The Prayer Book Rebellion

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One of the great changes triggered by Henry VIII when he reformed the Church in England was that all services were to be in English. From Whit Sunday in 1549, it became illegal to use the old Latin Prayer Book which, from that date, was replaced by the Book of Common Prayer. Many people, accustomed to the old ways of worshipping and the traditions of centuries, were deeply unhappy, none more so than the people of Cornwall which has its own language and where English was not spoken or understood.

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Feelings ran high, not only in Cornwall, but throughout the South West, and in one Devon village - Sampford Courtenay - it all boiled over into a full-scale rebellion.

 

On Whit Monday, crowds of villagers gathered in front of the Church and demanded that their priest go back to the old Latin Mass. It was a holiday and probably everyone had been at the cider for several hours so when the local magistrates rode among the people and told them to calm down, they received a very angry and noisy reception. 

Sampford Courtenay Church

Sampford Courtenay Church

 

 

The 15th century Church House steps

A yeoman farmer called William Hellyons, who was well-respected locally, climbed up the steps outside Church House and, in good humour, tried to persuade everyone to go back home before any more harm was done.

 

In vain. Shouts and jeers drowned out the sound of his voice then, suddenly, without warning, a shot was fired and William Hellyons fell dead.

 

The 15th century Church House steps

 

There was no turning back from that action. Someone shouted out that they should march on London to put their views to the King and in a moment, the crowd had turned, headed down the lane and disappeared from view.

 

This motley, ragged crew of farm labourers in an alcoholic haze, gathered more people into their procession as they went along and within a few hours, reached Crediton where they encountered no opposition and occupied the town. Heady times indeed, but an action for which they would ultimately pay a terrible price.

 

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  Last modified:
30/09/2005