Battle of Sampford Courtenay
The Battle of Sampford Courtenay was one of the chief military engagements in the Western Rebellion of 1549.
By mid August 1549, Humphrey Arundell, the leader of the rebel troops, regrouped his forces at Sampford Courtenay, Devon, when he received a promise from Winchester[clarification needed] that 1,000 men would join his force. This would be the site of the fifth and final battle of the Prayer Book Rebellion. Unknown to Arundell was that there was a traitor in his camp – his own secretary John Kessell, who had been supplying intelligence of Arundell’s movements and plans to President of the Council of the West, John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, from the start.
Russell was under the impression that the rebels from Devon and Cornwall had been defeated already and the news interrupted his plans to send 1,000 men into the South West by ship to cut off his enemy’s retreat. His own forces had been further strengthened by the arrival of a force under Provost Marshal Sir Anthony Kingston. He now had an army of more than 8,000, vastly outnumbering what remained of his opposition.
Russell moved his forces out on 16 August, camping overnight at Crediton. On the next morning, scouts from both sides bumped into each other, resulting in a skirmish and the capture of a Cornish captain named Maunder.
With the 1,000 men from Winchester failing to materialise, the main force of the rebel army had dug in on high ground just outside Sampford Courtenay, while a detachment led by Humphrey Arundell waited in the village itself. They knew that this was to be their last stand and the rebels were on their own against Russell’s army, which outnumbered them greatly.
Events of the battle and its aftermath
Lord Russell opted for a three-pronged approach. Heavy divisions led by Lord Grey and Sir William Herbert stormed the rebel encampment, while Russell himself would follow behind. This was not as simple as Russell had envisaged: the rebel camp being more strongly manned than he had thought. A vicious gun battle, lasting roughly an hour, gave time for Russell’s two other divisions to make their move. One consisted of the Italian arquebusiers under Spinola, the other being the German Landsknechte. With almost the entire government force ranged against them, the rebels withdrew into the village where they came under heavy bombardment.
Once again, the battle might have been won for the Cornish and West Devonians had they possessed any cavalry.
Contemporary Exeter historian John Hooker wrote that the rebel army would not surrender until most of their number had been slain or captured. Lord John Russell was quoted that his army had killed between five and six hundred enemy and his pursuit of the rebel retreat killed a further seven hundred.
The Devon men made a vain attempt to find safety in Somerset but, one by one, they were caught and mostly hanged, drawn and quartered by troops led by Sir Peter Carew and Sir Hugh Paulet. The Cornishmen headed for home but tried one final time to stand against Russell at Okehampton. Russell planned another attack but in the morning, he received news from the traitor, Kessell, that the Cornish forces had been decimated and that the remaining Cornishmen were now back across the River Tamar.
The Prayer Book Rebellion, Prayer Book Revolt, Prayer Book Rising, Western Rising or Western Rebellion (Cornish: Rebellyans an Lyver Pejadow Kebmyn) was a popular revolt in Devon and Cornwall in 1549. In that year, the Book of Common Prayer, presenting the theology of the English Reformation, was introduced. The change was widely unpopular – particularly in areas of still firmly Catholic religious loyalty (even after the Act of Supremacy in 1534) such as Lancashire. Along with poor economic conditions, the enforcement of the English language liturgy led to an explosion of anger in Devon and Cornwall, initiating an uprising. In response, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset sent Lord John Russell with an army composed partly of German and Italian mercenaries to suppress the revolt.
Cranmer’s Prayer book of 1549
One probable cause of the Prayer Book Rebellion is the religious changes recently implemented by the government of the new king, Edward VI. In the late 1540s, Lord Protector Somerset, on behalf of the young king, introduced a range of legislative measures as an extension of the Reformation in England and Wales, the primary aim being to change theology and practices, particularly in areas of traditionally Roman Catholic religious loyalty – for example, in Cornwall and Devon.
When traditional religious processions and pilgrimages were banned, commissioners were sent out to remove all symbols of Catholicism, in line with Thomas Cranmer’s religious policies favouring Protestantism ever more. In Cornwall, this task was given to William Body, whose perceived desecration of religious shrines led to his murder on 5 April 1548, by William Kylter and Pascoe Trevian at Helston.
This pressure on the lower classes was compounded by the recent poll tax on sheep. This would have affected the region significantly, the West Country being an area of sheep farming. Rumours circulating that the tax would be extended to other livestock may have increased the discontent.
A damaged social structure then meant this local uprising was not sufficiently dealt with by landowners nearby. The Marquess of Exeter, a large landowner in Sampford Courtenay, had recently been attainted. His successor, Lord Russell, was based in London and rarely came out to his land. It is possible this created a lack of local power, that would have normally been expected to quell the revolt.
It is possible that the roots of the rebellion can be traced back to Cornwall’s own ancient wish for independence from England, meaning they were loath to accept new laws from a central government geographically distant from them. More recently, the Cornish Rebellion of 1497 and the subsequent destruction of monasteries from 1536 through to 1545 under King Henry VIII had brought an end to the formal scholarship, supported by the monastic orders, that had sustained the Cornish and Devonian cultural identities. The dissolution of Glasney College and Crantock College played a significant part in fomenting opposition to future cultural reforms. It has been argued that the Catholic Church had “proved itself extremely accommodating of Cornish language and culture” and that government attacks on the traditional religion had reawakened the spirit of defiance in Cornwall, and in particular the majority Cornish-speaking far west.
Immediate retribution followed with the execution of twenty-eight Cornishmen at Launceston Castle. One execution of a “traitor of Cornwall” occurred on Plymouth Hoe—town accounts give details of the cost of timber for both gallows and poles. Martin Geoffrey, the pro-Catholic priest of St Keverne, near Helston, was taken to London. After Geoffrey’s execution, his head was impaled on a staff erected upon London Bridge as was customary.
Sampford Courtenay and the immediate beginnings of the uprising
The new prayer book was not uniformly adopted, and in 1549 the Act of Uniformity made it unlawful to use the Latin liturgical rites from Whitsunday 1549 onwards. Magistrates were given the task of enforcing the change. Following the enforced change on Whitsunday, on Whitmonday the parishioners of Sampford Courtenay in Devon compelled their priest to revert to the old service. The rebels argued that the new English liturgy was “but lyke a Christmas game.” This claim was probably related to the book’s provision for men and women to file into the quire on different sides to receive the sacrament, which seemed to remind the Devon men of country dancing. Justices arrived at the next service to enforce the change. An altercation at the service led to a proponent of the change (William Hellyons) being killed by being run through with a pitchfork on the steps of the church house.
Following this confrontation a group of parishioners from Sampford Courtenay decided to march to Exeter to protest at the introduction of the new prayer book. As the group of rebels moved through Devon they gained large numbers of Catholic supporters and became a significant force. Marching east to Crediton, the Devon rebels laid siege to Exeter, demanding the withdrawal of all English liturgies. Although a number of the inhabitants in Exeter sent a message of support to the rebels, the city refused to open its gates. The gates were to stay closed because of the siege for over a month.
“Kill all the gentlemen”
In Cornwall and Devon, the issue of the Book of Common Prayer proved to be the final indignation that the people could peaceably bear. To two decades of oppression were lately added two years of rampant inflation, in which wheat prices had quadrupled. Along with the rapid enclosure of common lands, the attack on the Church, which was felt to be central to the rural community, led to an explosion of anger. In Cornwall, an army gathered at the town of Bodmin under the leadership of its mayor, Henry Bray, and two staunch Catholic landowners, Sir Humphrey Arundell of Helland and John Winslade of Tregarrick.
Many of the gentry sought protection in old castles. Some shut themselves in St Michael’s Mount where they were besieged by the rebels, who started a bewildering smoke-screen by burning trusses of hay. This, combined with a shortage of food and the distress of women, forced them to surrender. Sir Richard Grenville found refuge in the ruins of Trematon Castle. Deserted by many of his followers, the old man was enticed outside to parley. He was seized and the castle ransacked. Sir Richard and his companions were imprisoned in Launceston gaol. The Cornish army then proceeded to march east across the Tamar border into Devon to join with the Devon rebels near Crediton.
The religious aims of the rebellion were highlighted in the slogan “Kill all the gentlemen and we will have the Six Articles up again, and ceremonies as they were in King Henry’s time.” However, it also implies a social cause (a view supported by historians such as Guy and Fletcher). That later demands included limiting the size of households belonging to the gentry – theoretically beneficial in a time of population growth and unemployment – possibly suggests an attack on the prestige of the gentry. Certainly such contemporaries as Thomas Cranmer took this view, condemning the rebels for deliberately inciting a class conflict by their demands: “to diminish their strength and to take away their friends, that you might command gentlemen at your pleasures”. Protector Somerset himself saw dislike of the gentry as a common factor in all of the 1549 rebellions: “indeed all hath conceived a wonderful hate against the gentlemen and taketh them all as their enemies.”
The Cornish rebels were also concerned with the use of the English language in the new prayer book. The language-map of Cornwall at this time is quite complicated, but philological studies have suggested that the Cornish language had been in territorial retreat throughout the Middle Ages. Summarising these researches, Stoyle says that by 1450, the county was divided into three main linguistic blocs: “West Cornwall was inhabited by a population of Celtic descent, which was mostly Cornish speaking; the western part of East Cornwall was inhabited by a population of Celtic descent, which had largely abandoned the Cornish tongue in favor of English; and the eastern part of East Cornwall was inhabited by a population of Anglo-Saxon descent, which was entirely English speaking.”
In any case, the West Cornish reacted badly to the introduction of English in the 1549 services. The eighth Article of the Demands of the Western Rebels states: “and so we the Cornyshe men (whereof certen of us understande no Englysh) utterly refuse thys newe English”. Responding to this, however, Archbishop Cranmer asked why the Cornishmen should be offended by holding the service in English rather than Cornish, when they had before held it in Latin and not understood that.
1890 – Stefan Bastyr, Polish soldier and pilot (d. 1920)
Stefan Bastyr (17 August 1890 – 6 August 1920) was a Polish aviator and military pilot, one of the pioneers of the Polish aviation. He is credited with the first military flight in the history of the Polish Air Force on 5 November 1918, almost a week before Poland officially regained her independence, at the opening stages of the Polish-Ukrainian War.
Initially he was a military pilot in Austria-Hungary during World War I. From February 1916 he served as an observer in Flik 10 reconnaissance squadron on the eastern front, from December 1917 in Flik 12D on Austro-Italian front. In 1918 he himself trained as a pilot and was assigned to Flik 37P from June 1918. He undertook about 100 sorties during the war and scored at least 1 air victory on 4 June 1916.
In the Polish Air Force, he took part in the Battle of Lwów (1918). He died in an aircrash of Fokker D.VII in Lviv (probably due to a hear failure) during the Battle of Lwów (1920) and is buried at the Łyczaków cemetery in Lwów (modern Lviv).
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