Michael Joseph was one of the leaders of a Cornish Rebellion that took place in 1497, in response to taxes levied by the king, Henry VII.
At the time, the Norman rulers had control of most of Britain, with the notable exceptions of Ireland, Scotland and Cornwall. Wales had only recently been overcome in the revolt led by Owen Glendower in 1412.
When Henry VII committed an army of 8000 men to march north to fight the Scots there was a lot of unrest amongst the Cornish. One man in particular, Thomas Flamank, a lawyer in Bodmin, spoke out against the subsidies paid for the war. He drew together a declaration of grievences that they had with the English rule. The complaint was that the taxes were seen as a curtailment of Cornish constitutional rights under the Stannery law Charter of 1305.
Michael Joseph was a blacksmith from St. Keverne, near the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall. In May of 1497, he roused the village people to march on the captial in protest. He was joined by Flamank and his supporters when they passed through Bodmin. The Cornish army was armed with simple weapons; bows and arrows, farm tools and the like. They marched without violence along the way, receiving support from the villages they travelled through. When they passed through Somerset, their numbers swelled considerably to over 5000 men. Somerset had been a strong Celtic area.
The king sent his most senior General, Lord Daubeney, with troops to quell the uprising. However they were defeated near Guildford. This encouraged the Cornish rebels to march on. They arrived at Blackheath Common, a place of great historical value to South London. This was where Wat Tyler led the Poll Tax rebellion of 1381, and Jack Code tried to seize the captial in 1450. In both cases, the Kentish people were central to the campaigns.
The Cornish had hoped that the Kentish people would join them this time. However, there was great reluctance to join following their heavy defeat in 1450, and the repression since.
On 16th June, 1497, they reached Blackheath Common, to find themselves encircled by an outnumbering force of the king's men. They were greatly out-equipped as well, leading to a swift defeat. Michael Joseph was captured as he tried to escape to Greenwich. Flanmank was also captured.
Two weeks later, after being imprisoned in the Tower of London, they were hung, drawn and quartered; their heads placed on spikes on London bridge to serve as the traditional warning to others.
On his way to be executed, Michael Joseph declared they would have
a name perpetual and fame permanent and immortal.
This is included on the inscription of a statue errected in their honour on the outskirts of St. Keverne in 1997, for the 500th anniversary of their defeat.
Michael Joseph was known as 'An Gof'. This is Cornish for 'The Smith', reflecting his profession in the village as a blacksmith. The modern version 'Angove' is still a common Cornish surname.
The date of the battle, June 25th, is celebrated yearly as An Gof day, with events in St. Keverne, Bodmin and London.
Despite his defeat, An Gof has become symbolic of the Cornish peoples' attempt to gain a seperate identity.