Jack Cade was the leader of a popular uprising against the government of Henry VI. Cade’s rebellion of 1450 was a protest brought about by corruption, high taxes and discontent at the recent loss of Normandy. The uprising was centred largely in the South East of England with people from Kent rising and marching on London. Cade led the rebels from Sevenoaks through Kent, arriving on 30th June 1450. It ended with the death of Cade on 12th July 1450.
Context: What led to Cade’s discontent?
Kent had suffered greatly as a result of the wars with France. Taxation was high, many lives had been lost. The lack of success and continued demands for more men and financing caused resentment. This was increased as many people viewed the Kings closest advisors as being incompetent or corrupt. Arguments in court had led to divisions over policies on France and taxation and created a powder keg of ill-feeling against the Kings council and dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of the king himself.
William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk
In May 1450 those divisions at court led to King Henry VI having little choice but to banish William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. The Duke was associated with the failings of policies in France and many considered him to be one of the corrupt councillors. However, the Duke of Suffolk never reached Europe. His body was found washed up on the shoreline of Kent. As a favourite of the King, the murdered Duke would surely be avenged. With no obvious murderer, many of the people of Kent believed that they would be made to suffer.
The Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent
As the political situation nationally continued to be quite fractured, the local situation for those in Kent was also getting worse. It prompted Jack Cade, also known as John Mortimer, to write The Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent. This manifesto, produced at the foot of the page in untranslated format, outlined the complaints that the rebels had against the crown. Cade’s complaint, in brief, states:
- Loyalty to the King
- That certain advisors “dayly enforme hym that good is evyll and evyll is good”
- That these corrupt advisors are causing fractures to the court. It specifically states that there is an attempt to corruptly discredit Richard, Duke of York whilst promoting traitors: “so that by ther fals menys and lyes they make hym to hate and to distroy his frendys, and cherysythe his fals traytors”
- States that Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, met his end at the hand of the false traitor Willliam de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk.
- Raises the issue of the system of justice breaking down: “the law servyth of nowght ellys in thes days but for to do wrong, for nothyng is sped almost but false maters by coulour of the law for mede, drede, and favor, and so no remedy is had in ye cowrt of conscience in any wyse”
- Informs the King that poor advise led to the countries financial problems, widespread debt and the loss of France: “we sey owr sovereyn lord may understond that hi”s fals cowncell hath lost his law, his marchandyse is lost, his comon people is dystroyed, the see is lost, Fraunce is lost, the kynge hym selffe is so set that he may not pay for his mete nor drynke, and he owythe more then evar eny Kynge of Yngland owght, for dayly his traytours abowt hym wher eny thyng shuld come to hym by his lawes,. anon they aske it from hym.
- Makes it clear that the demand is just, fair and effective governance.
- Derides the Duke of Suffolk and implores the King to listen to sound guidance of the unjustly banished Richard, Duke of York (to Ireland, as Lord Lieutenant). “avoyd from hym all the fals progeny and affynyte of the Dewke of Suffolke, the which ben openly knowne, and that they be p[u]nyshyd afftar law of lond, and to take about his noble person his trew blode of his ryall realme, that is to say, the hyghe and myghty prynce the Duke of Yorke, exilyd from owre sovereyne lords person by the noysyng of the fals traytore the Duke of Suffolke and his affinite
- Blames the loss of Normandy on traitors, ” allso the realme of Fraunce lost, the duchy of Normandy, Gascon, and Gyan, and Anjoy demayn lost by the same traytours.” It also lists the ‘true’ knights and nobles who were excluded from a role on the continent who could have done a better job: the Dukes of Norfolk and Exeter and the 16th Earl of Warwick.
- Calls for justice to be done to prevent extortion in Kent and states that the rebels will support all just means.
The language used in Cade’s demands is reminiscent of those made during the Peasants Revolt. It also led some to believe that the true power behind the rebellion was not Cade but Richard, Duke of York, as many of the complaints bear similarities to those made by himself about the faction led by Suffolk. This has led to some observers linking Cade’s Rebellion to the origins of the Wars of the Roses.
Support for Cade grows
The fear of reprisals for the death of Suffolk along with the widespread support for Cade’s cause led to a large band of men assembling. By May 1450 some 5000 men had gathered at Blackheath, just 12 miles from London. Their number swelled as others, including soldiers returning from France, landowners and some minor nobles, joined Cade’s force.
With Cade’s men advancing toward the capital, Henry VI sent a force to disperse them. Led by Sir William Stafford and his brother, Sir Humphrey Stafford, they were defeated by the rebels. Both of the Stafford brothers were killed in the skirmish. Cade’s men continued the advance.
Cade enters to London
Away from Cade’s force the unpopular Bishop of Salisbury, William Asycough, was murdered. He was a highly influential man, close to the king. Fear now gripped King Henry VI and he fled to Warwickshire for safekeeping. Cade’s force was now encamped at Southwark on the South Bank of the River Thames. On 3rd July, he made his move across the river. His men secured London Bridge and cut the ropes to prevent the bridge from being raised. On crossing into the City, Cade struck the London Stone with his sword and declared himself to be the Lord Mayor. (Striking the London Stone is part of the symbolic act of swearing in a Lord Mayor of London, Cade claimed to be from the Mortimer Family and doing so would be continuity for that family line).
The rebels sought out and arrested James Fiennes, Baron Say and Sele, and William Crowmer, sheriff of Kent. After a brief trial, the men were convicted of treason and executed, their heads then displayed on pikes.
Looting, Pardons and the Death of Cade
The large force of disgruntled Kentish folk began looting in the City of London and was fiercely resisted by Londoners. With general unrest, a set of pardons was drawn up for the majority of the rebels to quash their fears and bring the revolt to an end. Cade himself was not pardoned of his role. He was found on 12th July and suffered wounds from which he died in a brief skirmish with the forces loyal to the crown.
British History Online – Cade’s proclamation.
Chapter 6 of this book covers Cade’s Rebellion. A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark. Originally published by R Baldwin, London, 1773.
E-Book. Lengthy exploration of representations of Jack Cade in Popular Literature.
Odd Days Out. Memorial to Jack Cade and discussion about the true location of his death.
Luminarium hosts the 1910 Brittanica Encyclopedia entry on Cade.
Historical Association: Classic Pamphlet. 24 page document on the rebellion of Jack Cade. Membership required, or pay a small fee to download the pamphlet.
Historical Memoranda In the Handwriting of John Stowe, From the Same MS.
A proclamation made by Jacke Cade, Capytayn of ye Rebelles in Kent. Anno m.iiijc.l.
Thes be the poynts, causes, and myscheves of gaderynge and assemblinge of us the Kynges lege men of Kent, the iiij day of June, the yere of owr Lorde m.iiijc.l., the regne of our sovereyn Lorde the Kynge xxixti, the whiche we trust to All myghte God to remedy, withe the helpe and the grace of God and of owr soverayn lorde the kynge, and the pore commyns or Ingelond, and elles we shall dye there fore:
We, consyderyng that the kynge owre sovereyn lorde, by the insaciable covetows malicious pompes, and fals and of nowght browght up certeyn persones, and dayly and nyghtly is abowt his hynesse, and dayly enforme hym that good is evyll and evyll is good, as Scripture witnesseth, Ve vobis qui dicitis bonum malum et malum bonum.
Item, they sey that owre sovereyn lorde is a bove is lawys to his pleysewr, and he may make it and breke it has hym lyst, withe owt eny distinction. The contrary is trew, and elles he shuld not have sworn to kepe it, the whyche we conceyvyd for the hyghest poynt of treson that eny soget may do to make his prynce renn in perjury
Item, they sey that the commons of Inglond wolde fyrst dystroye the kunges fryndes and afftarwarde hym selff, and then brynge the Duke of Yorke to be kyng, so that by ther fals menys and lyes they make hym to hate and to distroy his frendys, and cherysythe his fals traytors. They calle themselves his frendys, and yf ther were no more reson in yeworlde to knowe, he may knowe they be not his fryndes by theyr covytysnes.
Item, they sey that the kyng shuld lyve upon his commons, and that ther bodyes and goods ben the kynges; the contrary is trew, for then nedyd hym nevar perlement to syt to aske good of his comonys.
Item, they sey that it were gret reproffe to the kynge to take ageyne that he hath gevyn, so that they woll not sufere hym to have his owne good, ne londe, ne forfeture, ne eny othar good but they aske it from hym, or ells they take bribes of othar to gett it for them.
Item, it ys to be remedied that the fals traytours wyll sofre no man to come to the kynges presens for no cawse with out bribes where none owght to be had, ne no bribery about the kynges persone, but that eny man myght have his comynge to hym to aske hym grace or jugement in such cas as the kynge may gyve.
Item, it is a hevy thynge that ye good Duke of Gloucestar was apechid of treson by o fals traytour alone and so sone was morderyd and myght never come to his answer; but the fals traytur Pole was apechyd by all the holl comyns of Ingelond, the whiche nombre passyd a quest of xxiiijm., and myght not be suffryd to dye as ye law wolde, but rather the sayd trayturs of the affinite of Pole that was as fals as Fortager wolde that the kynge owre soverein lord shuld hold a batayll with in his owne realme to dystroy his pepyll and aftarward hym selffe.
Item, they say that whom ye kyng woll shall be traytur and whom he woll shall be non, and that apperyth hederto, for yf eny of the traytours about hym wolde malygne ageynst eny person, hyghe or low, they wolde fynd fals menys that he shuld dy a traytor for to have his londes and his goods, but they wyll sufer the kynge nethar to pay his dettes with all, ner pay for his vytaylls ner be the rychar of one peny.
Item, the law servyth of nowght ellys in thes days but for to do wrong, for nothyng is sped almost but false maters by coulour of the law for mede, drede, and favor, and so no remedy is had in ye cowrt of conscience in any wyse.
Item, we sey owr sovereyn lord may understond that his fals cowncell hath lost his law, his marchandyse is lost, his comon people is dystroyed, the see is lost, Fraunce is lost, the kynge hym selffe is so set that he may not pay for his mete nor drynke, and he owythe more then evar eny Kynge of Yngland owght, for dayly his traytours abowt hym wher eny thyng shuld come to hym by his lawes,. anon they aske it from hym.
Item, they aske jentylmens goodys and londes in Kent and call them rysers and traystors and the kynges enimys, but they shall be fond the kynges trew legemen and best frendys with the helpe of Jesu, to whom we cry day and nyght with many M. mo that God of his grace and rytwysnese shall take vengawnce and dystroy the fals govournors of his realme that hath brought us to nowght and in to myche sorowe and mysery.
Item, we wyll that all men knowe we blame not all the lordys, ne all tho that is about ye kyngs person, ne all jentyllmen ne yowmen, ne all men of lawe, ne all bysshopes, ne all prestys, but all suche as may be fownde gylty by just and trew enquery and by the law.
Item, we wyll that it be knone we wyll not robbe, ne reve, ne stelle, but that thes defautes be amendyd, and then we wyll go home; where fore we exort all the kyngys trew legemen to helpe us, to support us, for what so evar he be that wyll not that thes defawtes be amendyd, he is falser than a Jewe or Sarasyn, and we shall with as good wyll lyve and dye upon hym as apon a Jewe or a Sarasyn, for who is a genst us in this casse hym wyll we marke, for he is not the trewe kyngys legeman.
Item, his trewe comyns desyre that he wyll avoyd from hym all the fals progeny and affynyte of the Dewke of Suffolke, the which ben openly knowne, and that they be p[u]nyshyd afftar law of lond, and to take about his noble person his trew blode of his ryall realme, that is to say, the hyghe and myghty prynce the Duke of Yorke, exilyd from owre sovereyne lords person by the noysyng of the fals traytore the Duke of Suffolke and his affinite. Also to take about his person the myghte prynce, the Duke of Exceter, the Duke of Bokyngham, the Duke of Norffolke, and his trewe erlys and barons of his lond, and he shall be the rychest kynge crystyn.
Item, the trewe comyns desyryth the punyshement upon the fals traytours, the which conterfetyd and imagenyd the dethe of the hyghe and myghtfull and excellent prynce the Duke of Glowcester, the which is to mych to reherse, the which duke was proclaymyd at Bery openly in the parlement a traytur, upon the whiche qwaryll we purposse us to lyve and dye that it is fals; allso owre fadyr the cardenall, the good Duke of Exeter, the nobyll prynce the Duke of Warwyke, the wiche ware delyveryd by the same menys untrew; allso the realme of Fraunce lost, the duchy of Normandy, Gascon, and Gyan, and Anjoy demayn lost by the same traytours, and owr trew lordys, knyghtes, and squyres, and many good yemen lost and wer sold or they went, the whiche is gret pyte and gret losse to our sovereyn Lord and to all the realme.
Item, they desyre that all the extorsiners myght be leyd downe, that is to say, ye grene wexe, the which is falsly used to the perpetwall hurt and distructyon of the trew comyns of Kent; also the extorsiners of the Kynges Benche, the which is ryght chargeable to all the comyns with owten provysyon of owr sovereyn lord and his trew cowncell.
Item, takynge of whet and othar greyns, beffe, motton and other vytayll, the which is inpotable hurt to the comyns, with out provysyon of owr sovereyn lord and his trew councell, for his comyns may no lengar bere it.
Item, the statute upon the laborers and the gret extorsiners of Kent, that is to sey, Slegge, Crowmer, Isle and Robert Est.
Item, where we meve and desyre that same trew justyce wyth certeyn trew lords and knyghts may be sent in to Kent for to enqwere of all such traytors and brybors, and that the justice may do upon them trew jugement, what some evar they be; and that owr soverayn lorde dyrecte his lettars patentes to all the pepull ther universall opynly to be rede and cryed, that it is owre sovereyn lordys wyll and preyar of all his peple trewly to enquere of every mans govarnawnce and of defawtes that reygneth, nother for love, favor, dred ne hate, and that dewe jugement shalbe forthe with and ther upon. The kynge to kepe in his owne handes theyr londes and goodys, and not gyve them aweye to no man but kepe them for his rychesse, or ells owre soverayn lorde to make his emarme in to Fraunce, or ells to pay his dettes; by this owr wrytynge ye may conceyve and se whether we be the fryndes ethar enimys.
Item, to syt upon this enq werye we refuse no juge except iij chefe juges, the which ben fals to beleve.
Item, they that be gylte wyll wrye ageynst this, but God wyll brynge them downe, and that they shall be ashamyd to speke ageynst reson, but they wyll go to the kynge and say that yf they be taken fro hym that we wyll put hym downe, for the traytours wyll lyve lenger, and yf we were disposed ageynst owr sovereyn lorde, as God it forbyd, what myght then the traytowrs helpe hym?
Item, thes defawtes thus dewly remedyd, and from hens forthe no man upon peyne of deth beyng abowt the kyngs person shall take no maner of brybe for eny byll of petysyons or caws spedynge or lettynge, owr sovereyn lord shall regne and rewle with gret worshipe, and have love of God and of his people, for he shall have so gret love of his people that he shall with Gods helpe conqwere where he wyll; and as for us, we shall be all weye redy to defend owr cuntre from all nacions with our owne goods, and to go withe owr sovereyne lorde where he wyll commaunde us, as his trew legemen.