rebellion.
The rebels were led by Thomas Flamank, a lawyer, and Michael Joseph, a blacksmith. The rebel army, of about 6,000 ill-armed peasants, planned to march peacefully to London and present their grievances to the King. The rebellion was temporarily hijacked by Perkin Warbeck, who saw it as a springboard for his own challenge to the King. He joined the rebel army in Cornwall. Despite Warbeck’s presence, the rebels clearly lacked any real menace for they failed to enter Exeter on 17 September, had gained few supporters by the time they reached Somerset, and Warbeck deserted their cause. At this point Lord Audley joined their ranks. He had different motives for the rebellion against the King. Lord Audley had financial difficulties and was out of royal favour. The rebels reached Blackheath outside London before they were suppressed, with many rebels killed, and their leaders captured and executed.
All well and good, but for one thing: such events did not happen in this order. How could Warbeck be stirring up trouble in Scotland that caused the Cornish to rebel, only for Warbeck to then magically appear hundreds of miles in the south – in a time before the motor-car or plane – to lead the revolt? As local historians know, this is not the case. Yes, there was a rebellion led by the famous Michael Joseph (popularised as the more enigmatic and fearsome “An Gof”) and Michael Flamank; and yes, there was also a rebellion led by the pretender, Perkin Warbeck. However, the two were not the same rebellion – and, in fact, months separate the two events.
The Joseph and Flamank rebellion occurred in the first half of 1497; they rose in response to taxes demanded of them for Henry VII to conduct war against Scotland – the very same Scotland that housed Perkin Warbeck at that time. The Scottish raid into England was minor, and the force accumulated for destruction of Warbeck was instead re-directed south to combat the Cornish rebels. For the rebellion grew in size and power, marching from Cornwall across the south of England until they were almost upon London. William Penn’s recent study on the reign of Henry VII – Winter King – describes thousands of ‘Cornishmen’ who ‘swarmed through southern England’. However, their fate was a bloody one, resulting in the Battle of Blackheath; both Joseph and Flamank were caught and killed. ‘Their heads, boiled and tarred, were jammed on spikes on London Bridge; their body parts were dismembered, some nailed to the city gates, others sent southwest to be displayed in towns of dubious loyalty’ (Penn, 2011).
And then came another, different rebellion later in the same year; this time the leader was the great pretender, Perkin Warbeck, who throughout the 1490s deemed himself Richard, Duke of York (one of the vanished princes in the tower under the reign of Richard III). Warbeck was the bane of Henry VII’s early years in government, flitting from one kingdom to the other and obtaining support from all and sundry throughout Europe: from the Holy Roman Empire, to France and England’s ‘Auld Enemy’, Scotland. But come 1497 his adventures were near an end, and his entry to Cornwall was a desperate last throw of the dice. As Payton notes, ‘the second Cornish uprising of 1497 was underway’ [my italics for emphasis].
In September 1497, the people of Bodmin proclaimed him as Richard IV, and many joined him in a ramshackle army of 6,000 that marched to the gates of Exeter. The city refused him entry, and with the king’s men fast approaching Perkin Warbeck fled from the group to seek refuge in Beaulieu. There he was captured and taken to London where he was ‘paraded through the streets on horseback amid much hooting and derision of the citizens’. 1497 ended, then, with Henry VII firmly master of the country and with the Cornish licking wounds and begrudgingly accepting the new political situation. Leaders were killed in the form of “An Gof” and Michael Flamank, whilst Perkin Warbeck was incarcerated and living on borrowed time (he was eventually killed in 1499).
What is the historian, the teacher, student and general public to make of such an obvious error on behalf of the combined forces of the exam board (AQA), the book’s publisher (Nelson Thornes) and the book’s author (Cathy Lee). Simple misunderstanding and ignorance could be the reason behind such a blurring of history; the textbook also contains many typos and errors of dates. For example, Sir John Savage is noted as having ‘suvived’ the Battle of Bosworth, rather than the correct ‘survived’. However, a larger charge could be laid at their door: does the mistake hint at an Anglo-centric viewpoint of the history of these islands that still dominates historical and educational thinking in the twenty-first century?
Cornwall is not the only area of Britain to suffer at the hands of this textbook. It hails itself as ‘Britain, 1483-1529’, however, all but England is neglected. Wales is paid scant attention (relating to Henry Tudor’s march through the land during August 1485), whilst Scotland only appears as the enemy of England in snapshots of treaties or battles. Such neglect would make many writers point the finger of blame squarely at AQA’s, Nelson Thornes’ and Cathy Lee’s door.
One local historian, John Angarrack, – a proud and self-stated Cornish nationalist – has indicated in some of his controversial works (including Breaking the Chains and Our Future is History) that this is all part of a grand scheme to bury the Cornish identity; the peripheral Celtic regions must bow down to the Goliath that is the Anglo-centric, London based core. Such attitudes toward Cornwall, states Angarrack, are a ‘latter day neo-colonialism’ that ‘constitute a form of permanent and continuing State aggression’. Furthermore, on his Duchy of Cornwall website, Angarrack writes of the cover-up of the duchy’s ‘real history’; noting that Cornwall has been subjected to:
nakedly Anglophilic “historians”, career-protecting academics, lemming-like educationalists, lazy dictionary/encyclopaedia compilers and hat-doffing heritage industry publication editors.
Angarrack also points to the teaching within Cornish schools as a clear example of the centralising Westminster agenda; backed up with an interesting real-life example:
Schools themselves will not teach children the real history of Cornwall because of a combination of all or some of the following factors: lack of time, a deliberate absence of textbook material on the subject, inherent prejudice, royalist tendencies, historical ignorance, fear of being penalised for stepping outside of the mandatory curriculum set up by QCA and the certain knowledge that children are penalised by examiners for responding on exam papers in ways that contradict the royally manufactured, state-endorsed, historical fabrications. If pupils are brave enough to challenge the ducal mantra within the school, their effrontery is met with instant rebuke. To serve as a warning to others, the punishment can take the shape of being humiliated in front of the class or school.
Such anecdotal evidence hints more strongly in the direction of George Orwell’s dystopian fiction, of thinking the correct way and admitting that two plus two can make five. Furthermore, there is a different, more apt Orwellian quote that fits such a rewriting of the past: ‘The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history’.
These are strong words, indeed; and it is hard to imagine the majority of Cornish people believing in a secret plot of de-Cornishification that belittles their history and culture. Yes, there have been recent attempts (both in the early 1990s and during 2012) to create a “Devonwall” parliamentary constituency that infringes on the ancient border of the Tamar; however, despite whatever prejudices that might abound against political leaders, such as David Cameron, it is difficult to view him and his deputy, George Osborne, as ‘dark forces’ that are scheming for Cornwall’s demise. Whilst the school experience earlier noted is one in which this author has no familiarity with during his own education and current teaching practice. It is more likely to have been a one off incident (used many times over by Angarrack) by one particularly ill-informed and ill-trained Geography teacher; of which there have been many throughout history passing their idiosyncratic views of the world – intentional or not – on classes of students.
Let us tally up Angarrack’s earlier charge of the industry producing books on Cornish history. It is doubtful that Cathy Lee is a ‘nakedly Anglophilic historian’; however, greater accusations can be labelled at both her and AQA’s/Nelson Thornes’ door of acting as ‘lemming-like educationists’ in not being more thorough in the proofreading of the book. Even more exact is the accusation of being ‘lazy dictionary/encyclopaedia compilers’; common sense will tell us that the book was rushed and clearly not enough research and time taken to read through the text before printing and sending out to schools and colleges across the country. Such a lack of ignorance could be remedied by consultation with local historians and teachers in the various regions to Britain to ensure that a lack of factual errors make it to the final printed page.
The greatest fear is how many teachers outside of the westcountry and those unacquainted with Cornish history will continue onward teaching the year of 1497 as one rebellion, rather than two. Abuses of history are carried out on a daily basis; and this one – no matter how small – is unsettling and unresolved. Just before his death, Michael Joseph – “An Gof” of legend – is reported to have said that he would have ‘a name perpetual and a fame permanent and immortal’. Is the duty of historians and teachers to ensure that such events and people are recorded in an impartial and correct manner.