In the spring of 1450 Kentish peasants protested against what they saw as the weak leadership of King Henry, unfair taxes, corruption and the damaging effect of the loss of France. They issued The Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent, a manifesto listing grievances against the government—grievances not only of the people but of several MPs, lords and magnates.
In early June about 5,000 rebels gathered at Blackheath, south-east of London. They were mostly peasants but their numbers were swelled by shopkeepers, craftsmen, a few landowners (the list of pardoned shows the presence of one knight, two MPs and eighteen squires) and a number of soldiers and sailors returning via Kent from the French wars. While the King sought refuge in Warwickshire the rebels advanced to Southwark, at the southern end of London Bridge. They set up headquarters in The White Hart inn before crossing the bridge on 3 July 1450.
They stopped at the London Stone, which Cade struck with his sword and declared himself Lord Mayor in the traditional manner (thereby also symbolically reclaiming the country for the Mortimers to whom he claimed to be related). He then led them on to the Guildhall and then to the Tower to make the demands in full. The Lord Treasurer was captured and beheaded, along with a few other favourites of the King, and their heads put on pikes and made to kiss each other. Many of the rebels, including Cade himself, then proceeded to loot London, although Cade had made frequent promises not to do so during the march to the capital. When his army returned over the bridge (which was regularly closed at night) to Southwark, the London officials made preparations to stop Cade re-crossing into the city. The next day, at about ten in the evening a battle broke out on London Bridge and lasted until eight the next morning, when the rebels retreated with heavy casualties.
But a week after the peasant forces disbanded, Cade learned that the government regarded him as a traitor and had issued a reward for him dead or alive. He was subsequently killed in a skirmish near Heathfield, East Sussex on 12 July 1450, after which his body was taken to London and quartered for display in different cities, his preserved head ending up on a pike on London Bridge (along with those of other leaders of the rebellion). There is a memorial in the village of Cade Street almost opposite the public house formerly known as the Jack Cade but subsequently renamed the Half Moon.
Despite all the rebels having been pardoned, thirty-four of them were executed after Cade's death.
Cade's revolt features in William Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2, where Cade declares "For our enemies shall fall before us, inspired with the spirit of putting down kings and princes". It is also where Dick immortalises the words "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." (see also Jack Cade laws)
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