The Chronicles of Froissart Book 2

The Chronicles of Froissart Book 2 is in The Chronicles of Froissart.

Late Medieval Books, The Chronicles of Froissart Book 2 Chapter 73

The Populace Of England Rebel Against The Nobility.

While these conferences were going forward, there happened in England great commotions among the lower ranks of the people, by which England was near ruined without resource; Never was a country in such jeopardy as this was at that period, and all through the too great comfort of the commonalty. Rebellion was stirred up, as it was formerly done in France by the Jacques Bons-hommes, who did much evil, and sore troubled the kingdom of France. It is marvellous from what a trifle this pestilence raged in England. In order that it may serve as an example to mankind, I will speak of all that was done, from the information I had at the time on the subject.

It is customary in England, as well as in several other countries, for the nobility to have great privileges over the commonalty, whom they keep in bondage ; that is to say, they are bound by law and custom to plough the lands of gentlemen, to harvest the grain, to carry it home to the barn, to thrash and winnow it: they are also bound to harvest the hay and carry it home1. All these services they are obliged to perform for their lords, and many more in England than in other countries. The prelates and gentlemen are thus served. In the counties of Kent, Essex, Sussex and Bedford, these services are more oppressive than in all the rest of the kingdom.

Note 1. And to hew their wood and bring it home— Lord Berners.

The evil-disposed in these districts began to rise, saying, they were too severely oppressed ; that at the beginning of the world there were no slaves, and that no one ought to be treated as such, unless he had committed treason against his lord, as Lucifer had done against God: but they had done no such thing, for they were neither angels nor spirits, but men formed after the same likeness with their lords, who treated them as beasts. This they would not longer bear, but had determined to be free, and if they laboured or did any other works for their lords, they would be paid for it.

A crazy priest in the county of Kent, called John Ball, who, for his absurd preaching, had been thrice confined in the prison of the archbishop of Canterbury, was greatly insftromental in inflaming them with those ideas. He was accustomed, every Sunday after mass, as the people were coming out of the church, to preach to them in the market place and assemble a crowd around him ; to whom he would say, — " My good friends, things cannot go on well in England, nor ever will until every thing shall be in common; when there shall neither be Tassai nor lord, and all distinctions levelled ; when the lords shall be no more masters than ourselves. How ill have they used us! and for what reason do they thus hold us in bondage? Are we not all descended from the same parents, Adam and Eve? and what can they show, or what reasons give, why they should be more the masters than ourselves? except, perhaps, in making us labour and work, for them to spend. They are clothed in velvets and rich stuffs1, ornamented with ermine and other furs, while we ar>: forced to wear poor cloth. They have wines, spices, and fine bread, when we have only rye and the refuse of the straw ; and, if we drink, it must be water. They have handsome seats and manors, when we must brave the wind and run in our labours in the field ; but it is from our labour they have wherewith to support their pomp. We are called slaves; and, if we do not perform our services, we are beaten; and we have not any sovereign to whom we can complain, or who wishes to hear us and do us justice. Let us go to the king, who is young, and remonstrate with him on our servitude, telling him we must have it otherwise, or that we shall find a remedy for it ourselves. If we wait on bim in a body, all those who come under the appellation of staves, or are held in bondage, will follow us, in the hopes ot being free. When the king shall see us, we shall obtain a favourable answer, or we roost then seek ourselves to amend our condition."

Note 1. Lord Berners says "chamlet furred with grise," the skin of the weazle or martin. The word in Froissart is camocas, which D. Sauvage is at a loss to understand, and proposes to alter to camelos, camlet; thus confirming Lord Berners’ translation. — Ed.

With such words as these did John Ball harangue the people, at his village, every Sunday after mass, for which he was much beloved by them. Some who wished no good declared it was very true, and murmuring to each other, as they were going to the fields, on the road from one village to another, or at their different houses, said, " John Ball preaches such and such things, and he speaks truth."

The archbishop of Canterbury, on being informed of this, had John Ball arrested, and imprisoned for two or three months by way of punishment ; but it would have been better if he had been confined during his life, or had been put to death, than to have been sufifered thus to act. The archbishop set him at liberty, for he could not for conscience sake have put him to death. The moment John Ball was out of prison, he returned to his former errors. Numbers in the city of London having heard of his preaching, being envious of the rich men and nobility, began to say among themselves, that the kingdom was too badly governed, and the nobility had seized on all the gold and silver coin. These wicked Londoners, therefore, began to assemble and to rebel: they sent to tell those in the adjoining counties, they might come boldly to London, and bring their companions witli them, for they would find the town open to them, and the commonalty in the same way of thinking; that they would press the king so much, there should no longer bo a slave in England.

These promises stirred up those in the counties of Kent, Essex, Sussex and Bedford, and the adjoining country, so that they marched towards London ; and, when they arrived near, they were upwards of sixty thousand. They had a leader called Wat Tyler, and with him were Jack Straw and John Ball: these three were their commanders, but the principal was Wat Tyler. This Wat had been a tiler of houses, a bad man, and a great enemy to the nobility. When these wicked people first began to rise, all London, except their friends, were very much frightened. The mayor and rich citizens assefnbled in council, on hearing they were coming to London, and debated whether they should shut the gates and refuse to admit them ; but, having well considered, they determined not to do so, as they should run a risk of having the suburbs burnt1.

Note 1. According to Lord Berners and D. Sauvage they did at first shut the gates, but afterwards being in fear for the suburbs they caused them to be re-opened. — Ed.

The gates were therefore thrown open, when they entered in troops of one or two hundred, by twenties or thirties, according to the populousness of the towns they came from ; and as they came into London they lodged themselves. But it is a truth, that full two-thirds of these people knew not what they wanted, nor what they sought for: they followed one another like sheep, or like to the shepherds of old, who said they were going to conquer the Holy Land, and afterwards accomplished nothing. In Such manner did these poor fellows and vassals come to London from distances of a hundred and sixty leagues1, but the greater part from those counties I have mentioned, and on their arrival they demanded to see the king. The gentlemen of the country, the knights and squires, began to be alarmed wheu they saw the people thus rise ; and, if they were frightened, they had sufficient reason, for less causes create fear. They began to collect together as well as they could.

Note 1. Lord Berners exactly agrees with D. Sauvage, and differs materially in the relation of the distance the rebels travelled. Lord Berners translates lieucs miles, I apprehend correctly. " In lykewise these villains and poor people came to London a hundred myle off, lx mylc,l mylc, xl myle, and xx myle off, and fro’ all countries about London, but the moost part came fro’ the countries beforenamed." — Ed.

The same day that these wicked men of Kent were on their road tow’ards London, the princess of W ales, mother to the king, w'as returning from a pilgrimage to Canterbury. She ran great risks from them ; for these scoundrels attacked her oar, and caused mucli confusion, which greatly frightened the good lady, lest they should do some violence to her or to her ladies. God, however, preserved her from this, and she came in one day from Canterbury to London, without venturing to make any stop by the way. Her son Richard was this day in the Tower of London: thither the princess came, and found the king attended by the carl of Salisbury, the archbishop of Canterbury, sir Robert de Namur, the lord de Gommegines, and several more, who had kept near his person from suspicions of hia subjects who were thus assembling, without knowdng what they wanted. This rebellion v^as well known to be in agitation in the king’s palace, before it broke out and the country people had left their homes ; to which the king applied no remedy, to the great astonishment of every one. In order that gentlemen and others may take example, and correct wicked rebels, I will most amply detail how this business was conducted.

Late Medieval Books, The Chronicles of Froissart Book 2 Chapter 74

The Populace of England commit many cruelties on those in official situations. They send a Knight as Ambassador to the King.

On Monday preceding the feast of the Holy Sacrament, in the year 1381, did these people sally forth from their homes, to come to London to remonstrate with the king, that all might be made free, for they would not there should be any slaves in England. At Canterbury, they met John Ball (who thought he should find there the Archbishop, but he was at London), Wat Tyler and Jack Straw. On their entrance into Canterbury, they were much feasted by every one, for the inhabitants were of their way of thinking ; and, having held a council, they resolved to march to London, and also to send emissaries across the Thames to Essex, Suflfolk, Bedford, and other counties, to press the people to march to London on that side, and thus, as it were, to surround it, which the king would not be able to prevent. It was their intention that all the dificrent parties should be collected together on the feast of the Holy Sacrament, or on the following day.

Those who had come to Canterbury entered the church of St. Thomas, and did much damage: they pillaged the apartments of the archbishop, saying as they were carrying olf different articles, — " This chancellor of England has had this piece of furniture very cheap: he must now give us an account of the revenues of England, and of the large sums he has levied since the coronation of the king. After they had defrauded the abbey of St. Vincent, they set off in the morning, and all the populace of Canterbury with them, taking the road towards Rochester. They collected the people from the villages to the riglit and left, and marched along like a tempest, destroying every house of an attorney or king s proctor, or that belonged to the archbishop, sparing none.

On their arrival at Rochester, they were much feasted, for the people were waiting for them, being of their party. They advanced to the castle, and seizing a knight called sir John de Newtoun, who was constable of it and captain of the town1 they told him that he must accompany them as their commander in chief, and do whatever they should wish. Ihe knight endeavoured to excuse himself, and offered good reasons for it, if they had been listened to ; but they said to him, " Sir John, if you will not act as we shall order, you are a dead man." The knight seeing this outrageous mob ready to kill him, complied w’ith their request, and very unwillingly put himself at their head. They had acted in a similar manner in the other counties of England, in Essex, Suflfolk, Cambridge, Bedford, Stafiord, V arwick and Lincoln, where they forced great lords and knights, such as the lord Manley, a great baron, sir Stephen Hales, and sir Thomas Co.ssington, to lead and march with them. Now, observe how fortunately matters turned out, for had they succeeded in their intentions they w’ould have destroyed the whole nobility of England: after this success, the people of other nations would have rebelled, taking example from those of Ghent and Flanders, who were in actual rebellion against their lord. In this same year the Parisians acted a similar part, arming themselves with leaden maces2. They were upwards of twenty thousand, as I shall relate when I come to that part of my history ; but I will first go on with this rebellion in England.

Note 1. "John de Newtoun was constable of this castle (Rochester) anno 2 king Richard."— Hasted's Kent, vol. ii. p. 13.

Note 2. Lord Berners and D. Sauvage read iron, though the latter in a note says that the Chronicles and Annals ofFrance say lead. — Ed.

When those who had lodged at Rochester had done all they wanted, they departed, and, crossing the river, came to Hartford, but always following their plan ot destroying tlm houses of lawyers or proctors on the right and left of their road. In their way, they cut off several men’s heads, and continued their march to Blackheath, where they fixed their quarters: they said they were armed for the king and commons of England. When the citizens of London found they were quartered so near them, they closed the gates of Londonbridge: guards were placed there by orders of sir William Walworth, mayor of London, and several rich citizens who were not of their party ; but there were in the city more than thirty thousand who favoured them.

Those who were at Blackheath had information of this: they sent, therefore, their knight to speak with the king, and to tell him, that what they were doing was for his service, for the kingdom had been for several years wretchedly governed, to the great dishonour of the realm and to the oppression of the lower ranks of the people, by his uncles, by the clergy, and in particular by the archbishop of Canterbury, his chancellor, from whom they would have an account of his ministry. The knight dared not say nor do any thing to the contrary, but, advancing to the Thames opposite the Tower, he took boat and crossed over. While the king and those with him in the Tower were in great suspense, and anxious to receive some intelligence, the knight came on shore: way was made for him, and he was conducted to the king, who was in an apartment with the princess his mother. There were also with the king his two maternal brothers, the earl of Kent and sir John Holland, the earls of Salisbury, Warwick, Suffolk, the archbishop of Canterbury, the great prior of the Templars in England, sir Robert de Namur, the lord de Vertain, the lord de Gommegines, sir Henry de Sausselles, the mayor of London and several of the principal citizens.

Sir John Newtoun, who was well known to them all, for he was one of the king’s officers, cast himself on his knees and said, — " My much redoubted lord, do not be disi>leased with me for the message I am about to deliver to you ; for, my dear lord, through force I am come hither." " By no means, sir John, tell us what you are charged with: we hold you excused." " My very redoubted lord, the commons of your realm send me to you to entreat you would come and speak with them on Blackheath. They wish to have no one but yourself; and you need not fear for your person, for they will not do you the least harm ; they always have respected and will respect you as their king ; but they will tell you many things, which, they say, it is necessary you should hear; with which, however, they have not empowered me to acquaint you. But, dear lord, have the goodness to give me such an answer as may satisfy them, and that they may be convinced I have really been in your presence ; for they have my children as hostages for my return, whom they will assuredly put to death, if I do not go back."

The king replied, " You shall speedily have an answer." Upon this, he called a council to consider what was to be done. The king was advised to say, that if on Thursday they would come down to the river Thames, he would without fail speak with them. Sir John Newtoun, on receiving this answer, was well satisfied therewith, and, taking leave of the king and barons, departed: having entered his boat, he recrossed the Thames, and returned to Blackheath, where he had left upwards of sixty thousand men. He told them from the king, that if they would send on the morrow morning their leaders to the Thames, the king would come and hear what they had to say. This answer gave great pleasure, and they were contented with it: they passed the night as well as they could ; but you must know that one-fourth of them fasted for want of provision, as they had not brought any with them, at which they were much vexed, as may be supposed.

At this time, the earl of Buckingham was in Wales, where he possessed great estates in right of his wife, who was daughter of the earl of Hereford and Northampton ; but the common report about London was, that he favoured these people: some assured it for a truth, as having seen him among them, because there was one Thomas very much resembling him, from the county of Cambridge. As for the English barons who wore at Plymouth making preparations for their voyage, they had heard of this rebellion, and that the people wore rising in all parts of the kingdom. Fearful lest their voyage should bo prevented, or that the populace, as they had done at Southampton, Winchelsea and Arundel, should attack them, they heaved their anchors, and with some difficulty left the harbour, for the wind was against them, and put to sea, when they cast anchor to wait for a wind.

The duke of Lancaster was on the borders, between la Morlane1, Roxburgh and Melrose, holding conferences with the Scots ; he had also received intelligence of this rebellion, and the danger his person was in, for he well knew he was unpopular with the common people of England. Notwithstanding this, he managed his treaty very prudently with the Scots commissioners, the earl of Douglas, the earl of Moray, the earl of Sutherland, the earl of Mar and Thomas de Vesey. The Scotsmen who were conducting the treaty on the part of the king and the country knew also of the rebellion in England, and how the populace were n’siiig everywhere against the nobility. They said, that England was shaken and in great danger of being ruined, for which in their treaties they bore the harder on the duke of Lancaster and his council.

We will now return to the commonalty of England, and say how they continued in their rebellion.

Note 1. " La Morlane." Lambir-law. — Maepherson's Geog. Illust. of Scotland.

Late Medieval Books, The Chronicles of Froissart Book 2 Chapter 75

The Commonalty of England enter London, where they commit many cruelties and outrages. They put to death the Archbishop of Canterbury and several others.

On Corpus Christi day king Richard heard mass, in the tower of London [Map], with all his lords, and afterwards entered his barge, attended by the earls of Salisbury, Warwick and Suffolk, with other knights. He rowed down the Thames towards Rotherhithe [Map], a manor belonging to the crown, where were upwards of ten thousand men, who had come from Blackheath to see the king and to speak to him: when they perceived his barge approach, they set up such shouts and cries as if all the devils in hell had been in their company. They had their knight, sir John Newtoun, with them ; for, in case the king had not come and they found he had made a jest of them, they would, as they had threatened, have cut him to pieces.

When the king and his lords saw this crow d of people, and the wildness of their manner, there was not one among them so bold and determined but felt alarmed: the king was advised by his barons not to land, but to have his barge rowed up and down the river. What do ye wish for ?" demanded the ting: " I am come hither to hear what you have to say." Those near him cried out with one voice, — " We wish thee to land, when we will remonstrate with thee, and tell thee more at our ease what our wants are." The earl of Salisbury then replied for the Ling, and said, — " Gentlemen, you are not properly dressed, nor in a fit condition for the king to talk with you."

Nothing more was said ; for the king was desired to return to the Tower of London, from whence he had set out. When the people saw they could obtain nothing more, they were inflamed with passion, and went back to Blackheath, where the main body was, to relate the answer they had received, and how the king was returned to the Tower. They all then cried out, " Let us march instantly to London." They immediately set off, and, in their road thither, they destroyed the houses of lawyers, courtiers, and monasteries. Advancing into the suburbs of London, which were very handsome and extensive, they pulled down many fine houses: in particular, they demolished the prison of the king called the Marshalsea, and set at liberty all those confined within it. They did much damage to the suburbs, and menaced the Londoners at the entrance of the bridge for having shut the gates of it, saying, they would set fire to the suburbs, take the city by storm, and afterw’ards burn and destroy it.

With respect to the common people of London, numbers were of their opinions, and, on assembling together, said, — " Why will you refuse admittance to these honest men ? They are our friends, and what they are doing is for our good." It was then found necessary to open the gates, when crowds rushed in, and ran to those shops which seemed well stored with provision: if they sought for meat or drink, it was placed before them, and nothing refused, but all manner of good eheer offered, in hopes of appeasing them.

Their leaders, John Ball, Jack Straw and Wat Tyler, then marched through London, attended by more than twenty thousand men, to the palace of the Savoy, which is a handsome building on the road to W estminster, situated on the banks of the Thames, belonging to the duke of Lancaster ; they immediately killed the porters, pressed into the house and set it on fire. Not content with committing this outrage, they went to the house of the knights-hospitalers of Rhodes, dedicated to St. John of Mount Cannel, which they burnt, together with their hospital and church. They afterwards paraded the streets, and killed every Fleming they could find, whether in house, church or hospital: not one escaped death. They broke open several houses of the Lombards, taking whatever money they could lay their hands on, none daring to oppose them. They murdered a rich citizen called Richard Lyon, to whom Wat Tyler had been formerly servant in France ; but, having once beaten this varlet, he had not forgotten it, and, having carried his men to his house, ordered his head to be cut off, placed upon a pike, and carried through the streets of London. Thus did these wicked people act like madmen ; and, on this Thursday, they did much mischief to the city of London.

Towards evening, they fixed their quarters in a square called St. Catharine’s, before the Tower, declaring they would not depart thence until they should obtain from the king every thing they wanted, and have all their desires satisfied ; and the chancellor of England made to account with them, and show how the great sums which had been raised were expended ; menacing, that if he did not render such an account as was agreeable to them, it would be the worse for him. Considering the various ills they had done to foreigners, they lodged themselves before the Tower. You may easily suppose what a miserable situation the king was in, and those with him ; for at times these rebellious fellows hooted as loud as if the devils were in them.

About evening, a council was held in the presence of the king, the barons who were in the Tower with him, sir William Walworth the mayor, and some of the principal citizens, when it was proposed to arm themselves, and during the night to fall upon these wretches, who were in the streets and amounted to sixty thousand, while they were asleep and drunk, for then they might be killed like flies, and not one in twenty among them had arms. The citizens were very capable of doing this, for they had secretly received into their houses their friends and servants, properly prepared to act. Sir Robert Knolles remained in his house, guarding his property, with more than six score companions completely armed, who would have instantly sallied forth. Sir Perducas d’Albreth was also in London at that period, and would have been of great service ; so that they could have mustered upwards of eight thousand men, well armed. But nothing was done ; for they were too much afraid of the commonalty of London; and the advisers of the king, the earl of Salisbury and others, said to him, — "Sir, if you can appease them by fair words, it will be so much the better, and good humouredly grant them what they ask ; for, should we begin what we cannot go through, we shall never be able to recover it: it will be all over with us and our heirs, and England will be a desert." This council was followed, and the mayor ordered to make no movement. He obeyed, as in reason he ought. In the city of London, with the mayor, there are twelve sheriffs1, of whom nine were for the king and three for these wicked people, as it was afterwards discovered, and for which they then paid dearly.

Note 1. " Twelve sheriffs." — Froissart is mist.aken, as there are only two sheriffs and twenty-six aldermen, including the mayor.

The aldermen were originally chosen for one year; but, in 1354, " it was ordained that they should not be removed without some special cause."— Stowe’s History of London.

On Friday morning, those lodged in the square before St. Catherine’s, near the Tower, began to make themselves ready ; they shouted much, and said, that if the king would not come out to them, they would attack the Tower, storm it, and slay all in it. The king was alarmed at these menaces, and resolved to speak with them ; he therefore sent orders for them to retire to a handsome meadow at Mile-end, where, in the summer time, people go to amuse themselves, and that there the king would grant them their demands. Proclamation was made in the king’s name foe all those who wished to speak with him to go to the abovementioned place, where he would not fail to meet them.

14 Jun 1381. The commonalty of the different villages began to march thither ; but all did not go, nor had they the same objects in view, for the greater part only wished for the riches and destruction of the nobles, and the plunder of London. This was the principal cause of their rebellion, as they very clearly showed ; for when the gates of the Tower were thrown open, and the king, attended by his two brothers, the earls of Salisbury, of Warwick, of Suffolk, sir Robert de Namur, the lords de Vertain and de Gommegines, with several others, had passed through them, Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Ball, with upwards of four hundred, rushed in by force, and, running from chamber to ehamber, found the archbishop of Canterbury, whose name was Simon1, a valiant and wise man, and chancellor of England, who had but just celebrated mass before the king: he was seized by these rascals, and beheaded. The prior of St. John’s suffered the same fate, and likewise a Franciscan friar, a doctor of physic, who was attached to the duke of Lancaster, out of spite to his master, and also a Serjeant at arms of the name of John Laige2. They fixed these four heads on long pikes, and had them carried before them through the streets of London: when they had sufficiently played with them, they placed them on London Bridge, as if they had been traitors to their king and country.

Note 1. " Simon de Sudbury." — His name was Tibold ; but he took the name de Sudbury [Map] from the place of his birth.

Note 2. " Laige." — Leg. — Hollingshed.

These scoundrels entered the apartment of the princess, and cut her bed, which so much terrified her that she fainted, and in this condition was by her servants and ladies carried to the river side, when she was put into a covered boat, and conveyed to the house called The Wardrobe1, where she continued that day and night like to a woman half dead, until she was comforted by the king her son, as you shall presently hear.

Note 1. The King’s Wardrobe was at this time in Carter-lane, Barnard’s Castle-ward. For further particulars, see Stowe’s History of London.

Late Medieval Books, The Chronicles of Froissart Book 2 Chapter 76

The Nobles of England are in great danger of being destroyed. Three of the principal leaders of the rebels are punished, and the rest sent back to their homes.