The Peasants' Revolt in England (1381)

WHILE these negotiations and discussions were going on,1 there occurred in England great disasters and uprisings of the common people, on account of which the country was almost ruined beyond recovery. Never was any land or realm in such great danger as England at that time. It was because of the abundance and prosperity in which the common people then lived that this rebellion broke out, just as in earlier days the Jack Goodmans rose in France and committed many excesses, by which the noble land of France suffered grave injury.

These terrible troubles originated in England from a strange, circumstance and a trivial cause. That it may serve as a lesson to all good men and true, I will describe that circumstance and its effects as I was informed of them at the time.

It is the custom in England, as in several other countries, for the nobles to have strong powers over their men and to hold them in serfdom: that is, that by right and custom they have to till the lands of the gentry, reap the corn and bring it to the big house, put it in the barn, thresh and winnow it; mow the hay and carry it to the house, cut logs and bring them up, and all such forced tasks; all this the men must do by way of serfage to the masters. In England there is a much greater number than elsewhere of such men who are obliged to serve the prelates and the nobles. And in the counties of Kent, Essex, Sussex and Bedford in particular, there are more than in the whole of the rest of England.

These bad people in the counties just mentioned began to rebel because, they said, they were held too much in subjection, and when the world began there had been no serfs and could not be, unless they had rebelled against their lord, as Lucifer did against God; but they were not of that stature, being neither angels nor spirits, but men formed in the image of their masters, and they were treated as animals. This was a thing they could no longer endure, wishing rather to be all one and the same,2 and, if they worked for their masters, they wanted to have wages for it. In these machinations they had been greatly encouraged originally by a crack-brained priest of Kent called John Ball, who had been imprisoned several times for his reckless words by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This John Ball had the habit on Sundays after mass when everyone was coming out of church, of going to the cloisters or the graveyard, assembling the people round him and preaching thus:

'Good people, things cannot go right in England and never will, until goods are held in common and there are no more villeins and gentlefolk, but we are all one and the same.3 In what way are those whom we call lords greater masters than ourselves? How have they deserved it? Why do they hold us in bondage? If we all spring from a single father and mother, Adam and Eve, how can they claim or prove that they are lords more than us, except by making us produce and grow the -wealth which they spend? They are clad in velvet and camlet lined with squirrel and ermine, while we go dressed in coarse cloth. They have the wines, the spices and the good bread: we have the rye, the husks and the straw, and we drink water. They have shelter and ease in their fine manors, and we have hardship and toil, the wind and the rain in the fields. And from us must come, from our labour, the things which keep them in luxury. We are called serfs and beaten if we are slow in our service to them, yet we have no sovereign lord we can complain to, none to hear us and do us justice. Let us go to the King - he is young - and show him how we are oppressed, and tell him that we want things to be changed, of else we will change them ourselves. If we go in good earnest and all together, very many people who are called serfs and are held in subjection will follow us to get their freedom. And when the King sees and hears us, he will remedy the evil, either willingly or otherwise.'

These were the kind of things which John Ball usually preached in the villages on Sundays when the congregations came out from mass, and many of the common people agreed with him. Some, who were up to no good, said: 'He's right!' and out in the fields, or walking together from one village to another, or in their homes, they whispered and repeated among themselves: 'That's what John Ball says, and he's right.'

The Archbishop of Canterbury, being informed of all this, had John Ball arrested and put in prison, where he kept him for two or three months as a punishment. It would have been better if he had condemned him to life imprisonment on the first occasion, or had him put to death, than to do what he did; but he had great scruples about putting him to death and set him free; and when John Ball was out of prison, he we= on with his intrigues as before. The things he was doing and saying came to the ears of the common people of London, who were envious of the nobles and the rich. These began saying that the country was badly governed and was being robbed of its wealth by those who called themselves noblemen. So these wicked men in London started to become disaffected and to rebel and they sent word to the people in the counties mentioned to come boldly to London with all their followers, when they would find the city open and the common people on their side. They could then so work on the King that there would be no more serfs in England.

These promises incited the people of Kent, Essex, Sussex, Bedford and the neighbouring districts and they set off and went towards London. They were a full sixty thousand and their chief captain was one Wat Tyler. With him as his companions were Jack Straw and John Ball. These three were the leaders and Wat Tyler was the greatest of them. He was a tiler of roofs, and a wicked and nasty fellow he was.

It was on the Monday before Corpus Christi day, in the year 1381, that those people left their homes to go to London to see the King and be freed from serfdom. They reached Canterbury, and with them was John Ball, who was expecting to find the Archbishop, but he was in London with the King. Wat Tyler and Jack Straw were also at Canterbury. When they entered the place, they were cheered by everyone, for the whole town was on their side. They consulted together and decided that, while they were on the way to London, they would send men across the Thames to Essex and Sussex and to the counties of Stanfort and Bedford4 to tell all the people to come towards London from the other side, so that they would surround the city, and the King would be unable to bar their way. Their intention was to join forces on Corpus Christi or the day after. Those who were at Canterbury went into the Cathedral of St Thomas and did much damage there. They sacked the Archbishop's chambers and while they were plundering and carrying the things outside they said: 'This Chancellor of England got this furniture on the cheap. Soon he will have to render us an account of the revenue of England and the huge sums he has levied since the King's coronation.5

After sacking the Abbey of St Thomas and the Abbey of St Vincent on the Monday, they left the next morning for Rochester, with all the common people of Canterbury with them. They drew in all the people from the villages they went near, and they passed by like a tornado, levelling and gutting the houses of lawyers and judges of the King's and Archbishop's courts, and showing them no mercy. When they reached Rochester, they were greeted with enthusiasm, for the people of that town were of their party. They went to the castle and took prisoner its captain, Sir John Newton, who was also the governor of the town. They told him: 'You must come with us to be our leader and captain and do whatever we ask of you.' The knight tried to refuse, giving several reasons but it was no good. They told him: 'Sir John, if you will not do as we wish, you are a dead The knight saw all those men in furious mood getting ready to kill him. He feared death and obeyed them, joining their march against his will.

The men from the other districts of England, Essex, Sussex, Kent, Stanfort, Bedford, and from the bishopric of Norwich as far as Gernemue6 and (King's) Lynn, behaved in just the same way. They got the knights and nobles into their power - such as the Lord of Morlais,7 a great baron, Sir Stephen Hales and Sir Stephen de Cosington; and compelled them to go with them. Just consider what devilry was abroad. If their plans had succeeded, they would have destroyed all the nobility of England; and afterwards, in other nations, all the. common people would have rebelled; they had been inspired and influenced by the people of Ghent and Flanders who rebelled against their lord. And in that very year the Parisians did the same, making themselves long iron hammers to the number of over twenty thousand. But first to continue with the English rebels from the counties I have named.

When that multitude which had halted in Rochester had achieved their purpose there, they crossed the river (Medway) and came to Dartford, still relentlessly pursuing their course of destroying the houses of lawyers and judges whenever they passed near them. They cut off the heads of a number of men and went on to within about twelve miles of London, where they halted on a hill known as Blackheath. And as they went they said they stood for the King and the noble commons of England.

When the inhabitants of London heard that they were quartered so near to them, they shut the gates of London Bridge and posted guards over it. This was done on the orders of the Lord Mayor, Sir William Walworth, and a number of wealthy citizens who were not of the rebel party, though more than thirty thousand of the small people in London were. The men who were at Blackheath now decided to send their knight to the King in the Tower to ask him to come and talk with them, and to say that all they were doing was in his interest: since for many years past the realm of England had been misgoverned, both as regarding its prestige and the welfare of the common people, and all this thanks to his uncles and his clergy, and principally the Archbishop of Canterbury, his Chancellor, from whom they demanded an account. The knight did not dare to refuse them but went to Thames-side opposite the Tower and had himself rowed across the water.

Sir John Newton delivers his message, begging the King to give him an answer to take back, because his children are being held as hostages for his return. Richard promises to speak to the rebels in person on the next day.

On the morning of Corpus Christi day, King Richard heard mass in the Tower of London with all his nobles and afterwards entered his barge, accompanied by the Earls of Salisbury, Warwick, Oxford and others. They were rowed downstream in order to cross the Thames near Rotherhithe, one of the King's manors, where about ten thousand of the Goodmen, having come down from the hill, were waiting to see the King and talk to him. When these saw the royal barge coming, they all began to shout and raised such a din that it sounded as though all the devils in hell had been let loose. They had brought with them their knight, John Newton, and if the King had not come and they found that he had tricked them, they would have set on him and hacked him to pieces; that was what they had promised him. When the King and his nobles saw the frenzied crowds on the bank, the boldest of them were frightened and his barons advised the King not to land. They began to turn the barge away and upstream again. The King called: 'Sirs, what have you to say to me? Tell me. I came here to talk to you.' Those who could hear him shouted with one voice: 'Come on land, you! It'll be easier that way to tell you what we want.' The Earl of Salisbury, speaking for the King, replied: 'Sirs, you are not in a fit condition for the King to talk to you now.' Nothing was added to this and the King went back, as advised, to the Tower of London from where he had started.

When those people saw that they would obtain nothing more, they were aflame with fury. They went back to the hill where the main body was and reported what had been said to them and that the King had gone back to the Tower. The whole mass of them began shouting together: 'To London! Straight to London!' They started off and swept down towards the city, ransacking and destroying the houses of abbots, lawyers and court officials, and came to the immediate outskirts, which are fine and extensive. They levelled several fine buildings and, in particular, the King's prisons, which are called Marshalseas, setting free all the prisoners inside. They committed many outrages in the suburbs and, when they reached the bridge, they began to threaten the Londoners because they had closed its gates. They said they would set fire to all the suburbs and then take London by storm, burning and destroying it. The common people of London, many of whom were on their side, assembled together and said: 'Why not let these good people come into the town? They are our own people and they are doing all this to help us.' So the gates had to be opened and all those famished men entered the town and rushed into the houses which had stocks of provisions. Nothing was refused them and everyone made haste to welcome them in and set out food and drink to appease them. After that, their leaders John Ball, Jack Straw and- Wat Tyler, with more than thirty thousand men, went straight through London to the Palace of the Savoy, a very fine building on the Thames as you go towards the King's Palace of Westminster, and belonging to the Duke of Lancaster. They quickly got inside and killed the guards, and then sent it up in flames. Haying committed this outrage, they went on to the palace of the Hospitallers of Rhodes, known as St John of Clerkenwell, and burnt it down, house, church, hospital and everything. Besides this, they went from street to street, killing all the Flemings they found in churches, chapels and houses. None was spared. They broke into many houses belonging to Lombards8 and robbed them openly, no one daring to resist them. In the town they killed a wealthy man called Richard Lyon, whose servant Wat Tyler had once been during the wars in France. On one occasion Richard Lyon had beaten his servant and Wat Tyler remembered it. He led his men to him, had his head cut off in front of him, and then had it stuck on a lance and carried through the streets. So those wicked men went raging about in wild frenzy, committing many excesses on that Thursday throughout London.

Towards evening, they all collected together for the night in a square called St Katharine's, just outside the Tower of London. They said they would not budge from there until they had the King in their power and had got him to grant all their demands. They also said that they wanted to have an account from the Chancellor of all the sums of money which had been raised in the kingdom during the past five years, and that unless he could give a good and satisfactory account of them, it would be the worse for him. With those intentions, after a day spent in doing much harm to the foreigners in London, they settled for the night beneath the walls of the Tower.

You can well imagine what a frightening situation it was for the King and those with him, with those evil men all shouting and yelling outside like devils. In the evening the King, with his brothers and the barons round him, had agreed to a plan proposed to them by the Mayor of London, Sir William Walworth, and other prominent citizens. It was, that they should come at midnight, fully armed, down four different streets, and fall on those evil men, the whole sixty thousand of them, while they were asleep. They would all be drunk and could be killed like flies, since not one in twenty of them was armed. And it may be said that the loyal and wealthy people in London were quite in a position to do this. They had secretly assembled their friends in their houses, and their servants all carried weapons. Thus, Sir Robert Knollys was there in his house guarding his treasure with over six score fighting men all in readiness, who would have sallied out at once if the word had been given. It was the same with Sir Perducat d'Albret, who was in London at that time. They could have mustered between seven and eight thousand men all fully armed. But none of this was done, for fear of the rest of the common people in London. The wiser heads, such as the Earl of Salisbury, told the King: 'Sire, if you can appease them by fair words, that would be the better course. Promise them everything they are asking. If we begin something that we are unable to finish, there will be no stopping things before we and our heirs are destroyed and all England is laid in ruins.'

This advice was followed and the Mayor was given new orders to remain inactive and do nothing at all which might cause trouble. He obeyed, as was his duty. Now, together with the Mayor, the City of London has twelve aldermen. Nine were with him and the King, as their actions showed, and three were on the side of those evil men, as it became apparent later. They paid very dearly for it.

On the Friday morning, the crowds in St Katharine's Square beneath the Tower began to stir and raise a great outcry, saying that if the King would not come and speak to them, they would take the Tower by force and kill everyone inside. For fear of these boasts and threats, the King decided to do as they asked and sent word that they were all to go out of London to a fine open space which is called Mile End, situated in the middle of a pleasant meadow , where the people go for recreation in summer. There the King would grant them all they were demanding or might demand. The Mayor of London announced this to them and he had it cried, in the King's name, that whoever wanted to talk to the King should go to the place just mentioned, in the certainty that the King would be there. Then those people, the commons of the villages, began to move off in that direction, but all did not leave, not were they all of the same sort. There were many whose only object was to destroy the nobles and seize their wealth and to loot and ransack London. That was the main reason why they had begun all this. They quickly showed their hand, for no sooner had the gate of the Tower been opened and the King had come out with the Earls of Salisbury, Warwick and Oxford, Sir Robert of Namur, the Lord of Vertaing, the Lord of Gommegnies and several others, than Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Ball entered the castle by force with some four hundred men, and went from room to room until they found the Archbishop Simon of Canterbury. That wise and worthy man, Chancellor of England, who had just celebrated divine service and said mass before the King, was seized by those scoundrels and instantly beheaded. So were the Grand Prior of the Hospital of St John,9 and a Franciscan friar who was a physician attached to the Duke of Lancaster, which was the reason why he was killed, to his master's subsequent anger, and a serjeant-at-arms of the King, called John Legge. Their four heads were placed on long lances and carried before the crowd through the streets. When they had sported with them long enough, they set them up on London Bridge, as though they had been traitors to the King and the realm. Those scoundrels also entered the room of the Princess of Wales and tore her bed to pieces, so terrifying her that she fainted. Her menservants and maids carried her down in their arms to the river-gate and put her in a small boat which took her along the river to the Tower Royal, where she was placed in a house known as the Queen's Wardrobe. She remained there for a day and night, like a half-dead woman, until she was comforted by her son the King, as I will describe later.

As the King was going towards Mile End outside London, his two brothers, the Earl of Kent and Sir John Holland, left him for fear of death, and with them also went the Lord of Gommegnies. They dare not show themselves to the populace at Mile End. When the King arrived there, accompanied by the other nobles named above, he saw over sixty thousand men from different districts and villages in the Englishcounties. He rode right in among them and said very amiably: 'Good people, I am your lord and king. What are you asking for ? What do you want to say to me?' Those who were near enough to heat him replied- 'We want you to make us free for ever and ever, we and our heirs and our lands, so that we shall never again be called serfs or bondmen.' The King answered: 'That I grant you. Now go back home in your village-companies as you came here, but leave two or three men behind to represent each village. I will have letters written at once and sealed with my Great Seal for them to take back with them, granting you all that you ask freely, faithfully and absolutely. And in order to reassure you still more, I will order my banners to be sent to you in each bailiwick, castlewick and borough. You will find no hitch in any of this, for I will never go back on my word.'

These words did much to calm those humble people, that is, the raw, simple, good folk who had flocked there without really knowing what they wanted, and they shouted: 'Hurrah I That's all we ask for!' So these people were placated and began to go back to London. The King said another thing which pleased them greatly: 'Between you, good men of Kent, you shall have one of my banners, and you of Essex one, and you of Sussex another, and those of Bedford yet another, and those of Cambridge one, those of Gernemue one, those of Stafford one, and those of Lynn one. I pardon you everything you have done until now, provided that you follow my banners and go back to your own places in the way I told you.' All of them answered: 'Yes !'

These people went back to London, while the King ordered over thirty clerks to write letters of authority on that same Friday, to be sealed and delivered to them. Those who had the letters left to go back to their counties, but the main source of trouble remained behind - Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Ball. They said that, although some people were satisfied, they would not leave like that, and more than thirty thousand supported them. So they stayed in London and did not press very hard to have the King's letters of authority, but were chiefly intent on spreading such unrest through the town that the rich and noble would be killed and their houses looted. This was just what the citizens of London had feared and was the reason why they had privately assembled their friends and servants inside their houses, each according to his resources.

When the small people who felt satisfied had received their letters and had started back for their own towns, King Richard went to the Queen's Wardrobe, where his mother the Princess had taken refuge in a state of terror. He comforted her, as he well knew how to do, and stayed with her for the whole of that night.

I would like to tell you also of an incident caused by those evil men outside the city of Norwich, while they were being led by a captain they had, called Geoffrey Litster.10

On that same day of Corpus Christi, when those other wicked people entered London, burned the Palace of the Savoy and the church and house of the Hospitallers of St John, broke open the King's prison of Newgate and set free all the prisoners, and committed all the other excesses I have recorded, the men of the following districts: Stanfort, Lynn, Cambridge, Bedford and Gernemue had risen and come together. They moved towards London to join their comrades, for that was part of their plan, and they had as their leader that very bad character, Litster. As they went, they made everyone come with them, so that not a single able-bodied man remained behind. They halted outside Norwich, for a reason which you shall hear.

The captain of that town was a knight called Sir Robert Salle. He was not of gentle birth, but in appearance, reputation and fact he was a brave and experienced fighting-man. King Edward had knighted him for his sterling worth and physically he was the best-built and strongest man in all England. Litster and his followers thought that they would take this knight with them and make him their commander, in order that they should become both more feared and more popular. They sent a message asking him to come out and speak with them, or else they would storm the city and burn it. The knight considered that it would be better to comply than risk such a disaster, so he took his horse and rode alone out of the town to where they were waiting. They greeted him with all respect and asked him to get off his horse to talk with them. He did so, which was an act of folly. As soon as he was on die ground, they surrounded him and began pleading with him frankly but gently: 'Robert, you are a knight and you have a great reputation round here as a brave and worthy man. Of course you are one, but we know very well that you are not a gentleman, but the son of a common mason, of the same sort as us. Come with us and you shall be our master and we will make you so great a lord that the fourth part of England will be under your rule.'

When the knight heard this, he was astonished and greatly offended, for he would never have struck such a bargain. Glaring at them fiercely, he said : 'Away from me, you wicked people, false and evil traitors that you are, do you think I would abandon my natural lord for dung like you, and dishonour myself utterly? I would rather see you all hanged, as you will be, for that's the only end you deserve.'

With these words he tried to get back on his horse, but his foot slipped in the stirrup and the horse took fright. They began to yell at him and shout: 'Put him to death !' Hearing this, he let go of his horse, drew a long Bordeaux sword which he carried, and began cutting and thrusting all around him, a lovely sight to see. Few dared to come near him, and of those who did he cut off a foot or a head of an arm or a leg with every stroke he made. Even the boldest of them grew afraid of him. On that spot Sir Robert gave a marvellous display of swordsmanship. But those wicked men were more than sixty thousand strong and. they hurled and flung and shot their missiles at him until his armour was pierced through. To tell the truth, even if he had been a man of iron or steel, he could still not have got out alive, but first he killed a dozen of them stone dead, apart from those he wounded. Finally, he was brought down and they cut off his arms and legs and carved up his body piece by piece. So died Sir Robert Salle; it was a pitiful end, and later, when the news was known, all knights and squires in England were deeply angered by it.

On the Saturday morning the King left the Queen's Wardrobe in the Tower Royal and went to Westminster to hear mass in the abbey, together with all his nobles. In a small chapel in the abbey there is an image of Our Lady which has great virtues and performs miracles and in which the Kings of England have always placed great faith. The King said his prayers before the statue, dedicating himself to it, then got on horseback with all the barons who were round him. It was somewhere about nine in the morning. He started with his followers along the road which leads into London, but when he had gone a little way, he branched off to the left to pass outside it. The truth was that no one knew where he intended to go when he took this road leading round London.

On the morning of the same day all the bad men, led by Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Ball, had assembled together and gone to hold a confabulation at Smithfield, where the horse-market is held on Fridays. There were over twenty thousand of them, all of one kind. -Many more were still in the town breakfasting in the taverns and drinking Languedoc wine and Malmsey in the Lombards' houses, free of all charge. Anyone able to provide them with food and drink was only too happy to do so. The crowds assembled at Smithfield had with them the royal banners given them on the previous day and the scoundrels were contemplating running amok through London and looting and plundering. The leaders said: 'We have achieved nothing yet. The rights the King has granted us won't bring us in much. Now let’s all decide together: let's sack this rich and mighty town of London before the men of Essex, Sussex, Cambridge, Bedford and the other far-off counties of Arundel, Warwick, Reading, Berkshire, Oxford, Guildford, Coventry, Lynn, Stafford, Gernemue, Lincoln, York and Durham come - for they all will come. We know that Bakier11 and Litster will bring them. But if we are masters of London and of the gold and silver and riches we find in it - for they are there all right - we shall have the first pick and we shall never regret it. But if we -just leave them, the men who are coming, we tell you, will get them instead.'

They were all agreeing to this plan when suddenly the King appeared, accompanied by perhaps sixty horsemen. He had not been thinking about them, but had been intending to go on and leave London behind. When he reached the Abbey of St Bartholomew which stands there, he stopped and looked at the great crowd and said that he would not go on without hearing what they wanted. If they were discontented, he would placate them. The nobles who were with him stopped when he did, as they must. When Wat Tyler saw this, he said to his men: 'Here's the King, I'm going to talk to him. Don't budge from here unless I give you the signal, but if I make this sign (he showed them one), move forward and kill the lot. Except the King, don't touch the King. He's young, we will make him do as we want, we can take him with us anywhere in England and we shall be the lords of the realm. No doubt of that.' There was a tailor there called John Tickle, who had delivered sixty doublets for some of those scoundrels to wear, and Tyler was wearing one himself. Tickle said to him: 'Hi, sir, who's going to pay for my doublets? I want at least thirty marks! 'Be easy now,' said Tyler. 'You'll be paid in full by tomorrow. Trust me, I'm a good enough guarantee.'

With that, he stuck his spurs into a horse he had mounted, left his companions and went straight up to the King, going so near that his horse's tail was brushing the head of the King's horse. The first words he said to the King were: 'Well, King, you see all those men over there?' 'Yes,' said the King. 'Why do you ask?" Because they are all under my command. They've sworn their sacred oath to do anything I tell, them.' 'Good,' said the King, 'I see nothing wrong in that.' 'So,' said Tyler., who only wanted a quarrel, 'do you think, King, that these men here, and as many again in London, all under my command, are going to leave you without getting their letters? No, were going to take them with us.' 'It's all in hand,' said the King. 'They have to be drawn up separately and given out one after another. Simply go back to your men, my friend, and get them to withdraw from London quietly, and remember what your interests are. It is our intention that each of you, by villages and boroughs, should have your letter as agreed.'

On hearing this, Wat Tyler looked across at one of the King's squires, who was behind the King and bore his sword. He was a man whom Tyler hated, because they had had words in the past and the squire had abused him. 'Well,' said Tyler, 'so you are here? Give me your dagger.' 'Never,' said the squire. 'Why should I?' The King looked at his servant and said: 'Give it him.' Very unwillingly the squire did so. When Tyler had it, he began toying with it and then turned again to the squire and said: 'Give me that sword." Never, ,' said the squire, 'it's the King's sword. It's not for such as you, you're only a boor. If you and I were alo ne in this place, you would never have asked me that - not for a heap of gold as high as that church of St Paul's over there.' 'By God,' said Tyler, 'I'll have your head, if I never touch food again.'

Just then the Lord Mayor of London arrived on horseback with a dozen others, all fully armed beneath their robes, and broke through the crowd. He saw how Tyler was behaving and said to him in the sort of language he understood: 'Fellow, how date you say such things in the King's presence? You're getting above yourself.' The King lost his temper and said to the Mayor: 'Lay hands on him, Mayor.' Meanwhile Tyler was answering: 'I can say and do what I like. What's it to do with you?' 'So, you stinking boor,' said the Mayor, who had once been a King's Advocate, 'you talk like that in the presence of the King, my natural lord? I'll be hanged if you don't pay for it.'

With that he drew a great sword he was wearing and struck. He gave Tyler such a blow on the head that he laid him flat under his horse's feet. No sooner was he down than he was entirely surrounded, so as to hide him from the crowds who were there, who called themselves his men. One of the King's squires called John Standish dismounted and thrust his sword into Tyler's belly so that he died.

Those crowds of evil men soon realized that their leader was dead. They began to mutter: 'They've killed our captain. Come on, we'll slay the lot!' They drew themselves up in the square in a kind of battle-order, each holding before him the bow which he carried. Then the King did an extraordinarily rash thing, but it ended well. As soon as Tyler was dispatched, he left his men, saying: 'Stay here, no one is to follow me,' and went alone towards those half-crazed people, to whom he said: 'Sirs, what more do you want? You have no other captain but me. I am your king, behave peaceably.' On hearing this, the majority of them were ashamed and began to break up. They were the peace-loving ones. But the bad ones did not disband; instead they formed up for battle and showed that they meant business. The King rode back to his men and asked what should be d one next. He was advised to go on towards the country, since it was no use trying to run away. The Mayor said: 'That is the best thing for us to do, for I imagine that we shall soon receive reinforcements from London, from the loyal men on our side who are waiting armed in their houses with their friends.'

While all this was going on, a rumour spread through London that the King was being killed. Because of it, loyal men of all conditions left their houses armed and equipped and made for Smithfield -and the fields nearby, where the King now was. Soon they were some seven or eight thousand strong. Among the first to arrive were Sir Robert Knollys and Sir Perducat d'Albret, accompanied by a strong force of men, and nine of the London aldermen with over six hundred men-at-arms, and also an influential London citizen called Nicholas Brembre, who received an allowance from the King, and now-came with a powerful company of men-at-arms. As they arrived they all dismounted and drew up in battle formation near the King, on one, side. Opposite were 01 those evil men, drawn up also, showing every sign of wanting a fight, and they had the King's banners with them. There and then the King created three new knights. One was William Walworth, Mayor of London, the second John Standish and the third Nicholas Brembre. The leaders conferred together, saying: 'What shall we do? There are our enemies who would gladly have killed us if they thought they had the advantage.' Sir Robert Knollys argued frankly that they should go and fight them and kill them all, but the King refused to agree, saying that he would not have that done. 'But,' said the King, 'I want to have my banners back. We will see how they behave when we ask for them. In any case, by peaceful means or not, I want them back.' 'You're right,' said the Earl of Salisbury. So the three new knights were sent over to get them. They made signs to the villeins not to shoot, since they had something to discuss. When they were near enough for their voices to be heard, they said: 'Now listen, the King commands you to give back his banners, and we hope that he will have mercy on you.' The banners were handed over at once and taken back to the King. Any of the villeins who had obtained royal letters were also ordered in the King's name to give them up, on pain of death. Some did so, but not all. The King had them taken and torn up in front of them. It may be said that as soon as the royal banners had been removed, those bad men became just a mob. Most of them threw down their bows and they broke formation and started back for London. Sir Robert Knollys was more than angry that they had not been attacked and all killed. But the King would not hear of it, saying that he would take full vengeance later, as he did.

So those crazy men departed and split up, some going one way, some another. The King, with the nobles and their companies, went back in good order into London, to be received with joy. The first thing the King did was to visit his lady mother the Princess, who was still in the Tower Royal. When she saw her son, she was overjoyed and said: 'Ah, my son, how anxious I have been today on your account!' 'Yes, my lady,' the King answered, 'I know you have. But now take comfort and praise God, for it is a time to praise him. Today I have recovered my inheritance, the realm of England which I had lost.'

The King remained with his mother for the whole day and the lords and nobles went back peaceably to their houses. A royal proclamation was drawn up and cried from street to street, ordering all persons who were not natives of London or had lived there for less than a year to leave at once. If they were still found there at sunrise on the Sunday, they would be counted as traitors to the King and would lose their heads. When this order became known, none dared to disobey it. Everyone left in haste on that same Saturday and started back for their own districts. John Ball and Jack Straw were found hiding in an old ruined building, where they had hoped to escape the search. But they did not; their own people gave them away. The King and the nobles were delighted by their capture, for then their heads were cut off, and Tyler's too, although he was dead already, and posted up on London Bridge in place of those of the worthy men whom they had beheaded on the Thursday. News of this quickly spread around London. All the people from the distant counties who had flocked there at the summons of those wicked men set off hurriedly for their own places, and never dared to come back again.

When these troubles were over and Thomas Baquier12 had been executed at St Albans, Litster at Stafort,13 and Tyler, John Ball and Jack Straw and several others in London, the King decided to make a tour of his kingdom, going round all the bailiwicks, boroughs, castlewicks and boundaries of England to punish the evil-doers and take back the letters which he had been forced to grant to various places, and to restore the kingdom to proper order.

He therefore secretly summoned a number of men-at-arms to come together on a certain day. They amounted to at least five hundred lances and an equal number of archers. When they were ready, the King set out from London, accompanied only by his household, and took the road to Kent, where the first rising of those evil men had occurred. The men-at-arms followed him on the flanks and did not ride with him. He entered the county and came to Ospringe. The mayor and all the men in the town were called together, and when they were assembled the King caused one of his counsellors to expound to them how it was that they had been disloyal to him and had come very near to bringing all England to ruin and disaster. He then said that, since the King knew that this thing had been the work of a few, not of all, and it was better that the few should suffer than the many, he demanded that they should point out the guilty to him, on pain of incurring his anger for ever after and being branded as traitors to their king. When the people heard this demand and the innocent saw that they could purge themselves of the crime by naming the guilty, they looked at one another and said: 'Sire, there is the man who was the first to cause trouble in this town.' The man was immediately seized and hanged, and altogether seven were hanged at Ospringe. The letters which had been granted them were called for. They were brought and handed to the legal officers, who tore them up and scattered them in the presence of the whole population, and then said: 'We command all you who are here assembled, in the King's name and on pain of death, to return peaceably each to his own home, and nevermore to rise in revolt against the King and his ministers. That offence, by the punishment which has been inflicted, is now remitted you.' They all answered with one voice: 'God save the King and his noble counsellors !'

After Ospringe, the King proceeded in the same way at Canterbury and Sandwich, at Gernemue, Orwell and elsewhere, in all parts of England where his people had rebelled. Over fifteen hundred were put to death by beheading and hanging.

See also: The Bourgeois Rising and The Jacquerie (1358)

IIIC: John Dunstable and his time

1. Between John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and the Scots, with a view to renewing the truce between England and Scotland.
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2. Froissart uses no word exactly corresponding to 'equal' . His phrase is: mais vouloient dire tow. See also next footnote.  Return to Text

3. Or 'unified'. Froissart in the original tout-unis. Return to Text

4. Froissart's geography is often eccentric, to say the least. In this and certain other passages he places Sussex north of the Thames, and one should probably read, Suffolk, By Stanfort he usually means Stafford, which is undeniably north of the Thames. But if he meant Hertford here, it would fit both the geographical and historical facts quite well. Return to Text

5. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Sudbury, was also Chancellor at that date. Return to Text

6. Sic Froissart. This may be (Great) Yarmouth. For Stanfort, see note 4. Return to Text

7. Probably Sir William Morley. Return to Text

8. Lombards and Flemings: two types of foreigner personifying the banker and the merchant. Return to Text

9. Sir Robert Hales, Treasurer of England. Return to Text

10. froissart has: Guillaume (William) Listier, qui était de Stanfort (? Suffolk), but it seems that that Geoffrey Litster is meant. Return to Text

11. Sic Froissart. Perhaps Baker. Return to Text

12. Sic Froissart. Baker (?). Return to Text

13. Sic Froissart. Possibly Suffolk was intended here, since Litster's activities were in East Anglia. More accurately, it seems established that Litster was captured and executed at North Walsham, fifteen miles from Norwich. Return to Text