Jack Cade's Rebellion - 1450
Jack Cade's Rebellion was an uprising against the policies of Henry VI, led by, not surprisingly, Jack Cade. The majority of the participants were peasants and small landowners from Kent, who objected to forced labour, corrupt courts, the seizure of land by nobles, the loss of royal lands in France, and heavy taxation.
Led by Cade, an ex-soldier, a mob gathered in Kent, defeated a government force sent to disperse them, and entered London. At first, the Londoners supported Cade, but the violent behaviour of Cade's men turned the City against them. Most of the mob accepted a pardon issued by the king and returned home. Cade himself was also pardoned but later killed by the Sheriff of Kent.
The never-ending struggle with France that we know as the Hundred Years War had depleted the English treasury and left the royal coffers constantly in need of replenishment. Heavy taxation was the result, but added to the burden of this taxation was the greed of royal officials, who lined their own pockets at the expense of proper administration of the tax system.
Although Cade's Rebellion has sometimes been characterised as a peasant uprising (similar to the Peasant's Revolt of 1381), such is not really the case. Cade's Rebellion certainly attracted numbers of peasants, but the leaders were men of property who objected to the political climate of the times. Even churchmen joined the rebels, including the rector of Mayfield and the Prior of St Pancras in Lewes.
Although they did call for some social change, notably to the Statute of Labourers, which made peasants subject to compulsory labour, social change was not the rebel's root concern.
Instead, most of these minor gentry wanted an end to poor government. They did not call for sweeping social change, but for the removal of certain councillors, the return of royal estates that had been granted out, and improved methods of taxation.
Jack Cade is something of a mystery man; even his name is uncertain. Some of his followers called him John Mortimer, and claimed that he was related to Richard, Duke of York, and also that he had fought for France against England in the Hundred Years War. He appeared to history out of nowhere in the spring of 1450, and by sheer dint of personality became the recognized leader of the Kentish protests.
Government troops were sent to disperse the protesters in Kent. They met Cade and his men at Sevenoaks, where the rebels emerged triumphant. Cade's men marched on London, where they were welcomed by the Londoners, who were in sympathy with many of Cade's aims. The rebels stormed the Tower of London but just failed to take the fortress. They killed the Archbishop of Canterbury and Henry's treasurer, Sir James Fiennes, as well as the Sheriff of Kent. These first two had their heads cut off and placed on poles kissing each other.
The royal troops regrouped and fought the rebels to a standstill. In an arranged truce Cade presented a list of his demands to royal officials. The officials assured Cade that the demands would be met, and Cade in turn handed over a list of his men so that each could receive a royal pardon.
Most of the mob accepted the promise of pardon and slipped away. But neither the king nor Parliament had agreed to any of the rebel's demands, and neither seemed prepared to do so anytime soon. Henry VI demanded Cade's arrest and the rebel leader fled London. The new Sheriff of Kent, Alexander Iden, pursued Cade and caught him on July 12, 1450, at a little hamlet near Heathfield in Sussex. The hamlet is now known as Cade Street. There Cade was mortally injured, and he died on his way back to London. His corpse was hung, drawn, and quartered, and his head placed on a pole on London Bridge.
Although many of the ringleaders of the rebellion were captured and killed, in general the king's men honoured the promise of pardon for participants in the rebellion. In practical terms, the rebellion failed to achieve its aims, for the abuses of which the rebels complained did not cease.
The story of Jack Cade's Rebellion was later dramatized by William Shakespeare in his play, Henry VI.