Prayer Book Rebellion

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The Prayer Book Rebellion or Western Rebellion occurred in the southwest of England in 1549.

In the 1540s the government of Edward VI introduced a range of measures as part of the Reformation to remove certain practices from the church which were perceived as being too Catholic.

In 1548 the Book of Common Prayer in English replaced the old prayer book in Latin. The change was widely unpopular, but nowhere more so than among the people of Devon and Cornwall. Many Cornish did not speak English at this time.

The new prayer book was not uniformly adopted and in 1549 the Act of Uniformity made it illegal, from Whitsunday 1549, to use the old prayer book. A number of magistrates were tasked with enforcing the change.

Following the enforced change on Whitsunday 1549 on Whitmonday the parishioners of Sampford Courtenay in Devon convinced the priest to revert to the old ways, likening the English prayer book to 'a Christmas game'. Justices arrived at the next service to enforce the change. An altercation at the service led to a proponent of the change (a William Hellyons) being run through with a pitchfork on the church steps.

The parishioners gathered thousands of supporters from neighbouring towns and villages in Devon, and were also joined by others from Cornwall. Marching east to Crediton they lay siege to Exeter demanding the withdrawal of all English manuscripts.

In London, king Edward VI (Henry VIII's son) and his Privy Council became alarmed by this news from the West Country. One of the Privy Councillors, Sir Gawain Carew, was ordered to pacify the rebels. At the same time Lord John Russell was ordered to take an army, composed mainly of German and Italian mercenaries, and impose a military solution.

The rebels were largely farmers armed with little more than pitchforks and the mercenary arquebusiers killed over a thousand rebels at Crediton, then murdered 900 unarmed people at Clyst St Mary. 1,300 were slaughtered at Sampford Courtenay and 300 died at Fenny Bridges. Further orders were issued on behalf of the king by the Lord Protector, the Earl of Somerset, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for the continuance of the onslaught on the local populace. Under Sir Anthony Kingston, English and mercenary forces then moved into Cornwall and summarily executed or murdered many people before the bloodshed finally ceased. Proposals to translate the Prayer Book into Cornish were also suppressed. In total 4,000 people lost their lives in the rebellion.


See also

no:Bønnebokopprøret

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