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Call for Church of England to express regret over 1549
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2007 4:10 pm    Post subject: Call for Church of England to express regret over 1549 Reply with quote


The first thing that you notice as you enter Cornwall via the A30 is the lack of trees. Solid granite bedrock is to be found not far beneath the soil throughout the extent of Cornwall and it is difficult, if not impossible, for trees to develop a deep root-system. Cornwall is also in an exposed position being thrust out into the Atlantic with all its gales and storms. Trees have found Cornwall to be a difficult place in which to grow tall and proud. The same might be said for the Church of England.

Most Cornish people regard Cornwall as no more part of England than Wales is: the Anglo-Saxon kings in their chronicles never claimed to have annexed the Kingdom of Cornwall; Cornwall’s Stannary Charters, still on the UK statute book, define Cornwall as separate from England, the Duchy of Cornwall’s own lawyers describing Cornwall as “a Palatine State, extraterritorial to the English Crown and whose quasi-sovereign is the Duke of Cornwall”; Tudor maps and laws reveal Cornwall to have equal status to England, Wales and Scotland. Unfortunately, the Speaker of the House of Commons does not allow Cornwall’s MPs to ask parliamentary questions about such matters in case it embarrasses the Duke of Cornwall, Prince Charles.

Despite establishment efforts to sweep the issues involved under the democratic carpet, Cornwall has maintained its independent, Celtic spirit as expressed by the flying of ever more Cornish flags and growing use of the Cornish language, a spirit which inward and outward migration and improved communications show no sign of dampening. Unfortunately for the Church of England, our present cultural revival, including recent historical commemorations, has resulted in many more of us knowing more about its part in our tragic past.

The historical event which overshadows today’s uneasy relationship between Cornwall and the Anglican Church which dominates it is the 1549 Western Rising whose 450th anniversary we commemorated in 1999. This rising was provoked by the imposition on Cornwall of an English language Prayer Book and the abrupt termination of traditional religious practices by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, most Cornish people not being able to speak English at that time. Those involved in the rising only asked for the right to continue to worship as they wished and to not be compelled to use their conqueror’s language in worship. Cranmer, however, merely dismissed them as being of the Anti-Christ, refused to compromise, and quickly decided in favour of the military option.

The King’s forces made no attempt to parley and, on the 4th of August 1549, slaughtered all 900 of the prisoners they had captured before descending on Cornwall to massacre at least 10% of our population. The chaplain to these forces, Miles Coverdale, was to be made Bishop of Exeter as a reward for his loyalty and service. Cranmer mocked those killed and never showed a twinge of remorse. He has since been honoured by his own ‘saints’ day in the Anglican liturgical calendar and the naming of a theological college after him. Lord Carey apologized for the invasion of Ireland, yet caused outrage in Cornwall when he made Cranmer his ‘Man of the Millennium’ on Desert Island Discs, people in Cornwall saying at the time that he might just have well have chosen Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot.

The history of Cornwall, like Ireland’s, had been defined by defensive struggle long before 1549, a struggle which continues to this day in our campaign for our own regional assembly. However, the Church of England’s role has always been a centralising one; it was, after all, initially established to promote obedience to an imperial Tudor Crown and to stamp out Celtic dissent in a kingdom only united by Anglo-Saxon steel. John Wesley made 31 visits to Cornwall in all, resulting today in two churches of similar size with competing claims to be the true Cornish Church; that of Wesley is accepted as the stronger by most Cornish people. It would seem that Wesley’s dramatic success was partly down to a reaction to an Anglican Church which had supported the harrowing of Cornwall in 1549.

Wales too was to see strong growth in non-conformity to state-imposed Anglican supremacy. The Church of England was seen in Wales as an alien usurper of the original Celtic Church and there were growing calls for a separate Anglican province at the end of the nineteenth century which resulted in the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Wales in 1920. A similar gap is now widening in Cornwall with an English Church which claims continuity with the Celtic saints who founded the Church in Cornwall, a gap reflected in growing antipathy towards the only institution here that flies the flag of St George. Anglican refusal to fly our own flag is by no means the only cause for offence, although it is the most visible one.

In 2003, the Diocese of Truro hosted a visit by two members of the Archbishop’s Committee for Minority Anglican Affairs to Cornwall to help the diocese “engage with ethnic minorities”. While meetings were arranged with Chinese, Asians and blacks, no one representing the diocese even told the members about those (including MPs) campaigning for greater acknowledgement of our Cornish ethnicity, an ethnicity recognised in the 2001 Census and by the Council for Racial Equality. Letters to the committee’s chairwoman on this subject continue to go unanswered.

General Synod has issued a statement of regret for Anglican involvement in the slave trade, Archbishop Rowan Williams saying it was right to share “the shame and sinfulness of our predecessors”. In 2004, he visited Truro Cathedral for a service billed as “a celebration of Cornwall’s Celtic heritage and history”. One piece of our history which was conveniently forgotten was the Western Rising provoked by his ruthless predecessor, Thomas Cranmer. Hoping that a Welshman and fellow Celt would show more sympathy in such matters, the International Celtic League wrote to the Archbishop just before his visit to Cornwall asking that he publicly admit the Church of England’s involvement in the suppression of Cornwall in 1549 and that of our identity ever since. He did not, and there was great sadness at yet another lost opportunity to acknowledge and heal the past.

Christ calls his Church to be perfect as he is perfect, to accept everyone and exclude no one. The Church of England’s defence of establishment rests on its claim to be a church for everyone, to provide a spiritual home for all. But if the Church of England continues to refuse to be reconciled with its shameful history in Cornwall, it refuses to be reconciled with the people to whom that history also belongs, people Christ died for and wants to embrace into his Church, people it is turning its back on.

How can the Anglican Church embrace those it currently excludes by indifference and be a church for all who live here? Does its self-identity of a church for all have any future in Cornwall? Can it ever be reconciled to its tragic history in Cornwall and deepen its roots in our soil so it can stand tall and proud here?

The time has come for General Synod to make a statement of regret to Cornwall similar to that made concerning the Church of England’s involvement in the Slave Trade. The Church of England in Cornwall should then be disestablished to form an independent province following the example of Wales, a move that an internet poll run by Cornwall 24 magazine suggests might commend the support of 90% of Cornish Christians. Only this will allow the healing of the Church of England’s brutal history in Cornwall, a history that is destined to haunt it forever until it is acknowledged, forgiven and exorcised.

This restoration of our church’s freedom will help achieve Christ’s will of a Church which embraces all and excludes no one, not even the heirs and descendents of a rising it provoked and helped to so mercilessly crush and which, in Cornwall, is by no means forgotten.

Andy Phillips

Andy Phillips is a Cornish Anglican Priest and a member of Fry an Spyrys, the Campaign for a disestablished Church of Cornwall – see www.freethespirit.org.uk
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 An Gof and Flamank were executed on 27th June 1497 and suffered the traitor's fate of being hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Audley was beheaded on the 28th June at Tower Hill. Their heads were displayed on pike-staffs ("gibbeted") on London Bridge. An Gof is recorded to have said before his execution that he should have "a name perpetual and a fame permanent and immortal". Thomas Flamank was quoted as saying "Speak the truth and only then can you be free of your chains".  

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