The History Of Devon would not be complete without record of its 'rebellious' history.

For it is true, Devon did not willingly follow at King, Queen or Parliament's heel for its entire history.

Perhaps the most famous of the rebellions is that of 1549 - the Western Uprising or Prayerbook Rebellion.

Edward the 6th introduced a law which prescribed that mass should be performed in English, rather than in Latin (which had been the previous practice).  This was offensive to many Catholics in Britain, but particularly to the people of Devon and Cornwall.

The law required that the change should be made after Whitsunday, 1549

At Sampford Courtenay (in Devon) the local parishioners protested, saying that the practise was 'nothing but a Christmas game'.  The locals insisted that the local priest revert to tradition, which he did.  The next week the service was attended by justices of the English authorities, with the view of ensuring that the new rules were carried out.

A scuffle followed, in which the justices met the sharper end of a pitchfork in a fatal fashion, and thereafter neglected to carry out their instructions.

Following this the people of Devon then arose, and carried their argument toward the east, being joined by peoples of Cornwall, who had received the backing of the people of Plymouth. The growing 'army' marched further east and took Crediton, and there confronted a force commanded by Gawan Carew (of Exeter) but by the use of barricades and by setting fire to barns dissuaded that force from advancing.  The City of Exeter was then approached, but whilst the inhabitants sent messages expressing their sympathy, they feared retribution and  did not open up the city gates, and so the city was beseiged.

This was perhaps the biggest mistake of the campaign, because it allowed English Lord Russell to organise an army (largely of mercenaries) who then marched west to meet the rebels.  The army met the native Devonians and Cornishmen at Fenny Bridges (east of Exeter) in early August, and despite the fact that the latter were armed largely with pitchforks and cudgels, the encounter was not decisive, although 300 'rebels' died in the encounter.

A few days later the parties regrouped, and faced each other again near Clyst St Mary.  The result was again indecisive, although the English army did acquire the upper hand.

Shortly thereafter the forces met again, this time at the site of the original dispute (Sampford Courtenay) and this time the King's forces were victorious and the 'rebels' were routed.

Following this victory the foces of Lord Russell carried out a series of reprisals against the peoples of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, and many priests were sent to the gallows.

Although the rebellion may be explained in simple religious terms (ie catholic v protestant) the confrontation could also be explained in non-religious terms, as the peoples of Devon and Cornwall rose against the forced introduction of what was still (at least in part) the imposition of a foreign tongue.

However the Western Rebellion was not the only 'act of defiance' by the peoples of Devon.

Previously, in 1497 the uprising by 'An Gof' in Cornwall, crossed the Tamar and was joined (rather than faced) by the Yoeman of Plymouth.  The combined force, augmented by other Devonians and people of Somerset (despite what you might read on certain Cornish Nationalist sites - and even the website referred to below is guilty of a miopic view), progressed to London where they met the English army at Blackheath.  There they were sadly trounced, with 200 losses against only 8 fatalities by the forces of the Crown.

Later, in 1685, the peoples of east Devon , along with those of neighbouring counties, joined the forces of the Duke of Monmouth, who had landed at Lyme Regis, and was 'proclaimed King' at Taunton, in opposition to King James.

The forces of the Duke on Monmouth swelled to 8,000 and marched to Bristol, but were duly massacred by the professional army of the Scottish King James at Sedgmoor, despite some heroic but ill concieved military actions.

Useful links

Prayerbook Rebellion (1)
Prayerbook Rebellion (2)
The Blackheath Rebellion
Monmouth Rebellion
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