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In the spring of 1450, Kentish peasants protested against what they saw as the weak leadership of King Henry, unfair taxes, corruption and the damaging effect of the loss of France. They issued The Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent, a manifesto listing grievances against the government–grievances not only of the people but of several MPs, lords and magnates.
In early June, about 5,000 rebels gathered at Blackheath, south-east of London. They were mostly peasants but their numbers were swelled by shopkeepers, craftsmen, a few landowners (the list of pardoned shows the presence of one knight, two MPs and eighteen squires) and a number of soldiers and sailors returning via Kent from the French wars. While the King sought refuge in Warwickshire the rebels advanced to Southwark, at the southern end of London Bridge. They set up headquarters in The White Hart inn before crossing the bridge on 3 July 1450.
They stopped at the London Stone, which Cade struck with his sword and declared himself Lord Mayor in the traditional manner (thereby also symbolically reclaiming the country for the Mortimers to whom he claimed to be related). He then led them on to the Guildhall and then to the Tower to make the demands in full. James Fiennes, 1st Baron Saye and Sele, the Lord High Treasurer was captured and beheaded, along with a few other favourites of the King, and their heads put on pikes and made to kiss each other. Many of the rebels, including Cade himself, then proceeded to loot London, although Cade had made frequent promises not to do so during the march to the capital. When his army returned over the bridge (which was regularly closed at night) to Southwark, the London officials made preparations to stop Cade re-crossing into the city. The next day, at about ten in the evening a battle broke out on London Bridge and lasted until eight the next morning, when the rebels retreated with heavy casualties.
But a week after the peasant forces disbanded, Cade learned that the government regarded him as a traitor and had issued a reward for him dead or alive. He was subsequently killed in a skirmish near Heathfield, East Sussex on 12 July 1450, after which his body was taken to London and quartered for display in different cities, his preserved head ending up on a pike on London Bridge (along with those of other leaders of the rebellion). There is a memorial almost opposite the public house formerly known as the Jack Cade but subsequently renamed the Half Moon.
Despite all the rebels having been pardoned, thirty-four of them were executed after Cade's death.
Cade's revolt features in William Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2, where Cade declares "For our enemies shall fall before us, inspired with the spirit of putting down kings and princes". It is also where Dick, the butcher, says the famous words "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
In the years preceding the famous Jack Cade Rebellion, the animosity that the lower classes in England had for King Henry the VI grew. The main causes of the rebellion were political grievances that the rebels stated in The Bill of Complaints and Requests of the Commons of Kent. The rebels– first complaint was that Cade–s followers from Kent were being blamed for the death of the Duke of Suffolk when really they were not to blame. Despite the fact that people were aware of the peasants– anger towards the Duke–and also that those peasants had been attempting to purge England of corrupt higher officials–the Bill of Complaints dismisses the idea that the rebels were responsible (Simons 176).
Cade–s list of complaints goes on to charge King Henry VI of injustice, in that he chose not to impeach his underlings and Lords even though they were guilty of treason or unlawful acts. In essence, the rebels were angry due to the injustices in the government and decided to revolt against the King unless he agreed to fix and punish the wealthy men who deserved it (Simons 179).
Because Jack Cade was the man organizing the common people–s complaints and trying to get the King to fix the problems, people gave him the nickname –John Mend-all– or –John Amend-all,– although nobody is sure if he chose the name himself or not (Carroll 491).
A cause of the rebellion that was not listed in Cade–s bill of complaints was the anger many Englishmen felt over the fighting against France in Normandy. Normand soldiers, French armies, and even roaming English soldiers were attacking the coastal areas in England such as Kent and Sussex as the battles overseas continued.
After the final loss of Normandy, rumors emerged in the coastal regions of England that France was planning on attacking England further. These fears and continuous unrest in the coastal counties inspired many of the Englishmen to rally in an attempt to force the King to address their problems or abdicate his place on the throne so that someone more competent may take his place (Mate 673). These assemblies and rallies started to take shape in May of 1450, when the rebels began to join together in an organized fashion and prepare to force themselves upon London (Bohna 563).
Although King Henry VI had pardoned Jack Cade and his followers, the King put out the Writ and Proclamation by the King for the Taking of Cade shortly after the rebellion was over. This document voided the previously issued pardons. The King claimed that he revoked these pardons because the letters of pardon had not been approved by the Parliament. Furthermore, the document accused John Cade of murdering –a woman with child– while he was in Sussex, which the King used to discredit Cade (Simons 181). The King–s proclamation charged Cade with deceiving the people of England to assemble with him in his rebellion and stated that none of the King–s subjects should join Cade or help him in any way. A sum of 1,000 marks was promised for the body of Cade, dead or alive, delivered to the King (Simons, 182).
Cade was not the only one prosecuted, but rather all of his followers and all the participants in his rebellion were sought out in a royal commission led by the Duke of Buckingham. This search for Cade–s rebels occurred in and around the area of the revolt: Blackhearth, Canterbury–which was on the road leading to London–and also the counties in which Cade had found many of his followers, such as the coastal areas of Sheppey and Faversham. The inquiries about the hidings of Cade–s rebels, performed by the many Bishops and Justices, were so thorough that in Canterbury (the first area searched by the commission) eight followers were quickly found and hanged (Simons 157).
The Jack Cade Rebellion was quieted and dismissed shortly after Cade–s death, but the feeling of rebellion in England did not die down so easily. For example, it inspired ideas of revolt in many other counties in England besides Kent. Many of Cade–s followers from the county of Sussex, such as the yeomen brothers John and William Merfold, organized their own rebellion against King Henry VI. Unlike Jack Cade–s revolt, however, the men in Sussex took Cade–s ideas a step further in that they made declarations to reform that were much more radical and aggressive (Mate 664). This animosity could have been due to the fact that the King had gone back on his proclamation of pardon for Jack Cade, which made many of the rebels distrust the King–s government.
The suspicion that the King wanted all followers of Cade dead inspired the rebels to take a more drastic view of the reformation of English rule. They stated that the men of Sussex planned on killing the King and all his Lords, replacing them with twelve of the rioters– own men. These revolts organized by the young Sussex men rallied smaller numbers of followers than that of the Cade rebellion, but still had an effect on the societies in England. For example, all the riots and looting taking place in English counties gave people an excuse to go on rampages of destruction for their own personal gain while being absolved of blame by claiming that their behavior was a rebellion against the King (Mate 666).
The unlawful behavior of these later rebels can be seen as having been directly inspired by Jack Cade: he participated in similar behaviors during the initial riot (Bohna 563). These minor revolts did produce an amount of deaths and caused a shifting atmosphere of peace and then rebellion in England for years after the initial Jack Cade Rebellion. Also, the larger battles over the crown of England, known as the Wars of the Roses, were clearly inspired by views of Cade–s rebels, especially since one of the requests in Cade–s manifesto, the Requests by the Captain of the Great Assembly of Kent, outright informs the King that the mass of rebels and followers wished for the Duke of York to be returned from exile and to take the place of the corrupt Dukes under King Henry VI–s rule (Simons 179).
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