Post-classical history



It may also have been Richard’s concessions at Mile End which effectively signed the death warrants of his ministers in the Tower. The exact sequence of events is not clear and the chronicles give conflicting and confused accounts of what happened. All we know for certain is that the king was not there, but since he did not return to the Tower after the Mile End conference that does not narrow the possibilities down. The likelihood is that the rebels broke into the Tower while Richard was at Mile End: hearing the petitions and granting the specific wishes of the various different communities represented there1 must have taken a great deal of time, though it is likely that the concession that the rebels ‘should freely seize all who were traitors and could be proved to be such by process of law’ was early on the agenda since it was a common objective. The Anonimalle did not hesitate to make this connection: ‘Because of this grant Wat Tyghler and the commons took their way to the Tower, to seize the archbishop and the others while the kingremained at Mile End’; the account in the London letter-books also assert this cause and effect. Froissart, however, says that Wat Tyler, Jack Straw, John Balle and four hundred rebels invaded the Tower almost immediately after Richard’s departure, while other chronicles blame those rebels who remained around St Katherine’s hospital after their fellows had departed for Mile End.2

The biggest mystery of all is how the rebels were able to get into the Tower. Bounded by the Thames on its southern side and by a hundred-foot-wide moat which encircled the rest, it had two concentric sets of massive walls each with numerous watch towers and, at its heart, the great Norman keep, the White Tower itself. The only entrances were either from the city on the west side, over the heavily guarded bridge with its gatehouses and towers at each end, or from the river through what is now known as Traitor’s Gate; in each case, however, these gates gave access only to the narrow outer ward so a second set of gates, both on the south wall, had to be negotiated. Even then, once inside the inner bailey, access to the White Tower was not at ground level but up a narrow flight of external stairs and through an even narrower doorway into the huge entrance hall which was the guard chamber on the first floor. The only entrance to the living quarters on the two upper floors was via a small internal spiral staircase. This was a castle built to be impregnable, and it had frequently been both a refuge and a stronghold for beleaguered kings with baying mobs of Londoners snapping at their heels.3 How then was it possible for rebels armed only with hand weapons to break through its defences? The question has baffled both contemporary chroniclers and modern historians. There is no hint that Sir Alan Buxhull, constable of the Tower since 1366,4 was complicit, either willingly or under duress like John Newenton of Rochester Castle. Even if the garrison consisted of nothing like the twelve hundred men-at-arms and archers whom Walsingham accuses of doing nothing to prevent the invasion, and even if most of them had left to accompany and protect the king on his way to Mile End, the whole point of the castle’s defences was that they were designed to be held by a small number of strategically placed soldiers. And however large the rebel group that pierced to the heart of the White Tower itself, they could not have ‘stormed’ their way in.

The only feasible answer is that the rebels were let in, possibly by sympathisers or collaborators inside the castle, or more likely because the crowds arrived bearing one of the king’s royal standards, given to them at Mile End, and possibly also his letters patent with a ribbon hanging from it to which was attached the distinctive wax seal, six inches in diameter, carrying the image of the king on horseback on one side and crowned and enthroned on the reverse.5 Even the most illiterate guard at the Tower would have recognised the Great Seal of England and none would have dared to refuse entrance to someone bearing what they said was the king’s authorisation to seize the traitors hiding there. It should not be forgotten that, despite Walsingham’s contemptuous description of the ‘filthy’ rustics, serfs and swineherds with ‘uncouth and sordid hands’, ‘ribalds and whores of the devil’,6 there were many relatively wealthy, articulate and literate men in the rebel ranks who were accustomed to office and, with the king’s commission in their hands, quite capable of arguing their way past the guards. And, just as there had been throughout the revolt, there was evidently both leadership and an element of organisation in the attack. The victims chosen for execution were not selected at random and there were relatively few of them – only five are named by all the available sources. There might well have been other, less prominent casualties, but for all the rampage of destruction described by the chroniclers, none of them suggests that it was accompanied by an orgy of killing.

Having gained access to the White Tower the rebels went from room to room seeking their quarry. Both Walsingham and Froissart claim that they found the king’s mother there, which seems unlikely if she had accompanied Richard to Mile End (as Froissart himself says) and neither of them returned to the Tower after the meeting. Walsingham angrily denounces the soldiers who he alleges stood idly by while the rebels ‘arrogantly lay and sat on the king’s bed while joking; and several asked the king’s mother to kiss them’ while Froissart has the rebels tear her bed to pieces so that she fainted with shock and terror and had to be carried out to the water-gate by her servants, placed in a boat and taken to her house at La Reole. Though we may doubt the princess of Wales’s presence, the attack on the royal bed was true enough: Thomas atte Sole of Gravesend, Kent, confessed that he was in the king’s bed-chamber on 14 June and that he ‘ran through the bed of the lord king with his sword saying “that was for the traitors found there such as [Nicholas] Heryng and others”’.7 Atte Sole was not implying any sexual liaison: medieval kings frequently held private audiences with petitioners and courtiers while sitting in state in the royal bed, hence the symbolism of its destruction by the rebels. This was a blow aimed at those who did not do their business openly with the king when he held public courts but secretly, in his private chambers, to which only a favoured few were admitted.

Two of those privy councillors were the most famous victims of the revolt: Simon Sudbury and Robert Hales, chancellor and treasurer of England respectively. That they were both clergymen at the pinnacle of their profession made their deaths even more shocking and the monastic chroniclers, led by Walsingham, did their utmost to portray them as martyrs. Sudbury’s death, recounted in the lurid and gruesome detail beloved of martyrologists, is the great set-piece of Walsing ham’s description of the London uprising and the counterpoint to his equally fictitious accounts of Balle’s and Straw’s speeches. He describes the archbishop’s gentle demeanour towards his murderers, his calm acceptance of his fate (in true martyr’s fashion it took eight blows of the sword to behead him: after the first he put his hand to the wound and said ‘Ah! Ah! This is the hand of God’) and the miracles that occurred through his intercession after death.8 The Anonimalle chronicler, on the other hand, who was probably a Yorkshire chancery clerk, did not fail to inform his readers that Sudbury had made an ignominious attempt to escape by boat through the water-gate but had been forced to turn back when ‘a wicked woman’ saw him and raised a cry against him. The descendants of Eve were always destined to be the ruin of the sons of Adam in medieval storytelling, but a Kentish indictment reveals that John Rous, and presumably others, were on the archbishop’s barge that day, which explains why they were able to prevent him fleeing. The Anonimalle gives a pithier but more poignant account of how Sudbury, knowing that he was likely to be executed, presided over masses in the tiny eleventh-century chapel of St John on the second floor of the White Tower, heard the confessions of Hales and others gathered there, then recited the prayers for the dying and the dead, the seven penitential psalms and the litany of the saints. As he reached the words ‘All the saints pray for us’ the rebels burst into the chapel and dragged him out to Tower Hill, the traditional place of execution, and there beheaded him.9

The same fate befell the prior of the Hospitallers Robert Hales, the king’s sergeant-at-arms John Legge and two further victims: the Franciscan friar William Appelton, a physician and surgeon who was executed simply because he was much favoured by John of Gaunt; and Richard Somenour of Stepney, one of the petty lawyers targeted by the London rebels who had made the mistake of fleeing for protection to the Tower.10 That two minor figures such as Appelton and Somenour should have been identified by name as being so brutally murdered alongside such significant political figures suggests that there were no other victims at the Tower – though Richard Greenfield, a servant, was allegedly taken from his house in Bead Street and beheaded in Cheapside for having the temerity to speak well of Friar Appelton ‘and the other murdered persons’.11 The bodies of the men executed on Tower Hill were left where they fell since no one dared remove them for burial: their heads, however, were stuck on poles by the rebels and then displayed on London Bridge, just like the heads and quartered limbs of those whom the state had sentenced to death. The solemn excommunication of Sudbury’s murderers, issued by William Courtenay, bishop of London on 1 September, adds the grisly detail that, having beaten, wounded and decapitated the archbishop, the rebels ‘carried his head, to which his episcopal hat was affixed by a nail in the brain, through the city shouting, “Here is the predator’s head”’ before they displayed it with the rest on London Bridge. Once the revolt was over, Sudbury’s body was interred in Canterbury Cathedral but, curiously, his head was taken to the collegiate church of St Gregory, which he had founded six years earlier with his brother at Sudbury, Suffolk. The hope that it might become a venerated relic of the murdered archbishop, attracting hordes of pilgrims like the tomb of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury, was disappointed but the skull is still displayed in his church today.12 The final resting places of those executed with him are not known.

The one that got away was Henry Bolingbroke. If his father’s physician had been executed because of his connection to Gaunt, then Gaunt’s only son had no chance. Knighton, alone of all the chroniclers, notes his presence in the Tower, perhaps because of his links to Gaunt’s household. Yet we know Henry was there, and that he narrowly escaped with his life, because John Ferrour of Southwark was later pardoned by him for his involvement in the rebellion of January 1400, not long after Henry had seized the throne. Ferrour’s pardon explicitly states that it was granted because he had saved the life of Henry ‘in a wonderful and kind manner’ during the attack on the Tower on 14 June 1381.13 Ferrour was a relatively common name in medieval times but the Gaunt and Southwark connections raise the intriguing possibility that Henry’s saviour was none other than John Ferrour, alias Marchall, of Rochester, who like his fellow citizen Thomas atte Raven had business interests in Southwark and, with his wife, had been accused of stealing a chest containing a thousand marks from the Savoy Palace and taking it by boat to Southwark. The Ferrours were also accused of stealing two horses and wool worth six marks from the priory at Clerkenwell, as well as the unpardonable offence of laying violent hands on Sudbury and Hales in the Tower and dragging them out to be executed. Both were acquitted by juries but Ferrour was excluded from the general amnesty because of this last charge against him: he was eventually freed on 11 November 1383 when William Walworth confirmed that he had no case to answer. It is therefore possible that Ferrour’s intervention which saved the young Henry’s life also procured the dropping of the charges made against him in 1381. If the two are one and the same it is further evidence of a comparatively wealthy man taking part in the invasion of the Tower and the beheading of Sudbury and Hales. Ferrour had already been pardoned on 13 March 1380 for the death of Roger Tibrit of Rochester, whom he had killed a year earlier, so he was perfectly capable of murder, even if he would not kill, or allow to be killed, a fourteen-year-old boy just because he happened to be the son of the most hated man in England.14

Richard’s concessions at Mile End may have persuaded the more moderate rebels from Essex and Hertfordshire to return home, but the execution of Sudbury and Hales, followed by their heads on poles being paraded through the streets, seems to have sparked off a frenzy of rioting and bloodshed more extreme than anything that had gone before. The main targets, however, were no longer the representatives of law and government but the Flemings. Xenophobia had always been a very English vice and murdering Flemings was a popular medieval pastime. Edward III had encouraged their immigration to bolster the skills of the native cloth trade and they had settled in large numbers in towns up and down the country. Like the Jews, they tended to live in ghettos, which made them easy to find, and, like the Jews, their financial success made them objects of envy. So when the Manningtree rebels were unable to find Thomas Hardyng they murdered a Fleming; when the Norwich rebels broke open the prison at Yarmouth they released an Englishman but murdered three Flemings.15

Londoners were especially virulent in their hatred of Flemings – though they did not fail to take advantage of the services of the Flemish prostitutes in the brothels of Cock Lane and Gropecuntlane. One of the first acts of the uprising in Southwark had been the demolition of a Flemish brothel near London Bridge and when Robert Gardiner of Holborn went to burn down the Hospitallers’ priory at Clerkenwell he killed seven Flemings there.16 Despite the king’s proclamation that no foreigners were to come to harm, the London mob ‘went on to the banks of the river Thames where the majority of the Flemings lived; and they beheaded all the Flemings they found without judgment and without cause. For you could see heaps of dead bodies and corpses lying in the squares and otherplaces’. Thirty-five Flemings who had taken refuge in St Martin Vintry were dragged outside and beheaded in the street; seventeen others claiming sanctuary in another parish church allegedly suffered a similar fate. And it was not just Londoners who committed this slaughter: at least two Kentishmen were later indicted for killing Flemings in London.17

The king and his councillors were well aware that the continued presence of the Kentishmen in the capital would only further exacerbate a deteriorating situation. Aside from any political grievances the rebels still hoped to have resolved, any money or supplies of food they might have brought with them must all have been used up; since the Londoners were unlikely to continue to feed them voluntarily, they must have had to resort to theft and extortion simply to eat and drink. Even without this aggravation it was difficult enough to reassert any sort of order when the whole machinery of government had broken down: with the chancellor and the treasurer both dead, and no one willing to step into their shoes, even the basic step of issuing orders by means of writs was in disarray. Richard temporarily entrusted the Great Seal to Richard, earl of Arundel, on Friday 14 June so that the rebels’ letters patent could be issued, but the sheriffs and other royal officials in London and its suburbs to whom writs would normally be addressed were now so terrified by the ‘uprisings and popular commotions’ that they did not dare to carry out the king’s commands. Unwilling to return to the Tower after the murder of his ministers there, and in preparation for what was planned for the following day, Richard and his court spent the night on the other side of the city at the Great Wardrobe, in the shadow of Blackfriars.18 This was a royal residence but, significantly, it was also a store-house for money and arms. Both would be needed for the coming confrontation.

Proclamations were being made throughout the city on both Friday night and Saturday morning, urging all the rebels to go peaceably to their own counties and homes; one chronicler even claims that, on the advice of Sir Robert Knolles, the king had it proclaimed that John of Gaunt was on his way back from the Scottish borders at the head of an army twenty thousand strong. When these did not have the desired effect, yet another proclamation was made, that if the rebels all made their way to Smithfield on the north-western side of the city the king would come to talk with them there, just as he had done at Mile End.19 West Smithfield, like Mile End, was a large open field outside the city walls: it was there that the weekly livestock markets and the annual fair were held. At the east end of the field stood St Bartholomew’s priory, a wealthy royal foundation with twenty Augustinian canons in residence, and St Bartholomew’s hospital, where a master presided over three brothers and three sisters who looked after the poor and sick. Priory and hospital had long been at odds, but in 1373 Simon Sudbury had resolved the main issues by granting the hospital practical independence from the priory and removing the priory’s obligation to pay a tithe to the hospital.20

At some point, probably around nine in the morning of Saturday 15 June, Richard and his train rode down the Strand, past the smouldering ruins of the Savoy Palace to Westminster Abbey, to pray at the shrine of Edward the Confessor.21 Having sought the saint’s intercession, they then rode up to Smithfield, where Wat Tyler and his Kentishmen were waiting in front of St Bartholomew’s hospital. The chroniclers disagree as to details but a member of the royal party, either William Walworth or Sir John Newenton, was sent to bring Tyler before the king, who had taken up a position outside the priory. Tyler trotted across the field on his little horse and Richard asked the rebel leader directly why they did not go home, urging them again to do so. Tyler replied that they would not leave until the king had given them further concessions and amended their letters patent accordingly.22

Exactly what these new demands were has proved controversial because they were articulated only by hostile chroniclers, leading some commentators to suggest that the rebels put forward a radical agenda which was so extreme that it was designed to make a negotiated settlement impossible.23They were certainly far-reaching reforms, but not actually unreasonable ones, despite the sometimes shocking spin given to them by the chroniclers. More importantly, they were a verbal expression of the issues which had driven the rebels and determined their actions from the start. One of the concessions sought, for instance, was the abolition of all monopolies on the hunting of wild animals, a grievance which had been articulated throughout the revolt by the breaking down of park enclosures and raiding of warrens: ‘all preserves of water, parks and woods should be made common to all: so that throughout the kingdom the poor as well as the rich should be free to take game in water, fish ponds, woods and forests as well as to hunt hares in the fields’.24

A more fundamental demand was for the reform of the law and the way that it was administered. Walsingham presents this at its most extreme, claiming that Tyler wanted a commission to execute ‘all lawyers, escheators and others who had been trained in the law or dealt in the law’ and ascribing this to his desire to have ‘all things … henceforward … regulated by the decrees of the common people; there would be no more law at all, or, if so, it would be determined by his own judgement’. The Anonimalle chronicler does not mention killing all lawyers but reiterates ‘that there should be no law’, adding the important proviso ‘except for the law of Winchester’.25 Quite what was meant by ‘the law of Winchester’ has long troubled historians: it has been contended that it was a reference to Domesday Book, which on rare occasions was called ‘the book of Winchester’, and more plausibly that it referred to the Statute of Winchester (1285), which was regularly recited in the charges to the commissions of the peace.

It has been argued that this was because the statute presented ‘an ideal of communal self-policing’, setting out the regulations on, and responsibilities of, each community for keeping the peace, and giving ‘the people the right as well as the duty … “to possess the arms of free Englishmen”’,26but the real explanation is rather more mundane. A rebel petition handed to the commissioners appointed to suppress the revolt in Essex by John Preston of Hadleigh establishes its credentials by opening with the familiar request (and it is a request, not a demand) that ‘no one should pay annually for customary land more than 4d. an acre’ in lieu of all services and less if less had been paid in the past. It then goes on to state: ‘We also beseech that no court should be held in any vill apart from the leet of the Lord King annually and for ever. And also we beseech that if any thief, traitor or malefactor against the peace be captured in any vill, that you will give us a law by which he will be chastised’.27

The rebels were not asking for the abolition of all law, but only for the abolition of the private jurisdictions administered by the manorial courts. It is possible that getting rid of justices of the peace and royal commissioners was also on the agenda: they had certainly been one of the main objects of attack during the revolt, not least because their recently increased powers had allowed them to act outside the limitations of the established judicial system by enforcing, for instance, the Statute of Labourers. What the rebels specifically said they wanted to retain was the ancient royal system of criminal justice, founded on the annual view of frankpledge, which empowered local people to bring to account those whom they accused or suspected of crimes. The law by which thieves, traitors and malefactors were to be chastised if captured outside their own administrative area was the Statute of Winchester, the first two clauses of which dealt specifically with this problem. The abolition of outlawry in legal proceedings would also have removed another major source of abuse in the legal system since it was most often used against defendants who, through ignorance or inability, did not turn up at court. It had been regularly used by justices of the peace to punish labourers who flouted the Statute of Labourers and by sheriffs to seize the goods of anyone of the same name.28

The remaining demands identified by the chroniclers concerned the Church and are perhaps the only indication of John Balle’s possible presence among, or influence on, the rebels at Smithfield. The Church hierarchy was to be swept away except for a single prelate over all England; the clergy should have their goods removed and divided among their parishioners, leaving them only with sufficient to live on; all property belonging to members of religious communities, except enough to provide them with ‘a reasonable sustenance’, should similarly be taken from them and shared among the commons. The disendowment of the Church was, as we have seen, a hot topic of debate at the time, with advocates ranging from Gaunt to Wyclif, so it should not have been a surprise to find it on the rebel agenda. Irrespective of the moral argument as to whether the Church should own property at all, it was the tenants of ecclesiastical landlords who had felt themselves most aggrieved by the exercise of lordship. That they should seek freedom by disendowing the Church was a logical extension of their rejection of the clergy’s right to enforce arbitrary dues and services; it would also, of course, have removed the Church’s right to collect annual tithes and the much-disliked obligation to give beasts, produce and cash as fees for christening and burial.29

The king’s response was evidently more circumspect than it had been the day before: he said that he would grant all that he reasonably could, saving only the regality of his crown, and reiterated his order that Tyler and his fellows should return home. The confusion of the chroniclers as to what happened next probably reflects the confusion on the day. They are united in their assertion of Tyler’s insolent and uncouth behaviour, whether it was riding up to the king and failing to doff his cap to him, seizing the bridle of Richard’s horse, addressing him in over-familiar terms or swilling out his mouth with water in the royal presence. This prompted an altercation between Tyler and one of the royal party, who rebuked him and daggers were drawn; either William Walworth or Richard himself responded by ordering that Tyler be arrested. At this point Tyler, perhaps realising the seriousness of his position, is said to have attempted to stab the mayor, but his blade was turned aside by the armour Walworth wore concealed beneath his cloak. Walworth retaliated by striking Tyler off his horse with a dagger blow to the head and one of the king’s esquires, correctly identified by Knighton as Ralph Standissh, ran him through with his sword and killed him.30

Everything had happened so quickly that the rebels, taken by surprise, did not know how to react. As the situation hung on a knife edge and the cry began to go up that Tyler was dead and some of the rebels began to bend their bows, the young king took the initiative: spurring his horse forward and shouting that he was their king and their leader, he commanded them all, on their loyalty, to leave the field immediately. Both the Anonimalle and Walsingham further enhance Richard’s bravery by having him order the rebels to follow him and personally leading them away from Smithfield to Clerkenwell fields, though they do not say what he did when he got there or how he managed to get away from the rebels again; it also seems improbable that his bodyguard would have allowed him to go unaccompanied and surrounded by rebels, yet if they had gone with him it could well have turned into a rout. Walworth apparently chose this moment to go back to the city, shouting that the king was in danger and that all able-bodied citizens should go to the fields to rescue him from the rebels. Knolles, with his fellow mercenary captain the Gascon Bertucat d’Albret, took charge of the city levies and soon had the rebels surrounded so that they would all have been slain had not Richard ordered that they should be allowed to depart, leaving behind their banners and any of the letters patent he granted them, but assured of his pardon if they went peaceably.31

The involvement of Knolles and d’Albret, both of whom had personal armed retinues at their disposal, suggests that they may have been lying in wait, ready for a signal to surround the rebels and overwhelm them, as had already been suggested they might do to the rebel hordes when they were massed around St Katherine’s.32 Was the Smithfield meeting therefore pre-planned by the king and his councillors as a deliberate plot to trap the rebels and kill their leader? This would have required a complete change of heart in the king which could well have been effected by the murders of his councillors in the Tower, but the fact that he was still willing to abolish villeinage five months later militates against it. And if the plan really had been to murder Tyler, then why do it openly in front of his men, who were bound to react badly? Tyler might have been deliberately provoked into drawing his dagger to provide an excuse for his assassination but a better outcome would have been to humiliate him personally and discredit his cause publicly by taking him alive, putting him on trial and executing him legitimately after due process of law. Why did Walworth have to leave at such a critical moment to raise the citizens – and why did the rebels allow him the time (half an hour, the London letter-books tell us) to do so? And if he could raise them, then why had he not done so before? Why did Richard have to take the enormous gamble of approaching the rebels and commanding them to leave if he knew that they were already surrounded by his own troops? If it was a plot it was highly risky, shambolic in its execution and out of character with the way the uprising had so far been handled. It is much more probable that Richard hoped to repeat the successful conclusion of the Mile End conference by meeting the rebels face to face for a second time: everything that happened was therefore simply a response to events as they unfolded.

Richard lost no time in showing his gratitude to those who had so signally demonstrated their loyalty to him at Smithfield. There on the field, beneath his standard, he personally conferred knighthood on the mayor, three of his aldermen, John Philipot, Nicholas Brembre and Robert Launde, and on Ralph Standissh, who had killed Tyler.33 Standissh was not a young man, having served the king’s father as an esquire for many years; nor was he wealthy, being the younger son who had not inherited the family manor of Standish-and-Langtree, Lancashire. On 14 August, therefore, ‘for the better maintenance of his knightly rank’, Richard appointed him constable of Scarborough Castle for life and granted him an annual income of ten pounds from the castle revenues, £16 13s. 4d. from the farm of the town and a further twenty marks from a Cheshire manor.34 Another person was also generously rewarded: Sir John Newenton, who was already a knight and, since 1378, had been constable for life of Rochester Castle. On 16 June, just a day after the dramatic events at Smithfield, Newenton was granted a remission of forty marks in the fifty pounds he paid annually for the farm of Rochester Castle and town. A few weeks later he was also appointed to the highly profitable post of escheator for Middlesex, a county which included much of London.35

What had Newenton done to merit such valuable privileges, particularly as his perfunctory defence of Rochester Castle might justifiably have led to his forfeiture of office and imprisonment? It is possible that in his earlier role as emissary between the rebels and the king he had provided important details of the rebels’ numbers, armaments and intentions, though not much use seems to have been made of any such information. The dating of his grant, however, is surely significant: it was one of the earliest actions of the chancery department, which was not fully up and running again, after the murder of Sudbury. Newenton must have played a significant role at Smithfield. Walsingham tells us that he was sent to persuade Tyler to come to the meeting – ‘to ask rather than order (for Tyler’s arrogance was already well known)’ – and that it was Newenton who provoked the quarrel with Tyler by refusing to dismount before approaching the rebel leader because the latter was also on horseback. When Tyler angrily drew his ‘knife (which we commonly call a “daggere”)’ and called him a ‘traitor’ – which would have stung, given Newenton’s surrender of Rochester Castle – the latter responded by calling Tyler a liar and drawing his own dagger.36 It is odd that neither man used a sword, the usual weapon for fighting on horseback: daggers were intended for close combat on foot, and giving the coup de grâce in particular, so they would have been inappropriate and difficult to use effectively in the circumstances. It is possible that Tyler was otherwise unarmed and that Newenton chivalrously responded by using the same weapon; on the other hand he may have been trying to draw the rebel leader into close quarters, which would allow him to be surrounded and assassinated. Richard’s alleged intervention, urging Newenton to dismount and surrender his dagger to Tyler, certainly suggests that this was not part of a pre-planned strategy. Planned or not, if it was Newenton who succeeded in bringing Tyler to meet the king and manoeuvring him into a position where he could be killed, he deserved the king’s gratitude.

With all the country rebels now on their way home Richard and his councillors could turn their attention to securing the city and ending the disorder there. After the slaughter of the Flemings the previous day, this had degenerated into opportune acts of violence committed by those who believed themselves wrongly excluded from their rights. Paul Salesbury, for instance, was a young man who had only just emerged from wardship: on 29 May his guardian had claimed fifty-two pounds from Salesbury’s estate for four years’ expenditure on his schooling, clothing, bedding, riding ‘etc’. On 14 June Salesbury armed himself and his servant and forced entry into two houses which had once belonged to his father but were now owned by two aldermen, William Baret and Hugh Fastolf. Salesbury ejected Baret, his wife and servants into the street, made Baret’s wife kneel at his feet for a long time and compelled her and her husband to thank him for their lengthy occupancy of the house and for not killing them; he then seized all the indentures relating to the property and compelled Baret to swear he would release a bond for two hundred pounds which Salesbury’s father owed him. Fastolf was not at home (he was alderman for Tower ward and therefore probably caught up in events there) but Salesbury assaulted his wife, who was Salesbury’s own kinswoman, compelled her to hand over a chest containing the deeds for the property, a sword, a pair of iron gauntlets and forty shillings, ‘wasted’ a hundred shillings’ worth of wine and ale and finally forced Joan to hand over one penny in acknowledgement of his ownership of the house and its adjacent tenements. Salesbury was fortunate to have other friends among the aldermen and at court because he secured the first pardon of the revolt, on 22 July, through the good offices of Aubrey de Vere: his servant Thomas had to wait another six years to obtain his pardon.37

Salesbury was just a high-profile instance of the sort of clashes that were going on throughout the city. Others, too, took advantage of the breakdown of law and order to pursue their own agendas. Walter atte Keye, for instance, a brewer who had no chattels to confiscate, allegedly extorted 3s. 4d. from a fellow brewer Andrew Vernoun by threatening to kill him and burn his house down. More interestingly, he was also a member of a group which set out to find and destroy ‘a book of the constitutions of the city of London called le Jubyle’. This was a compilation of reforming ordinances drawn up by a series of committees as a response to the scandal of the impeachment for corruption of Richard Lyons and two other serving city aldermen in the Good Parliament of 1376, the year of Edward III’s golden jubilee. Depending on one’s political affiliation, therefore, it either ‘comprised all the good articles appertaining to the good government of the City’ or ‘ordinances repugnant to the ancient customs of the City’. Atte Keye and his fellow rebels made determined attempts to find it, breaking into the guildhall and, when they failed to find it there, forcing their way into the king’s counting house in Milk Street on Cheapside and ransacking the place in a second futile search. The Jubilee Book was eventually burned in March 1387 on the orders of a specially enlarged common council summoned by the mayor Nicholas Exton, at whose request atte Keye had been pardoned a month earlier.38

The attack on the Milk Street counting house is a reminder of how little the London uprising was actually concerned with politically motivated acts of violence. A marginal note in the monk of Westminster’s chronicle observes that the rebels attempted to plunder the royal treasury at Westminster on 14 June; the absence of the exchequer receipt rolls and their duplicates for the period Michaelmas 1380 to Easter 1381 from an otherwise almost complete series also suggests that the rebels might have deliberately removed and destroyed this record of the poll-tax returns.39However, neither Westminster Palace nor Westminster Hall were attacked, despite being the centre of government, though it was perhaps fortunate that the law courts were not in session, so the judges of the King’s Bench, Common Pleas and Exchequer were mostly away from the city. Westminster Abbey and all the other religious houses and churches in the city were left untouched: the Charterhouse, St Mary’s nunnery, St Bartholomew’s priory and hospital were all unscathed despite their proximity to the Hospitallers’ priory and Smithfield. The Flemings were massacred and the Lombards allegedly robbed but Hanse merchants from northern Germany were protected by their English colleagues who, having just gained valuable reciprocal trading rights, were concerned that these would be withdrawn if anything befell them. In a letter written on 17 June the Hanseatic merchants assured their fellow league members at home that, despite the Londoners having ‘killed many foreign people, namely any Flemings they could find … none of us has suffered as much as a penny-worth of damage’ and that their English hosts ‘have told us that they will live and die with us’. Significantly, the newly appointed alderman of the Hanseatic guilds in England was one William Walworth.40

Fresh from his triumph at Smithfield, Walworth was immediately appointed to a royal commission with his newly knighted aldermen Philipot, Brembre and Launde, and Robert Knolles. They were charged with securing London against further invasion ‘by illegal groups’, pacifying any riots within the city and its suburbs and ensuring the security of the capital’s food supplies, if necessary seizing victuals and bringing them in by land and water. They were given extraordinary and wide-ranging powers to punish anyone ‘who makes or presumes to make riots, risings and assemblies against our peace … either according to the law of our kingdom of England or by other ways and methods, by beheadings and the mutilation of limbs, as seems to you most expeditious and sensible’. The same day, 15 June, they were also appointed to a judicial commission with the chief justice Robert Bealknapp and the recorder of London William Cheyne, charged with pursuing the rebels in London and elsewhere and bringing them to trial; because the king’s sheriffs and other officials were too afraid to carry out their duties, the commissioners were given sweeping powers to choose their own executive agents and to arrest and release prisoners at will.41

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