The End of the Revolt

WHILE TYLER had been meeting the King, serious rioting had broken out in other parts of the country. In Suffolk, Sir John Cavendish, the judge and commissioner to enforce the Statute of Labourers, was murdered: “They went to Bury, and found in that town a justice, Sir John Cavendish, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, and brought him to the pillory, and cut off his head and set it on the pillory. And afterwards they dragged to the pillory the Prior of that abbey, a good man and wise, and an accomplished singer, and a certain monk with him, and cut off their heads. And they set them on poles before the pillory, that all who passed down that street might see them (155).”

Local forces, however, soon rallied against the rebels. In Norfolk, Henry Despenser, Bishop of Norwich, subdued them and executed their leaders without trial: “Wherefore the said Bishop, gathering in to himself many men-at-arms and archers, assailed them at several places, wherever he could find them, and captured many of them. And the Bishop first confessed them and then beheaded them (156).”

And when rebels attacked Huntingdon, the townsmen held the bridge and inflicted heavy losses on them: “The rest was glad to fly, and went to Ramsey to pass thereby, and took shelter in the town, and sent to the abbot for victuals to refresh them. And the abbot sent them out bread, wine, beer, and other victuals, in great abundance, for he dare not do otherwise. So they ate and drank to satiety, and afterwards slept deep into the morning, to their confusion. For meanwhile the men of Huntingdon rose, and gathered to them other folks of the countryside, and suddenly fell upon the commons at Ramsey and killed some twenty-four of them. The others took to headlong flight, and many of them were slain as they went through the countryside, and their heads set on high trees as an example to others (157).”

This rough-and-ready justice was followed by the official action: “Afterwards the King sent out his messengers into divers parts, to capture the malefactors and put them to death. And many were taken and hanged at London, and they set up many gallows around the City of London, and in other cities and boroughs of the south country (158).”

This rhyme, found in a contemporary manuscript, refers to the repression of the revolt. The “stool” is the executioner’s block (159):

Man beware and be no fool:

Think upon the axe and of the tool!

The stool was hard, the axe was sharp,

The fourth year of King Richard.

The records of courts in Kent contain examples of the charges brought against the rebels: “The jurors say on their oath that Roger Boidwyn of Boughton-under-Blean raised insurrection with other malefactors on the Wednesday next after the feast of the Holy Trinity in the fourth year of the reign of the King that now is, and was aiding and abetting when Simon, Archbishop of Canterbury was feloniously killed, and was there and then present …

“Also they say that John Hales . . . and other, unknown male­factors made insurrection on Monday next after the feast of Holy Trinity by force and arms, and feloniously broke into the castle of our lord the King in Canterbury, and carried away divers felons that were in the said castle and prison, and took William Septvanz, the sheriff of Kent and dragged him away with them, and compelled him to deliver to them the books and writs of our lord the King. And immediately that they were delivered they burned them, to the prejudice of our lord the King and his crown. Also they say that James Grene and Richard Dale feloniously broke into the gaol of Maidstone, and took away the prisoners that were in the said gaol, to the prejudice of our lord the King and his crown (160).”

Most of the ring-leaders were executed. John Ball did not deny the evidence against him (see p. 82): “The said John Bail confessed that he had written this letter and sent it to the commons, and admitted that he had written many more. Wherefore he was hanged at St. Albans on the 15th of July, in the King’s presence (161).”

William Grindcobbe, the leader of the rising at St. Albans, was released on bail in order to pacify his followers. But he did not pacify them. Instead he declared: “Friends, who after so long an age of oppression, have at last won yourselves a short breath of freedom, hold firm while you can, and have no thought for me or what I may suffer. For if I die for the cause of the liberty that we have won, I shall think myself happy to end my life as a martyr. Act now as you would have acted supposing that I had been be‑headed at Hertford yesterday (162).” Nor surprisingly, Grindcobbe was taken back to prison and executed.

But on the whole, the government acted with moderation. The first executions were followed by later pardons. The pleading of Richard’s new Queen, Anne of Bohemia, was probably less power‑ful than Knighton supposed: “In the following year, 1382, at the special request of Queen Anne and other magnates of the realm, especially the pious Duke of Lancaster, the lord King gave a general pardon to all the aforesaid rebels and malefactors, their adherents, abettors and followers. He granted charters to this effect and through God’s mercy the previous madness came to an end (163).”

The government at once revoked the royal charters which had been granted to the rebels. Writs to this effect were sent out to the sheriffs of the counties in July, 1381:  “Although lately in the abominable disturbance . . . certain our letters patent were made at the importunate demand of these same insurgents, to the effect that we enfranchised all our liege subjects . . . granting each and all of them our firm peace; that we willed that they should be free to buy and sell in all cities, boroughs, market towns and other places within the realm; and that no acre of land in the aforesaid counties held in service or bondage should be held at more than four pence the acre…

“Because, however, the said letters were issued unduly, and without mature consideration, we have recalled and annulled the said letters (164).”

The government was determined to see that all damage done during the rising should be made good. Here is an entry in the York Memorandum Book: “On Monday 17th June in the same year [1381] the earthen walls against the city walls were destroyed and lowered to the ground, and the great gates—both towards the Ouse and to­wards Kynges Toftes—were carried off by the rebellious commons of the city. And during the following Lent, Simon de Quixlay, then mayor of the city, was compelled by the King’s council in chancery to renovate and repair these walls and gates at the expense of the city. Simon entered into an obligation to complete these repairs before the following 24th June under penalty of 5,000 marks (165).”

But it was impossible to set the clock back. The conflict between landlord and tenant continued. Sporadic risings took place, such as this one in Kent in 1390: “Item, on 13th January sixteen men, skilled in various mechanical arts, were captured at Croydon and imprisoned in the Marshalsea [Prison]. Some of them were work­men who wished to rise against churchmen as well as other lay neighbours of theirs in order to kill them. They planned to promote another rising, worse than the others already mentioned; but their schemes were too quickly revealed. And so three of these men were drawn and hanged at the gallows in February (166).”

The revolt of the English peasants had failed. But serfdom was Decline of already on the decline. Landlords found it more and more profitable serfdom to free their serfs, and hire labourers to work for them. By 1529, when Anthony Fitzherbert wrote this passage in his Boke of Surveyenge, serfdom had practically gone from England: “How be it, in some places the bondmen continue as yet, which seems to me the greatest inconvenience that is now suffered by the law, that is, to have any Christian man bound to another, and to have the rule of his body, land, and goods. . . For it seems to me that no man should be bound except to God, and to his king and prince over him.. . And it would be a charitable deed to manumit [set free] all that be bound, and make them free of body and blood (167).”