The Prayer Book Rebellion, also known as the Western Rebellion, was an uprising that took place in Devon and Cornwall in 1549. At the time, there was already social unrest due to a poll tax on sheep, and rumours that it was due to be expanded to other forms of livestock. This was a major burden on farming communities. The straw that broke the camel's back proved to be the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer in place of the Latin mass.
The use of English was particularly unpopular in the western parts of Cornwall, where there were still many monoglot Cornish speakers at the time. But it was in Sampford Courtenay in Devon where both the first and the last battles of the rebellion were fought.
The rebellion began when a local farmer, William Hellyons, was run through with a pitchfork for supporting the change. The rebels marched on Exeter, where they were defeated by forces summoned by the Council of the West, the regional government set up by Henry VIII. The leader of the rebels, Humphrey Arundell, regrouped at Sampford Courtenay with the promise of reinforcements from Winchester, but was betrayed by his secretary, John Kessell. The reinforcements never came, and vastly outnumbered, the rebels were thoroughly defeated.
The Western Rebellion is still considered an important part of Cornish history. Hopefully, this very brief summary shows that it has a Wessex dimension as well.
This article originally appeared in Wessex Chronicle volume 13, issue 1 (spring 2012)
The Olympic Games are a Greek invention and an English re-invention. Much Wenlock in Shropshire gets the credit for reviving the games in 1850, 46 years before Baron Pierre de Coubertin staged the international revival in Athens.
But Chipping Campden claims to be the true birthplace of the modern Olympics. The official bid for the London Games included an acknowledgement of its inspirational role. The Gloucestershire market town first held an ‘Olimpick Games’ in 1612, with early spectators claimed to have included Shakespeare. Known locally as ‘Robert Dover's Games’, the annual event takes place on Dover's Hill on the Friday after the Spring Bank Holiday and features marching bands, fairground stalls and a variety of unusual sporting contests. One is shin-kicking, where players, wearing the traditional white smocks of shepherds, grasp each other by the shoulders and attempt to land well-timed blows to their opponent's shins. Only then – in mid-kick – can a player attempt to bring his opposite number to the ground. A ‘stickler’, the ancient name for a judge or umpire, is on hand to make sure a shin is hit before a fall can be scored. The Cotswold Olimpicks feature other rural challenges such as tug-of-war, sledgehammer throwing and ‘spurning the barre’, a Cotswold version of tossing the caber. The few thousand attending the event today are a far cry from the 30,000 said to have gathered in the 1830s. Growing popularity, and associated rowdiness, led to the games ending in 1852, a victim of the enclosures, but they were revived a century later.
This would have been an entry in our Wessex Worthies series, except that Thomas Malory probably didn't come from Wessex. Malory's identity is the subject of scholarly debate, but the consensus view is that he came from Newbold Revel in Warwickshire. Alternative candidates hail from Shropshire, Wales and Yorkshire.
He does, however, have a connection to Winchester, which is explicitly identified as Camelot in Malory's book Le Morte d'Arthur, the first major prose work printed in the English language. It was published by William Caxton in 1485 , the year in which the Tudor dynasty ascended the throne of England, and which was said to mark the end of the middle ages and the birth of the modern era when I was at school.
The Caxton book was though to be the earliest manuscript of Le Morte d'Arthur until 1934, when WF Oakeshott, headmaster of Winchester College, was cataloguing the school's library, and came across a previously unknown manuscript. The Winchester Manuscript, as it became known, differed significantly from Caxton's edition, which appears to be a revised version of the same text. In 2009, it formed the basis of a modern English paraphrase by Dorsey Armstrong.
Winchester remains proud of its Arthurian connections, and a 13th century replica dominates the Great Hall. But that's a subject for another post.
Cross Currents is a 1935 film about which little information is available beyond the briefest of plot synopses: a Devon vicar tries to clear his name after being accused of murdering his rival in love. As Hitchcockian as this sounds, Cross Currents is described as a comedy. It was set in Devon, but filmed in Cornwall.
The film, based on the novel Nine Days' Blunder by Gerald Elliott, was produced by Paramount British as a "quota quickie". The Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 was designed to give a boost to the British film industry, and those of British dominions such as Canada, creating a studio system modelled on that of Hollywood at the time, with production, distribution and exhibition of films being handled by the same (British or imperial) companies. In practice, Hollywood studios simply set up British subsidiaries, churning out B-movies that were designed for no other purpose than to meet the quota for British films specified in the Act, released as supporting features for American films.
The Act was modified in 1938 to exclude Empire nations, and repealed in 1960. It was not generally considered a success, but did aid in the production of some bona fide classics, such as The 39 Steps (1935) and The Thief of Baghdad (1940). Paramount British continued into the 1970s, its biggest success probably being The Italian Job (1969).