On 16th June 1497 a Cornish army led by a charismatic blacksmith, Micheal Joseph, known simply as An Gof, gathered on Blackheath after the long march from the south west which had seen their numbers swell from around three thousand, as they crossed the Tamar, to perhaps over ten thousand, showing the general resentment to the Crown.
An Gof was supported by Thomas Flamank a Lawyer at the Kings Court and the minor aristocrat Baron Audley. The Cornish and their supporters gathered on Blackheath in the hope that the men of Kent would join their cause, following the Kentish uprising forty-seven years earlier led by Jack Cade. The Cornish forces were encouraged by a victory over an English force sent to stop them at Guildford. However such was the ferocity of the Kings clamp down after the Jack Cade Rebellion that the forces from Kent did not appear.
England had only recently seen the end of the long 30 years ‘Wars of the Roses’ which had ended with the victory of Henry VII at Bosworth. Now Henry was turning his attention to suppressing the Scots and raising higher taxes to pay for it. The Cornish aggrieved by the taxes and the plight of their Tin Miners had marched to demand a fairer treatment, but Henry was not about to listen and turned his army that was preparing to subdue the Scots to first deal with their Celtic brothers.
The rebels camped on the edge of the heath, over looking London and the bridge at Deptford at the bottom of the hill. As it became obvious that the King would not conceed and the support of Kent would not appear many of An Gof’s supporters deserted the field. On the morning of 17th June 1497 Henry split his army numbering perhaps twenty five thousand into three, sending two of the ‘battles’ around to the Lewisham side of the Heath to appear behind the rebels. The third group under Lord Daubeney waited until the other two were in position then he attacked the detachment of Cornish holding the bridge, after fierce fighting they were overwhelmed and Daubeney charged his men up the hill. The mainly peasant rebel forces were soon overtaken by the Kings troops and cut to pieces or put to flight, the three leaders were taken to the Tower and then executed, Audley being beheaded as a noble while An Gof and Flamank were hung drawn and quartered and all their heads displayed on pikes at London Bridge.
I had been commissioned to create a public artwork for the new housing development at the bottom of Blackheath Hill and Lewisham Way by the housing association ‘Family Mosaic’, now part of the Peabody Trust, and it was while I researched the local history that I discovered this dramatic historical event.
My design to commemorate this battle was based on the concept of a Cornish shield with an arrow stuck into it. The memorial is a sundial and the arrow acts as the gnomon, casting it’s shadow to reveal the time on the shield. The shield design itself is a flight of fancy based on a Celtic broach I had seen in the British Museum. The whole mosaic sits on a raised brick platform with a wooden bench around the perimeter.
The mosaic was unveiled on 15th September 2017
You can find a good description of the Cornish Rebellion of 1497 here