Battle of Sampford Courtenay

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Battle of Sampford Courtenay

Sampford Courtenay, Devon The 17th of August 1549 AD

What is rather grandly dubbed The Western Rebellion is also known by the more informative name of The Prayer Book Rising, covering the events of 1549 in Cornwall and Devon. Edward VI ’s reign had seen a rapid shift towards Protestantism, with the Book of Common Prayer in English introduced to impose a degree of control over the church. At Sampford Courtenay in West Devon the new mass provoked immediate discontent that soon resulted in the death of an authority figure, run through with a pitchfork.
A rising began against the book and those who had foisted it upon the people, though there were undoubtedly other causes – the infamous “Kill all the Gentlemen” slogan indicating economic and social aspects. In Cornwall it was probably viewed as a further attack on Cornish traditions and the already weakened language.
Strangely the rebellion also ended at the point where it started. The Cornish and West Devonians after initial standoffs having been repeatedly defeated by the government forces (many of them battle-hardened Italian and German mercenaries) made a last stand at Sampford Courtenay.
The rebels had dug in well at their camp, and had it seems reasonable artillery firepower, able to trade bombardments with the royal forces led by John Russell. But the government army was larger, perhaps 9000 against 7000, and had the cavalry their opponents lacked. Though a surprise attack on the government army’s rear gave some hope, after many of their number were killed the rebels eventually ran, many more cut down in the rout or caught and hanged, drawn and quartered as their leader Humphrey Arundell would later be in The Tower of London .

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