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Fenny Bridges

Fenny Bridges, near Honiton

© Richard J Brine

 

The track out of Clyst St. Mary followed the line of what is now the A30, then, as now, the route out of Devon to London. The rebels had no intelligence so they could not know that Lord John Russell had reached Honiton, some 14 miles from Exeter and lay in wait there for them, having rested and refreshed his mercenary army. When Russell heard that they were coming, he set out at a leisurely pace on the road towards Exeter. Three miles on, the two groups came face to face.

 

The men of Sampford Courtenay and the Cornish contingent got as far as Fenny Bridges before coming face to face with a huge contingent of the finest fighting men of Europe, armed to the teeth with the most technologically advanced weapons of the time, and under the leadership of a man distinguished for his military record. 

 

The Memorial to the Prayer Book Rebellion at Fenny Bridges

The memorial - in English and in Cornish -

erected at Fenny Bridges in 2000.

© Richard J Brine

 

Armed only with sticks cut from the hedges and farm implements, the rebels were hopelessly outclassed and outnumbered. Three hundred of them were killed in the first skirmish but there was no hiding place for them as they turned tail. They were followed back to Clyst St. Mary where some 900 unarmed prisoners were killed.
The return route to Clyst St Mary

The return route to Clyst St Mary

© Richard J Brine

 

Sampford Courtenay in 2004
Russell entered the City of Exeter in triumph before moving on to Sampford Courtenay where a further 1200 people were killed after a desperate last-ditch fight on the evening of August 17th 1549. The survivors fled into Cornwall where they were ruthlessly pursued and where hundreds of innocent local people were also put to death. The land and estates of anyone connected, however remotely, with the rebellion were confiscated and used to reward Sir Gawen Carew and Lord Russell.

Sampford Courtenay in 2004

© Richard J Brine

 

There is an ironic twist in this terrible story. Four years after the Prayer Book Rebellion was quashed, Edward VI died shortly before his 16th birthday. Lady Jane Grey was briefly declared Queen for a few days by the Privy Council. But the country decided differently and Mary (Henry VIII's daughter by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon) was restored to her rightful position as Edward's heir. She was a devout Catholic and tried to restore the Catholic religion with services in Latin and, in her turn, crushed another rebellion, this time by Protestants, in 1554.
Queen Mary I
Queen Mary I

 

It is estimated that 1 in 10 of the entire Cornish population were killed during and after the Prayer Book Rebellion - those whose cause was the return of the ancient Cornish language, died in vain - its use was never restored. The rural population around Sampford Courtenay was decimated, leaving much of the surrounding land unworked and unoccupied for years.

 

The Church House at Sampford Courtenay seen from the churchyard

The Church House at Sampford Courtenay seen from the churchyard

© Richard J Brine

 

 

 
 
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