27 June 1497 – Michael An Gof and Thomas Flamank

Michael An Gof and Thomas FlamankTaxes are never gonna be popular. Multiply that by 10 if you live at one end of the country and you know full well your money’s going towards a war at the other end.

Rewind roughly 500 years to 1497 and that’s precisely the position a couple of Cornish men found themselves in. So Michael An Gof and Thomas Flamank were the West Country worms who turned and, for that rebellion, they paid the ultimate price – their lives.

Taxing times

Taxes were being levied to pay for a war with Scotland. Why, because Henry VII was trying to quash a rebellion. You see, Perkin Warbeck was trying to take over the throne of England by asserting that he was one of the royal offspring who’d been stashed in the Tower of London – nicknamed the Princes in the Tower.

Of course, everyone knew those children were probably dead – indeed the bodies of two young children turned up in the grounds near the Tower’s main building. But such conjecture would probably have sparked an investigation and Henry would have been in serious trouble. Warbeck knew this and seized the opportunity to really go for the throne. And Henry needed to work hard to eradicate the threat. Cue a war with Scotland, which was fully behind Warbeck’s offensive.

Getting crabby

But the Cornish were having none of it. Why should they fork out for war, after all, it had nothing to do with them? Cue the aggrieved blacksmith Michael Joseph, nicknamed An Gof (which was the Cornish phrase for his day job). He teamed up alongside a landowner’s son (James Tuchet Lord Audley) and a lawyer (Thomas Flamank) and together they stood up to the overzealous tax collection.

They were angry, not least because the really poor were meant to be exempt, however the Lizard’s collector of taxation ignored the directive and collected it from all irrespective. Well that was it, sick of being trodden on, they rose up in what became known as the Cornish Rebellion.

Pitching forth

Armed with…well…rubbish weapons really – pitchforks, axes etc, they were no match for the King’s army, but they weren’t to know that. They marched on London, amassing support as they went.

It was pretty impressive really because, by the time they reached London, they reckon about 15,000 men had joined the ranks. The army of supporters wanted to gather their thoughts before they marched on the city so they camped at Blackheath, but Henry had seen them coming and was ready with the troops.

No match

Well, one look at the soldiers and the state-of-the-art army equipment and roughly 5,000 West Country lads legged it, leaving equal numbers of men to army. Well matched? Nope! These men had no weapons to speak of, not compared with Henry’s men. They fought at Deptford Bridge and anything between 200 and 1,000 Cornishmen were lost after the West Country army became surrounded. (Apparently you could have counted army losses on two hands.)

An Gof scarpered, but he was soon apprehended, while Flamank was arrested right there on the battlefield.

Both were tried on 26 June 1497 and Joseph was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered– the sentence for treason. This was to take place at Tyburn the very next day. Flamank was too, however there are discrepancies as to the date. Some say they were done as a job lot, while others say Flamank followed 10 days later.

Whichever the case, both Joseph and Flamank’s heads were stuck on spikes and festooned on London Bridge as a lesson to all.

Lord Audley, who was also involved, followed the next day, but more of him tomorrow… You’ll have to wait until 23 November to find out what happened to old Perkin Warbeck, but then again we may just have given the game away.

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