On this day in 1497 – Battle of Blackheath

With the Wars of the Roses safely behind King Henry VII he began looking at raising money in order to go to war against Scotland. To do so Henry needed to raise taxes in order to fund his army and Cornwall were forced to pay a large share of the tax. This raise was in violation of the Stannary Charter in 1305 which prohibited taxes of 10th and 15th from being raised in Cornwall.

In response to the increased taxes Michael Joseph and Thomas Flamank, a blacksmith from St Keverne and a lawyer from Bodmin respectively began a rebellion which caused many Cornish men to form an army of 15,000. The army marched towards Devon and gained support along the way.

From Devon they headed towards Wells via Taunton. In Taunton a tax commissioner was killed which went against the plans for a peaceful rebellion. Upon arrival in Wells the cause was joined by James Touchet, 7th Baron Audley, a prestigious addition to the Cornish cause. From Wells the army marched west through Bristol, Salisbury, Winchester. With no concession from the King the army then turned their sights on Kent in the hope to rally more men. There hopes were unfounded as the Kentish men had no plans to join the Cornish, with hopes dashed the army retreated and some men began to return home.

With the army heading back under the impression that the King had sat by and done nothing they arrived at Guildford on 13th June 1497 to find an army of 8,000 men under the command of Henry’s Lord Chamberlain, Lord Daubeny. The army was readying itself for war against Scotland but instead of setting off straight away for Scotland it was decided to test the strength of the Cornish army and a small group of 500 mounted spearmen were sent to fight the Cornish at Gill Down.

The Cornish quickly left Guildford and moved towards Blackheath, where they pitched their tents on a hill overlooking the city of London. With the threat of the attack looming over the Cornish many deserted leaving the Cornish army standing at approximately 10,000 men.

The Battle of Blackheath took place on 17th June 1497; Henry VII had gathered an army of 25,000 men. They met a depleted Cornish army who were lacking weapon and artillery after spreading false rumours that the English army would attack a couple of days later on the 19th. The Earls of Oxford, Essex and Suffolk led three troops, a similar strategy that Henry took at Bosworth and Stoke Field.

The Cornish troops were surrounded but placed a row of archers near to Deptford Strand in order to block the passage over the river; despite a small delay Henry’s army crossed the river with minimal losses. The lack of experience within the Cornish ranks meant that the archers were not supported and the rest of the troops were further back. With the army led by Lord Daubeny now heading towards them fighting broke out. Daubeny was separated from the rest of his troops and was captured but soon released back to his army. The Cornish had resided themselves to defeat and were contemplating the future.

The Cornish army was quickly defeated and with the death toll rising Joseph gave the order for surrender. He quickly fled but was captured at Greenwich. Flamank and Baron Audley were captured on the battlefield.

By 2pm on the same day Henry returned to London triumphant. Cornwall was handed large punishment which effectively bankrupted parts of Cornwall, prisoners were sold into slavery and Joseph and Flamank were sentenced to death by being hung, drawn and quartered although this was changed to hanging and decapitation. They were executed at Tyburn on 27th June 1497 and Baron Audley was beheaded on 28th June at Tower Hill.

Battle of BlackheathBattle of Blackheath monument

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