It happened today - June 17, 2016

Commemorative plaque in Cornish and English for Michael Joseph the Smith (An Gof) and Thomas Flamank mounted on the north side of Blackheath common, south east London, near the south entrance to Greenwich Park (Wikipedia)

Well I wouldn’t count on that, Mike. I refer to the reported prediction of Michael an Gof that he would have "a name perpetual and a fame permanent and immortal" despite, or because of, having his head stuck on a post after losing the Battle of Deptford Bridge on June 17 1497.

Now there’s always some smart aleck in the class who not only knows who he was but has a T-shirt with him on it. But I’m betting the person in question is Cornish. Because Michael an Gof was a Cornish blacksmith (which is rather prosaically what an Gof means in that tongue; his actual name was Michael Joseph or, to avoid angry letters in Cornish, Myghal Josef) who led a revolt against Henry VII’s excessive taxation to pay for an invasion of Scotland to put an end to the claim of “Perkin Warbeck” to be king of England.

As I’ve written elsewhere, if you happen to be called Perkin it’s probably not wise to lunge for a crown. It’s just not that sort of name. Now Warbeck actually claimed to be Richard of York, younger brother and equally dead sibling of Edward V, murdered according to Shakespeare by Richard III but very possibly by those appalling Tudors. But Henry VII crushed and killed him, as he did many other people, in his own ruthless and successful lunge for a crown.

As you gather, I don’t like the Tudors. I think they were illegitimate rulers both in the legal and moral sense, other than Elizabeth I, who was scary but mostly in a good way. And lots of people at the time felt the same way, including the Cornish rebels who felt that England attacking Scotland, and one usurper going after another, was nothing to do with them and they shouldn’t have their pockets picked.

They marched on London to mention it to the king, and suggest he get rid of the corrupt counsellors who had led him astray in such matters. And so they gathered themselves and their petition and marched east, swelling in numbers from 6,000 to 15,000 and getting rowdier as they went. Eventually they headed for the notoriously turbulent southeastern region of Kent, only to be rebuffed, and intercepted on their way back west at Deptford, now part of Greater London, and beaten badly. Casualty figures vary widely and are all unreliable, but it was an ugly and one-sided business.

Especially for an Gof and his key associate Thomas Flamank, who got the old hanged, drawn and quartered treatment although in an act of mercy they were hanged until dead before the other festivities ensued ending with their heads on pikestaffs on London Bridge.

It is fair to say that they had not thought it through properly, from the reception Henry Tudor was likely to give them to preparations for actual battle. And an Gof isn’t exactly remembered, not even as “what an Gof”. The fact that his name was adopted by “a Cornish nationalist extremist organization” doesn’t really count given that the vast majority of readers probably didn’t know they even had those. But I will say this.

Like a great many notable figures in Anglosphere history, he was motivated not by greed or ambition but by legitimate resistance to state oppression, particularly the exaction of taxes without representation. The Cornish really had long ago, in the reign of Edward I, been promised exemption from certain kinds of taxation without the approval of their own “Stannary Parliament” (yes, it comes from the Latin for “tin” and that’s how important the stuff was in Cornwall from classical into medieval times), and Henry VII had brushed aside both the promises and the Parliament.

In that sense, Michael “whose head is that?” does belong in the august company of such people as Edward Coke and George Washington. Even if his capacity for planning did not equal theirs.