The memorial of ‘An Gof’ – Cornwall remembers its 15th-century rebellion 525 years later

Monday the 27 June to the Cornish is known as An Gof Day and marks the anniversary of the Cornish Rebellion of 1497, led by Michael Joseph (or Micheal An Gof to most) and Thomas Flamank. Annual ceremonies take place in St Keverne and Bodmin on the day, which also marks the anniversary of their executions.

Statue of Thomas Flamank (Left) & Michael Joseph (Right).| Jory Mundy

A Blacksmith (An Gof in Cornish), Michael Joseph and Lawyer Thomas Flamank led the Cornish march on London 525 years ago, as King Henry VIII closed the Cornish Statuary Parliament as well as placing harsh taxes on the Cornish to fund his war against Scotland, a war the Cornish believed was a northern affair and had nothing to do with them.

From St Keverne on the Lizard Peninsular, Micheal Joseph was chosen to lead those marching to London. As the group reached Bodmin, Thomas Flamank joined the march with more members, who then marched across southern England, reaching around 15,000 people when they arrived at Blackheath on 16 June (4 miles outside London). Around 50 priests and 69 women were believed to be involved in the rebellion.

When the King learned that a Cornish army was marching toward London he and his family fled to the Tower of London with the King’s Army of 25,000 ordered to defend the gates and walls of London as the Cornish army approached. Those loyal to the king and other lords also returned to London to join the king’s army.

On June 17, the battle of Blackheath occurred as the King’s army and the Cornish rebellion clashed just outside London. Cornish Bows and Arches were positioned by Deptford Strand bridge and killed the King’s men before being pushed back, despite the capture of the King’s commander Baron Daubeney who was later released. With less experience and half the personnel, the Cornish army was surrounded and their leaders captured. Michael Joseph and Thomas Flamank were executed, hung, drawn and quartered on June 27 1497. Their heads were put on display on London Bridge days later. It is estimated 2,000 Cornish soldiers were killed at Blackheath. An Gof and Michael reportedly said they would have “a name perpetual and a fame permanent and immortal” before their execution. A statue of them now stands in St Kernve.

500 years on in 1997, a second commemorative march was held (Keskerdh Kernow) remembering the route. As well as the statue in St Keverne, plaques in Bodmin and Blackheath were also erected.

Cornish people wanting to remember the St Keverne resident, Micheal Jospeth, gathered by the An Gof Statue at 7 PM with speeches, singing, and flowers left by the statue before the main procession left for the church plaque with further speeches, the singing of Trelawny (Cornwall’s national anthem), and a moments silence to remember those killed during the rebellion.

A similar event was held in Bodmin that morning, with tributes and speeches given in memory of Thomas Flamank who was born in the town and worked as a lawyer before the rebellion.