Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland


Jack Cade and the Kentish Revolt of 1450
Seán Mac Mathúna

Deptford Bridge - Read more about the history connected with this site:

Wat Tyler and the 1381 Poll Tax rebellion

VillageNet Local History (Jack Cades Rebellion - 1450AD)

Jack Cade: from The Transformation of Medieval England

An Gof and the Cornish rebels in Deptford, 1497

Cade Road in Blackheath looking towards Wat Tyler's Mound

The basic freedoms that so many English men and women now accept, both in fact and in law, as their birthright, are of course neither so firmly established nor so proof against attack that we can afford to take them for granted or believe that they are to be maintained, let alone extended, without constant vigilance and constant effort. And above all we have to remember that these freedoms have been won for us over the centuries by the determined efforts of others, people who have had to fight, often against overwhelming odds, for every inch of the ground. Christopher Hampton, Writing in A Radical Reader: The Struggle for Change in England, 1381-1914 (Penguin, London, England, 1984)

In 1450, it was the turn of the Kentish rebels led by an Irishman called John Mortimer, who became better known as Jack Cade. He led rebels onto Blackheath Common in South London, and marched across Deptford bridge with 46,000 people into London. They too had demands similar to the Poll Tax rebels in 1381. Christopher Hampton in A Radical Reader says the main reasons for the revolt was Henry VI's oppressive and tyrannical regime. The rebellion failed, and the brutal aftermath, as noted in A Radical Reader, was known in Kent as "The Harvest of Heads" because of the numbers executed who had their heads (with Cade's) displayed on the King's order above London Bridge.16 The following are excepts from documents at the time (most of which were originally written in Norman-French) of Cade's rebellion, which are reproduced in A Radical Reader:

From Gregory, Chronicle, and Three Fifteenth Century Chronicles

The rebellion was a carefully organized rising of the people against the oppression and tyranny of Henry Vl's ministers and particularly the Lord Treasurer, in their exaction of laws and taxes at the bitter end of the French Wars, a time of economic depression and poverty for the common people. What makes it significant is that even the local gentry followed Cade's standard, and (from Stow's Chronicle) it seems that the King's followers, too, plainly suggested that, unless his traitorous ministers were dealt with, they would desert to the Captain. Cade led the rebels to Blackheath, retreated after a week, defeated part of the royal army at Sevenoaks (8 June) and took possession of London. Lord Saye, the King's Treasurer, was executed; but the commons were soon driven out (5-6 July) and eventually dispersed, though Cade continued to resist till killed on 12 July. William Gregory (d. 1467) was Lord Mayor of London for 1451-2.

From Gregory, p. 190

And after that the commons of Kent arose with certain other shires, and they chose them a captain, the which captain . . .

From Three Fifteenth Century Chronicles

. . . named himself John Mortimer, whose very true name was Jack Cade, and he was an Irishman;

From Gregory, p. 190

[and] compelled all the gentlemen to arise with them. And at the end of Parliament they came with a great might and a strong host unto the Black Heath, beside Greenwich, the number of 46,000; and there they made a field, dyked and staked well about, as it had been in the land of war, save only they kept order among them, for also good was Jack Robyn as John at the Noke, for all were as high as pigsfeet, unto the time that they should come and speak with such states and messengers as were sent unto them; then they put all their power into the men that named him Captain of all their host. And there they abode certain days to the coming of the king from the Parliament at Leicester. And then the king sent unto the captain divers lords both spiritual and temporal, to wait and to have knowledge of that great assemblage and gathering of that great and misadvised fellowship. The captain of them sending word again unto the king, that it was for the weal of him our sovereign lord, and of all the realm, and for to destroy the traitors being about him, with their divers points that they would see that it were in short time amended.


From Three Fifteenth Century Chronicles, pp. 94-6

These being the points, causes and mischief's of gathering and assembling of us the King's liege men of Kent, the 3rd day of June, the year of our Lord 1450, the reign of our sovereign lord the king XXIX, the which we trust to Almighty God to remedy, with the help and the grace of God and of our sovereign lord the king, and the poor commons of England, and else we shall die therefore.

We, considering that the king our sovereign lord, by the insatiable, covetous, malicious pomps, and false and of nought brought-up certain persons, and daily and nightly is about his Highness, and daily inform him that good is evil and evil is good . . .

Item, they say that our sovereign lord is above his laws to his pleasure, and he may make it and break it as him list, without any distinction. The contrary is true, and else he should not have sworn to keep it, the which we conceived for the highest point of treason that any subject may do to make his prince run in perjury . . .

Item, they say that the commons of England would first destroy the king's friends and afterwards himself . . .

Item, they say that the king should live upon his commons, and that their bodies and goods be the king's; the contrary is true, for then needeth he never Parliament to sit to ask good of his commons . . .

Item, it is to be remedied that the false traitors will suffer no man to come to the king's presence for no cause without bribes where none ought to be had, nor no bribery about the king's person, but that any man might have his coming to him to ask him grace or judgement in such case as the king may give . . .

Item, the false lords impeach men to get their property . . .

Item, the law serveth of nought else in these days but for to do wrong, for nothing is sped almost but false matters for colour of the law for mede, drede and favour, and so no remedy is had in the court of conscience in any wise . . .

Item, we will that all men know that we blame not all the lords, nor all those that are about the king's person, nor all gentlemen nor yeomen, nor all men of law, nor all priests, but all such as may be found guilty by just and true enquiry and by the law.

Item, we will that it be known that we will not rob, nor reve, nor steal, but that these faults be amended, and then we will go home; whereforewe exhort all the king's true liegemen to help us, to support us . .

Item, we desire that all the extortioners might be laid down . . .

Item, taking of wheat and other grains, beef, mutton, and other victual, the which is importable hurt to the commons, without provision of our sovereign lord and his true council, for his commons may no longer bear it.

Item, the Statute upon Labourers, and the great extortioners of Kent, that is to say, Slegge, Crowmer, Isle and Robert Est.

Item, we move and desire that some true justice with certain true lords and knights may be sent into Kent for to enquire of all such traitors and bribers, and that the Justice may do upon them true judgement, whatsomever they be . . .

Item, to sit upon this enquiry we refuse no judge except four chief judges, the which be false to believe.

. . . The Lords followers went together and said, but the king would do execution on such traitors as were named, else they would turn to the captain of Kent.

From Gregory, pp. 190-91

Upon which answer that the king, thither sent by his lords, did make a cry in the king's name of England that all the king's liege men of England should avoid the field. And upon. the night after they were all voided and agone . . .


From Gregory, pp. 191-4

And after that, upon the first day of July, the same captain came again, as the Kentish men said, but it was another that named himself the captain, and he came to the Black Heath. And upon the morrow he came with a great host unto Southwark, and at the White Hart he took his lodging. And upon the morrow, that was the Friday, again even, they smote asunder the ropes of the drawbridge and fought sore a many, and many a man was murdered and killed in that conflict, I wot not what to name it for the multitude of riff raff. And then they entered into the city of London as men that had been half beside their wit; and in that furnace they went, as they said for the common weal of the realm of England, even straight into a merchant's place named Philip Malpas of London. If it were true as they surmised after the doing, I remit myself to ink and paper . . . But well I wot that every ill beginning most commonly hath an ill ending, and every good beginning hath very good ending . . . And that Philip Malpas was alderman, and they spoiled him and bare away much goods of his, and especially much money, both of silver and gold . . .

And then divers questions were asked at the Guildhall; and there Robert Horne being alderman was arrested and brought in to Newgate. And the same day William Crowemere, squire, and Sherriff of Kent, was beheaded in the field without Aldgate . . . And another man that was named John Bayle was beheaded at the White Chapel. And the same afternoon was beheaded in Cheap before the Standard, Sir James Fienne, being that time the Lord Saye and Great Treasurer of England . . .

And that same even London did arise and came out upon them at ten of the bell . . . And from that time unto the morrow 8 of the bell they were ever fighting upon London Bridge, and many a man was slain and cast into the Thames . . . And . . . the Captain of Kent did fire the drawbridge of London; and before that he broke both King's Bench and the Marshalsea, and let out all the prisoners that were in them . . .


From Gregory, p. 194

And upon the 12th day of July . . . the said Captain was cried and proclaimed traitor, by the name of John Cade, in divers places of London, and also in Southwark, with many more, that what man might or would bring the same John Cade to the king, quick or dead, should have of the king a 1000 marks. Also whosoever might bring or would bring any of his chief counsellors . . . that kept any state or rule or governance under the said false captain John Cade he should have his reward of the king . . . And that day was the false traitor the Captain of Kent taken and slain in the Weald in the county of Sussex, and upon the morrow he was brought in a cart all naked . . . beheaded and quartered . . . and his head . . . set upon London Bridge.


From Gregory, pp. 196-7

. . . On Candlemas Day, the king was at Canterbury, and with him was the Duke of Exeter, the Duke of Somerset, my lord of Shrewsbury, with many other lords and many justices. And there they held the Sessions four days, and there were condemned many of the Captain's men for their rising, and for their talking against the king . . . And the condemned men were drawn, hanged, and quartered, but they were pardoned to be buried, both the quarters of their bodies and their heads withal.

And at Rochester nine men were beheaded at the same time and their heads were sent unto London by the king's commandment, and set upon London Bridge all at one time; and twelve heads at another time were brought unto London and set up under the same form as it was commanded by the king. Men call it in Kent the harvest of heads.


Cade - who is remembered by Cade Road on Blackheath Common - was also connected with the London Stone. According to tradition, this was originally a temple alter-stone, laid by none other than Brutus the Trojan, the mythical founder of London who gave his name to the country. Because of this, it was considered a scared object on which oaths were sworn. It was also the point from which proclamations were made. Cade observed the tradition by striking his sword against it as a symbol of sovereignty after his forces entered London.17 On striking the stone, he declared himself lord of the city. The London Stone is a survivor of the thousands of mark stones which used to exist at important geomantric points in cities up until medieval times. It is said that so long as the Brutus stone is safe, no harm will come to Britain.

The Brutus stone was not the only totem in London that has this legend. The ancient site of the White Hill (known in Celtic times as the Bryn Gwyn) was not only sacred to the Goddess, but is said to have been the site of the burial of Bran's Head. This site today is the White Tower in the Tower of London. As Bran was the crow god, thus he was protected by the Ravens, a bird sacred to the Celts, who still "guard" the site today. Bran and his Ravens must have been connected with Deptford and Greenwich or the River Ravensbourne would not have been named as such. It have probably would have been known as Aber Bran in Celtic times (Raven's River). Like with the Brutus Stone, it is said that as long as the Ravens are still in the Tower, Britain will be safe from invasion.

Cade is also said to have been connected with Jack Cade's Cavern underneath The Point by Maidenstone Hill on the edge of Blackheath Common. There is also said to be an effigy of The Horned God in the cave, but it is not known if is dates from that period. If it did, then it would connect Jack Cade directly to the myth of The Horned God, and it is worth speculating whether he performed pagan rites in the cave before marching on London.

Legend records that the Celtic chieftain Arthur disinterred Bran's head in the 6th Century AD, claiming that only he would protect Britain from invaders. This fulfilled the prophesy by the Celtic shaman Merlin of the triumph of the White Dragon (representing the Saxon's) over the Red Dragon (the Celts). Thus, within 200 years, the Celts had lost the area of their country that later became known as England (from Angland or Land of the Angles, the Saxon tribes who came from Germany), and they were hemmed into Cornwall, Wales and Cumbria (who were known as the Strathclyde Britons). It was to be the Cornish however who were to return to London and fight at the Battle at Deptford Bridge over the River Ravensbourne in 1497.

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