Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Jack Cade and the 1450 English Rebellion in London

Wat Tyler and Robin Hood are not the only Englishman to lead a major rebellion. Jack Cade also carries this accolade. Few know of him although literary people might recall one of William Shakespeare’s plays where his character utters the following immortal call to arms after his rebellious group seize London "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

Jack Cade’s wrath is first incurred by the high taxes being imposed on him just like his Peasants Revolt predecessors. His views are widely shared and soon he gathers together 20,000 men from Kent to march onto Blackheath and forward two papers to the king, entitled "The Complaint of the Commons of Kent," and "The Requests of the Captain of the Great Assembly in Kent." These papers set forth his ideas for a fairer society based on redistributing wealth more equitably just like the ‘Robin Hood’ character he likens himself to. A key component of this is the abolition of the Statute of Labourers that tries to freeze wages.

King Henry VI is utterly appalled anyone questions him and replies with armed force. He despatches a small force against the rioters. Rather surprisingly Cade gives fight to the royal troops at Sevenoaks and even more amazingly his army manage to defeat the royal army and kill their leader, Sir Humphrey Stafford.

Jack Cade and Co. then decide to move on to London to force the issue by confronting the heart of government. Cade maintains his calm and offers to court a plausible list of grievances, asserting that when these were redressed plus Lord Say, the treasurer, and Cromer, the Sheriff of Kent, have been punished, he and his men will lay down their arms.

So taken are the king's very own troops that they refuse to fight against the insurgents. King Henry, sensing his position is rapidly worsening retreats to Kenilworth and leaves Lord Scales with a thousand men remaining to defend the Tower of London. Jack Cade then enters London, fights with the London Mayor, carries out a fixed trial and summarily executes him.

At this point Jack Cade’s rag tag army is in a strong position both militarily and also from the point of view of having widespread goodwill. His chances of securing what he wants look good and yet this is torn apart when his army start looting the streets of London. At once they lose popular support and the London citizens turn on this mob.

A massive battle breaks out on London Bridge lasting all night from about ten in the evening until eight the next morning by which time the rebels have to retreat in disarray with heavy casualties. Cade flees towards Lewis, but is overtaken by Iden, the sheriff of Kent, who kills him in a garden he has taken shelter in. For this Iden is granted £1000 and so ends a lesser known popular rebellion against a King during the Medieval Ages.

If you liked that story then you will also enjoy reading about 'Lambert Simnel's Rebellion against King Henry VII, 1487.