Jack Cade's Rebellion

Lord Saye and Sele brought before Jack Cade, painting by Charles Lucy

Jack Cade's Rebellion was a popular revolt in 1450 against the government of England, which took place in the southeast of the country between the months of April and July. It stemmed from local grievances regarding the corruption, maladministration and abuse of power of the king's closest advisors and local officials. Recent military losses in France during the Hundred Years' War had eroded the government's prestige and brought to light many of the problems behind these grievances. Leading an army of men from southeastern England, the rebellion's namesake and leader Jack Cade marched on London in order to force the government to reform the administration and remove from power those deemed responsible for the bad governance the rebels complained about. It was the largest popular uprising to take place in England during the 15th century.[1]

Despite Cade's attempt to keep his men under control once the rebel forces had entered London they began to loot. The citizens of London turned on the rebels and forced them out of the city in a bloody battle on London Bridge. To end the bloodshed the rebels were issued pardons by the king and told to return home.[2] Cade fled but was later caught on 12 July 1450 by Alexander Iden, a future High Sheriff of Kent. As a result of the skirmish with Iden, the mortally wounded Cade died before reaching London for trial.[3] The Jack Cade Rebellion has been perceived as a reflection of the social, political and economic issues of the time period and as a precursor to the Wars of the Roses which saw the decline of the Lancaster dynasty and the rise of the House of York.

Identity

Jack Cade
Bornc. 1420–1430[4]
Probably Sussex[4]
Died12 July 1450
Cade Street, Sussex
Other names
  • John Cade
  • John Mortimer
Known forJack Cade's rebellion

Very little is known about the identity and origins of Jack (possibly John) Cade. Given that the rebel leader did not leave behind any personal documents and the use of aliases was common among rebels, historians are forced to base their claims on rumour and speculation. According to Mark Antony Lower, Jack (or John) Cade was probably born in Sussex between 1420 and 1430 and historians agree for certain that he was a member of the lower ranks of society.

During the rebellion of 1450, Cade took on the title of "Captain of Kent" and adopted the alias John Mortimer. The name Mortimer had negative connotations for the king and his associates as Henry VI's main rival for the throne of England was Richard, Duke of York, who had Mortimer ancestry.[5] The possibility that Cade may have been working with York was enough to prompt the king into moving against the rebels without delay. At the time of the rebellion the Duke of York was in exile in Ireland; as of yet no evidence has been found indicating that he was involved in funding or inciting the uprising. It is more likely that Cade used the name Mortimer as propaganda to give his cause more legitimacy.[6] When the rebels were issued a pardon on 7 July 1450, Cade was issued a pardon under the name Mortimer; however, once it was discovered that he had lied about his identity, the pardon was rendered void.[7]

Among his followers, Cade's dedication to having the people's complaints heard and restoring order within both local and central governments earned him the nickname "John Mend-all" or "John Amend-all". It is not known whether Cade himself chose the name or not. [8]

One tale of the time claimed that Cade was the doctor John Alymere who was married to the daughter of a squire in Surrey. Another rumour suggested that he enjoyed dabbling in the dark arts and had once worked for Sir Tomas Dacres before fleeing the country after murdering a pregnant woman.[7]