Bodmin Prayer Book Rebellion Service 2023

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In Brief

Name: Bodmin Prayer Book Rebellion Commemoration Service 2023
Date: Sunday 20 August, 2023
Time: The service starts at 3pm
Church service to commemorate at least 5,000 lost Cornish lives
Suitable for: Anyone who wants to learn and pay tribute to such a key moment in Cornish history
Location: St Petroc’s Church, Priory Road, Bodmin
Price: Free


The Bodmin Prayer Book Rebellion 2023 service is an institution in Cornwall. This year it takes place at St Petroc’s Church in Bodmin at 3pm on Sunday 20 August 2023. The Bodmin Old Cornwall Society is heavily involved in its organisation but this is an open service so anyone, from anywhere, can attend and pay tribute to those brave Cornish people who lost their lives in 1549.

Cornish was once a language spoken by all in this magical land west of the Tamar Bridge. But in the 16th century, a rebellion took place that, it is believed, started the long decline of Cornwall’s mother tongue. And this revolt led to thousands of deaths along the way. The Prayer Book Rebellion was a bloody affair that still lives on in the hearts and minds of many people in our corner of the world.

The Prayer Book Rebellion, also known as the Western Rising, took place in 1549. At this time, King Edward VI was head of the Church of England and, under him, the Book of Common Prayer underwent a massive transformation. For the first time, the book presented the theology of the English Reformation and the language of the book itself was changed from Latin into English. It was not changed into Cornish. Not even for a few copies. Edward VI strictly forbade that.

It’s widely accepted that this popular revolt kicked off because Cornwall was firmly Catholic in its religious loyalty so it was opposed to the English Reformation anyway, plus it was going through a rough time economically so it was opposed to King Edward VI too. But the fact that the new Prayer Book was in English only and no Cornish copies were allowed was the tipping point. Cornwall (and much of Devon, for that matter) staged an uprising, now known as the Prayer Book Rebellion.

The revolt didn’t take long. Government forces under Lord John Russell headed down to Cornwall and crushed the rebels in a series of battles. In one of them alone, known as the Clyst Heath Massacre, a total of 900 Cornishmen were cut down. It is estimated than more than 5,000 people lost their lives in the revolt, including its leaders who were executed just two months after the uprising began.

Nicholas Boyer, the Bodmin Mayor, was hung, for instance, along with four other leaders. It has also been estimated that up to 11 percent of the total population of Cornwall had gone by the conclusion of the rebellion.

It wasn’t just the people who died, though. It was the beginning of a slow death for the Cornish language (with the English language seen by many as being bloodily forced upon them) and it was also the beginning of the end for the old Cornish culture and way of life. Okay, the Cornish language is making a resurgence today but it’s a far cry from the 16th century. So, all in all, this rebellion is worth commemorating not only for the loss of more than 5,000 people’s lives but also for the loss of traditional ways of life the world over.

The Bodmin Old Cornwall Society organises a commemorative service every year for the Prayer Book Rebellion. This year it’s from 3pm on Sunday 20 August at St Petroc’s Church, a 15th century church in Priory Road, Bodmin.

Expect a Cornish parade of banners, bagpipes and an organ, plus plenty of Bodmin and Cornish history told in the service alongside lots of singing and some refreshments at the end. Anyone, from any walk of life, can go along and pay tribute to those people who lost their lives in such a key conflict in the history of Cornwall and its unique culture.