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By now, news of a rebellion in the West had reached London and the young King's Privy Council met to decide what to do. There were other trouble spots too, and news of more stirrings in places as far apart as Gloucester and Norfolk had reached the capital.

 

No Monarch could afford to keep a large standing army on hand, and in any case, no-one could say if such an army would have remained loyal under the circumstances. It was decided to play for time and Sir Gawain Carew, a leading Privy Councillor, was sent down to the South West to persuade the rebels to go home quietly. At the same time. Lord John Russell was ordered to recruit mercenaries from Germany and Italy in order to create a military unit powerful enough to crush the rebellion and to give the people of the area a lesson which they would never forget.

 

Clyst St Mary water meadows
On the outskirts of Exeter, the Sampford Courtenay contingent dug themselves in on the water meadows surrounding the tiny hamlet of Clyst St Mary, just three miles to the east of the city, to await the arrival of the rearguard of the Cornish marchers.

Clyst St Mary water meadows

© Richard J Brine

 

The plan was for the combined force to turn round and go into Exeter to persuade the citizens of that City to join them and there may well have been many sympathisers there.

 

But the Mayor and Corporation closed the gates, beginning a five week siege during which the combined rebel force refused to let any food supplies  pass through their lines in an effort to starve the citizens into submission.

 

Believing they had a worthy cause and that God was on their side , the rebels camped outside the City walls and used the time to draw up their demands which included the restoration of the old Latin Mass and the use of Latin for all worship. They believed that any day soon, the gates would open and the people of Exeter would come crowding out to join the trek to London.

 

Exeter City Walls

Exeter City Walls

But it was not to be. Exeter stood firm in spite of near-starvation inside the walls and Lord Russell had enough time to recruit foreign mercenaries and march them down to the West Country. Nearly 1000 Italian and German lancemen and arquebusiers* were brought in to crush the Prayer Book Rebellion at any cost.

 

News reached the encampment outside Exeter of the movement of this formidable army into the West Country. Fired up with the justness of their cause and not realising the strength of the opposition, the rebels decided to turn and march towards Lord Russell's men, hoping that this tactic would have the element of surprise.

 

They retraced their steps to Clyst St.Mary and set off down the road towards Honiton.

 

The ancient road out of Clyst St Mary

The ancient road out of Clyst St Mary

© Richard J Brine

*The highest of high tech in its day, the arquebusier was an early gun - in the hands of a trained man it had considerable range and fire power.

 

 

 
 
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