June 11, 2009
Distressed by high taxes, corrupt local officials, and the recent loss of Normandy, the commons of Kent, led by a man named Jack (or John) Cade, rose in rebellion in the summer of 1450. Because HENRYVI and his advisors suspected that Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, had instigated the uprising, and because York later incorporated many of the rebels' complaints into his criticism of the government, Jack Cade's Rebellion is often seen as a prelude to the WARS OF THE ROSES.
In late May 1450, only weeks after the murder of the king's unpopular chief minister, William de la POLE, duke of Suffolk, a large body of men from the towns and villages of Kent gathered at Blackheath, across the Thames from LONDON, to demand redress of various grievances. Composed of rural peasants, artisans, and tradesmen from the towns, and a small group of clergy and landowning GENTRY, the Kentish rebels were, at least initially, well organized and disciplined. Their elected leader was the mysterious Jack Cade, who also went by the names John Mortimer and John Amendalle. Although he was probably seeking only to attract the duke's supporters to his cause, Cade's use of the name Mortimer- the family name of York's mother-led the government to seriously consider the possibility that York was somehow involved in the rebellion. The rebels denied any connection with York, but their demand that the king rid himself of all advisors linked to the late Suffolk and turn instead to princes of the blood like York only heightened the government's suspicions. The idea that York was behind the Cade uprising, although generally rejected today, became a commonplace of Tudor PROPAGANDA and was even suggested by William Shakespeare in his HENRY VI, PART 2 (see SHAKESPEARE ANDTHEWARS OF THE ROSES).
Thanks to the obscurity of Cade's background, and perhaps to government attempts to discredit Cade, rumors soon circulated that the rebel leader was an Irishman related to York, that he was a black magician, and that he had once fled the realm after murdering a pregnant woman. Whatever Cade's history, his manner impressed the royal councilors who met him, and the rebel manifesto crafted under his leadership-the "Complaint of the Commons of Kent"-displayed his skill as a propagandist. Comprising fifteen articles, the "Complaint" focused on the corrupt practices of the king's officials in Kent, who were charged with extortion, perversion of justice, and election fraud. The commons also called for an inquiry into the loss of Normandy and into the misappropriation of royal funds by the king's household servants.
In early June, after submitting their "Complaint" to the COUNCIL, the rebels obeyed an order to withdraw from Blackheath. However, when an advance party of the royal army followed them into Kent, the rebels ambushed and destroyed their pursuers. At news of this repulse, a nervous council committed Lord Saye, the hated former sheriff of Kent, and William Cromer, the equally unpopular current sheriff, to the TOWER OF LONDON. The king then withdrew from the capital. On 4 July, the Londoners, who were sympathetic to many of the rebels' grievances, allowed Cade and his followers to enter the city, where they immediately seized and executed Saye and Cromer. On the night of 5 July, as the rebels grew more disorderly, the citizens, assisted by the Tower garrison under Thomas SCALES, Lord Scales, drove the insurgents from the city and recaptured London Bridge. This action allowed the council to issue a free pardon on 8 July, and most of the rebels returned home. After invalidating his pardon by attempting to seize Queenborough Castle, Cade was killed on 12 July while resisting arrest. Although the rebellion was over, Cade's name continued to spark unrest in Kent for almost a decade, and the rebels' grievances lived on as the basis of York's opposition to a royal government from which he felt himself excluded.
Further Reading: Griffiths, Ralph A., The Reign of King Henry VI (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981); Harvey, I. M.W., Jack Cade's Rebellion of 1450 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991);Wolffe, Bertram,Henry VI (London: Eyre Methuen, 1981).