Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Prayer Book rebellion

The Prayer Book rebellion of 1549

In 1549 the Act of Unification made it illegal, as from Whit Sunday of that year, to use the Latin Prayer Book which was replaced by an English translation (the first Book of Common Prayer, completely in English). The Cornish people, few of whom spoke English, were particularly affected by this new legislation.

The villagers of Sampford Courtenay in Devon objected and began what has also come to be known as the 'Western Rebellion'. With hundreds of villagers from all over Devon and Cornwall they marched on Crediton and occupied it. In London, king Edward VI (Henry VIII's son) and his Privy Council became alarmed by this news from the West Country. One of the Privy Councillors, Sir Gawain Carew was ordered to pacify the rebels. At the same time Lord John Russell was ordered to take an army, composed mainly of German and Italian mercenaries, and impose a military solution.

The mercenary arquebusiers from Germany and Italy subsequently killed over a thousand fighters at Crediton, then murdered 900 unarmed people at Clyst St Mary. 1300 more people were slaughtered at Sampford Courtenay and 300 died at Fenny Bridges. The king being a child at the time, further orders were issued by the Lord Protector, the Earl of Somerset, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for the continuance of the onslaught on the local populace. Under Sir Anthony Kingston, English and mercenary forces moved into Cornwall and summarily executed or murdered many people before the bloodshed finally ceased. Proposals to translate the Prayer Book into Cornish were also suppressed.