Curriculum Kernewek

Cornwall Agreed Syllabus 2011

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+ Guide to the Prayer Book Rebellion

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted Henry VIII in his split with the Roman Catholic Church and helped to forge the new Church of England. The resulting upheaval directly affected Cornwall. Two key institutions, Crantock Monastery and Glasney College had already been closed-down through Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. Religious processions and pilgrimages had been banned and Commissioners were sent out to ensure that images, screens, relics and statues were removed from churches and Protestant reforms were implemented. Rumours spread that the Commissioner for Cornwall, Archdeacon William Body, was confiscating church property and selling it on for personal gain. His alleged desecration of a church near Helston provoked a violent response and he was stabbed to death in the street. Ten people were held accountable for his death and executed at Launceston Castle.

When the nine year old Edward VI took the throne under the guidance of a heavily Protestant Regency Council, Cranmer moved forward with more reforms and his Book of Common Prayer was published in 1549. It contained the full script of services to be held in churches across the country including regular services such as Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Litany and Communion and occasional services such as Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage and Funeral. Prior to its publication services were held in Latin (as across the rest of Europe) but significantly, the Book of Common Prayer was written entirely in the English language. The use of the Book of Common Prayer, and consequently the English language, was made compulsory in all Church services by the Act of Uniformity 1549.

In some places across Cornwall and Devon parishioners demanded that their priests continue holding the services in Latin and several magistrates charged with enforcing the new law were killed. Resistance against the law grew and an army began to gather in Bodmin. They declared that, “We will not receive the new service because it is but like a Christmas game, but we will have our old service of matins, mass, evensong and procession in Latin not in English, as it was before. And so we the Cornish men, whereof certain of us understand no English, utterly refuse this new English.”

Sir Humphrey Arundell led this army to St Michaels Mount where local gentry had barricaded themselves for safety. Arundell successfully took the castle before marching east to join with the rebels in Devon where they besieged Exeter for five weeks. Lord John Russell, Earl of Bedford, was ordered by the King to take action and break the siege. Russell underestimated the army, now numbering some 5,000 men, and despite fighting in a series of brutal engagements including the Battle of Fenny Bridges he was unable to defeat them. German and Italian mercenaries were hired to increase Russell's numbers to over 8,000 men.

After the Battle of Woodbury and Battle of Clyst St Mary, Russell had taken a large number of prisoners. According to John Hayward, Edward VI's own chronicler, Russell ordered his German mercenaries to cut the throats of all nine hundred bound prisoners. Upon hearing news of the massacre, Arundell mounted a dawn attack on Russell's encampment and a commander later reported that he had "never seen the like, nor taken part in such a murderous fray".

The Battle at Clyst Heath inflicted heavy casulties on both sides but although Russell was sure that he had finally put down the uprising, the men regrouped and made a final stand at Sampford Courtenay. The Cornish and men of Devon resisted strongly and Russell was forced to deploy his cavalry, Italian riflemen and German footsoldiers against them, a contemporary chronicler stated that they “would not yield to no persuasions nor did [they], but most manfully did abide the fight: and never gave over fighting until that both in the town and in the field, they were all for the most part taken or slain”. Russell estimated that his army killed around 1300 men at the Battle of Sampford Courtenay.

After the final battle, Sir Anthony Kingston was appointed to hunt out anyone who may have links to the uprising. Leaders like Arundell had their lands confiscated and were sent to London for trial but many others were summarily executed by Kingston. He hanged Nicholas Boyer, the Mayor of Bodmin; John Payne, Portreeve of St Ives; and Mayor Mayow was hanged outside a tavern in St Columb. A number of priests were hanged, including Richard Bennett, vicar of St Veep and St Neot, Simon Morton, vicar of Poundstock, and the curate of Pillaton.

Whilst the Bible in its entirety had been translated into Welsh by 1470 this transcript was not widely available. In 1563 “An Act for the Translating of the Bible and the Divine Service into the Welsh Tongue,” was passed through Parliament which ordered that the Old and New Testament, together with the Book of Common Prayer, be translated into Welsh and allowed Welsh to be used in Church services. No such similar Act was passed regarding the Cornish language and some historians suggest that this was a result of the uprising. The absence of services in Cornish and lack of Bible translation has been identified as a cause for the subsequent decline of the language.

Suggested reasons why a Cornish population resisted the use of the Book of Common Prayer:

+ Many Cornish were already angered and upset by events which happened before the Book of Common Prayer was made compulsory. For instance, the loss of Crantock Monastery and Glasney College as centres of learning and faith were perceived as a threat to Cornish culture and language. In addition, communities had special links to their saints and the removal of their relics and images from churches was resisted by many.

+ Some historians have suggested that the spread of Protestant ideas led to growing support of the Church reforms. It has been suggested that Protestant ideas, like those of Martin Luther, an Augustinian Monk at the University of Wittenberg, had not reached Cornwall or were at least not widespread as they were in urban centres like London and therefore resistance to change remained strong.

+ In the fifteenth century there were still a large number of Cornish speakers, particularly in the west of Cornwall who may have objected to their services being in English because it wasn't their own. They may also have objected to the full scripting of the services in the Book of Common Prayer which prescribed the structure of the service and left no room for interpretation or use of either Latin or Cornish.

+ Other grievances may have provoked people to join the uprising. Two weeks after the prayer book was introduced a sheep tax was issued placing extra pressure on farming communities. At the same time, feelings were running high against the gentry because they seemed unaffected by poverty of the rural poor and did not attempt to assist them.