Post-classical history



Throughout the kingdom commissioners were now actively at work, so much so that the monk of Westminster observed that ‘the royal judges were now everywhere to be seen in session, inquiring into the activities of the conspirators and giving the guilty short shrift. Gibbets rose where none had been before, since existing ones were too few for the bodies of the condemned. Many who had been privy to the insurrection took to flight to avoid sharing the arrest and bitter fate suffered by others’. Melodramatic though the monk’s comments may seem, they are borne out by other evidence. The earl of Arundel, for example, was given permission on 9 July to keep prisoners in his own castles of Arundel and Lewes because Guildford Castle, ‘the chief gaol of the counties of Surrey and Sussex, is not sufficient for the safe custody of all the late insurgents indicted before him and his fellow justices’. Other counties had faced similar problems and responded by granting bail to those indicted; this was swiftly stamped upon, and from 10 July onwards commissioners were ordered on pain of forfeiture not to release anyone arrested on charges connected with the revolt; the sheriff of Oxfordshire and Berkshire was even ordered to re-arrest and re-imprison all rebels who had been released on bail. The problem identified by the monk of so many rebels fleeing to avoid punishment was addressed in Essex and Cambridgeshire by granting the commissioners additional powers to pursue and arrest indicted rebels found outside their counties. As late as 26 October the king granted the petition of the collectors of the third poll-tax on the clergy in the archdeaconry of Essex that they should not have to answer for the sums which ought to have been levied on a great number of chaplains and clerks who, ‘fearing impeachment for the insurrection and being perhaps guilty, have withdrawn thence and fled to places unknown’.1

To add weight to the commissions and give physical expression to the king’s opposition to the rebels’ actions, it was decided that Richard himself should accompany Chief Justice Tresilian into Essex, where the rebellion had first begun. Between 1 and 7 July they were at Chelmsford, hearing indictments and deciding cases. Significantly, given Tresilian’s hard-line reputation, it was here on 2 July that Richard was finally persuaded that he must formally revoke all his letters abolishing personal and tenurial villeinage, granting liberty from tolls and customs and pardoning all offences. The concessions he had granted at Mile End were thus to be repealed and everything was to return exactly to the way it had been before the uprising. The fact that it had taken so long for Richard to do this – eighteen days after he had made the original grants – is surely a clear indication that he was reluctant to do so. If he had no intention of standing by them it would have made far more sense to have revoked them immediately after the Kentishmen had left London. This would have sent a powerful message that the letters had been granted under duress and could not be used to legitimate or justify future actions by the rebels. Instead, by remaining silent on the subject, even as he was appointing commissioners to resist the rebels and restore the peace, Richard effectively continued to condone the rebel agenda. This not only encouraged the spread of the rebellion but also drew into the rebel fold many people who would not have acted as they did except in the belief that they were doing so with the king’s authority. With the young king now in his company and observing the consequences of his generosity in the stream of rebels brought before the court, Tresilian no doubt applied such pressure that Richard conceded defeat. The fourteen-year-old king now stated that, on mature reflection and advised by his council, he realised that his grants prejudiced and disinherited the crown, the state, the nobles and the Church; he therefore ‘revoked, quashed, invalidated and annulled’ them, ordered all letters of manumission and pardon to be returned to the chancery for cancellation and commanded that each and every freeman and bondman should again perform all his usual works, dues and services ‘without contradiction, complaint, resistance or difficulty’.2

This proclamation must have crushed any remaining hope harboured by the rebels that the king might intercede for them or support them. According to a famous passage in Walsingham’s chronicle, a group of Essex rebels had already visited the king while he was at Waltham (22 June) to ask if he intended to stand by his grants to them and for a further liberty that, like the lords, they should not be compelled to attend any courts except the biannual view of frankpledge. While the king’s councillors hesitated over how to reply, Richard himself had rounded on the rebels for their temerity which, he said, deserved death. ‘Give this message to your colleagues from the king’, he allegedly told them: ‘Rustics you were and rustics you are still; you will remain in bondage, not as before but incomparably harsher. For as long as we live and, by God’s grace, rule over the realm, we will strive with mind, strength and goods to suppress you so that the rigour of your servitude will be an example to posterity’. No account of the so-called Peasants’ Revolt is complete without this vivid ‘quotation’ from the king – yet it is as much a fabrication as Jack Straw’s speech at the gallows or John Balle’s sermon at Blackheath. All of which, it should be noted, come from Walsingham’s pen. Richard’s own deeds belie the words Walsingham put into his mouth, in particular the fact that, as late as November 1381, he was still prepared to plead with parliament to allow the abolition of villeinage.3

The mixed messages emanating from the king before his public revocation of his letters on 2 July were poignantly displayed time and again in the judicial proceedings that followed the revolt. We have already seen how Richard Leycester thought he could rely on his royal letters of protection when he was brought to trial at Ely. Equally naïve was John Preston of Hadleigh, Suffolk, who appeared before Woodstock and the Essex commissioners at Chelmsford on 25 June with a petition reiterating the rebel demands at Mile End: it asked on behalf of ‘the commons’ that no one should pay more than four pence an acre for customary land in lieu of services, that all courts should be abolished apart from that of the king and that provision should be made for punishing malefactors from outside the area where they were captured. The commissioners immediately ordered his arrest and interrogated him as to who had drawn up the petition. When Preston admitted that he had done so, and personally delivered it to the court, they ordered that he should at once be beheaded. It is difficult to see what crime he had committed to deserve instant execution without trial, especially as this all took place a week before the revocation of Richard’s concessions, so the king’s own letters patent were still in force. The terrible injustice of it led two days later to a group of Essex rebels threatening to kill the abbot of St Osyth in retaliation for Preston’s execution.4

The problem was that the commissioners’ powers were defined so loosely as to allow them carte blanche to act as they saw fit: they not only had the power to round up, arrest and imprison those suspected of rebellion, but also sometimes acted as prosecution, judge and jury. Those appointed to the county commissions were the old guard, many of whom had seen their friends, neighbours and patrons attacked or had themselves been victims of the revolt. The commission for Kent, for example, included Thomas Trevet and the sheriff William Septvans, both of whom had been abducted, coerced and put in fear of their lives by those whom they were now supposed to arrest and imprison; the sire de Scales, John Brewes and Stephen de Hales, who had all been forced to wait on Geoffrey Lister, were on the one for Norfolk and Suffolk.5 Impartiality was hardly to be expected of such men. The earl of Suffolk’s commission, on which Scales, Brewes and Hales served, was particularly high-handed in its approach, sometimes denying suspects the right to a jury and accepting private accusations as the equivalent of a legal indictment by a jury. These resulted in many executions, among them that of William Taylor of Norwich who, when he appeared before the commission on other charges, was accused by Brewes and Hales of having threatened to behead Brewes when he was held captive. Their word, corroborated by Sir Thomas Gyssing, was sufficient to secure Taylor’s immediate execution without due process or recourse to a jury.6

Hugh la Zouche’s commission in Cambridgeshire cut through the bureaucratic process of outlawry which allowed the escheator to seize the property of convicted rebels. Instead of non-appearance in response to the customary summons to attend up to four county courts, which could take many months, Zouche decreed that if indicted rebels – not convicted ones, it should be noted – had fled the county and did not answer a single summons to appear before the commissioners then their lands and goods could be taken into the king’s hands. (We have already seen that he had no qualms about acquiring some of these goods for himself.) He was also reluctant to release defendants who were acquitted by trial juries, ordering proclamations to be made asking if there were any further charges against them and then requiring four sureties for future good behaviour before allowing prisoners to go free.7

The arbitrary nature of many of the commissioners’ judgments was to some extent due to a determination on their part to push the definition of treason as far as it would go, and beyond. Although it was the presenting juries at the inquisitions who indicted their peers, the actual charges were drawn up by clerks employed by the commissioners, and it was upon this wording that the defendants were tried. At its most basic, the definition of treason was a violation of the loyalty owed by one individual to another: a servant who killed his master, a husband his wife or a cleric his superior thus committed petty treason and his goods were forfeited to his lord. High treason, in which the forfeiture was to the crown and the additional penalties of drawing to the place of execution and quartering the body were imposed, was defined in the Statute of Treasons (1352). This had been introduced to stop royal judges extending the common law of treason to cover all sorts of simple felonies such as murder, arson, rape, wounding and robbery. The statute limited high treason to planning or attempting the death of the king, his consort or his heir; raping his consort, his eldest unmarried daughter or the consort of his heir; raising war against the king or allying with his enemies; counterfeiting the Great Seal or the coinage; and killing senior royal officials such as the chancellor, treasurer and justices empowered to hear and determine cases, but with the significant proviso that this was only treason if they were actually killed while they were performing their official duties. It was therefore a moot point whether the deaths of justices of the peace such as Edmund de Walsyngham and Thomas atte Ook were high treason, since they were not sitting in court when killed, though they were in office at the time. It was also an almost insuperable legal difficulty that treason was personal to the royal family, yet the rebels had consistently expressed their loyalty to the king and had never envisaged harm to him or waged war against him personally. The statute made no mention of ‘treason against the realm’, rather than against the person of the king and his immediate family and senior officials, but some of the indictments resurrected this older crime; they also introduced the words ‘treacherously’ to describe acts which would otherwise have fallen into the less serious categories of felony or trespass, particularly when this covered riding armed with the intention of slaying, robbing, capturing or kidnapping, even though this type of offence had been specifically excluded from the definition of treason by the statute.8

This elastic interpretation of treason by the commissioners introduced anomalies whereby rebels might find themselves charged with either treason or felony despite being indicted for the same crime. The murderers of Chancellor Sudbury, Treasurer Hales and Chief Justice Cavendish were all considered traitors by the crown and specifically excluded from any grant of pardon, yet a jury sympathetic to the rebels in Westgate hundred, Kent, found that the archbishop’s execution was only a felony. Much depended on the attitude of the commissioners themselves and nowhere was this more obvious than those cases heard by Tresilian: ‘whoever was accused before him on the grounds of rebellion,’ observed Henry Knighton, ‘whether justly or out of hate, immediately suffered the sentence of death’.9 Tresilian’s hearings at Chelmsford, where he sat in judgment on those Essex men who had been involved at the beginning of the revolt, resulted in thirty-one executions of which twelve included the drawing to the scaffold, which was the penalty for treason; at St Albans he sentenced fifteen townsmen to death and eighty others to imprisonment, despite there having been no killings and no significant acts of violence. The contrast with Bury St Edmunds, where there had been numerous murders, including the abbey’s prior and the former Chief Justice Cavendish, as well as demolition of buildings in the town and assaults within the abbey precincts, could not be more striking. The inhabitants of Bury St Edmunds were the only ones to be collectively excluded from the general amnesty in November 1381, together with five named individuals, John Clakke, Robert Westbron, Thomas Halesworth, Robert Sad and Thomas Yoxford. On 22 December, however, the king accepted the town into his grace on condition that it paid a two-thousand-mark fine, a sum which took its inhabitants four and a half years to raise; 722 of them, including forty-five clerics and twenty-two women, were also obliged to bind themselves in the sum of ten thousand pounds for future good behaviour. Financially onerous though all this was, the townsmen escaped with their lives and liberty. Clakke, Westbron and Halesworth were all pardoned in 1385, despite the latter two having been present at, if not actually giving orders for, the prior’s murder.10

Tresilian was in a league of his own when it came to handing down death sentences. Thomas of Woodstock’s commission for Essex heard some four hundred indictments but only tried thirty-five people, of whom ten were executed; three-quarters of the indictments brought before Hugh la Zouche’s commission in Cambridge did not proceed to trial. Even so, it comes as a blessed relief in the midst of so much arbitrary and bloody justice to find a justice behaving with calm and reasoned impartiality. ‘You are not charged with rebellion’, Chief Justice Bealknapp informed a defendant before him. ‘For although this event occurred in London, where the rebellion was located, and at the same time, it does not follow that you did it by rebellion, for it could well be that there is a rebellion in some place in a town, but not in another’.11 Not everyone was willing or able to make such nice distinctions. Just as the revolt itself had been the ideal cover for those seeking to pursue private quarrels, so the judicial process afterwards proved to be an effective way of exploiting old grudges or obtaining vengeance. In Beverley, Yorkshire, where there had been a power struggle between the old oligarchy and the ‘middle men’ artisans and craftsmen, several of the latter were indicted for the murder of William Haldene on 6 July on the evidence of Haldene’s widow, who had been bribed to accuse them by a leading member of the oligarchy. The widow of William Brag similarly gave evidence to the Hertfordshire commissioners that her husband, a servant of Edmund Stonor, had been killed at Gubblecote on 18 June by the rebels who had burned Stonor’s archives. This accusation led to Hugo the personesprest of Puttenham and seven others being sent to the Tower. Yet in other evidence Anna Brag stated that her husband was murdered on 10 December 1381, several months after the revolt. By falsifying the dates she had procured a much less rigorous legal process and swifter punishment for those whom she accused. All were eventually acquitted when the discrepancies came to light, but one of them did not receive his pardon until 1391.12

Injustices like these must have been multiplied many times over, especially when professional extortionists like Thomas Hardyng of Manningtree, Essex, brought his expertise to bear, ruthlessly and unscrupulously abusing the system repeatedly to blackmail his neighbours into giving him money to avoid prosecution.13 The situation was not helped by government attempts to help those who had suffered losses at the hands of the rebels. Royal licences were granted to the likes of John Gildesburgh, Thomas Haseldene, the sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk William de Kerdeston, the prior of Barnwell, Hugh Fastolf, John Bampton and the executors of both Reginald de Eccles and Richard Lyons, allowing them to take back any goods they could prove to be theirs ‘howsoever they please from those who detain them, without hindrance from the king or his ministers’. This was an extraordinary tool to put into the hands of powerful and sometimes corrupt men, giving them free rein to act outside the law without fear of retribution. Haseldene, Fastolf, Bampton and the prior of Barnwell also obtained royal commissions which were empowered to inquire into the destruction and theft they had suffered, but also to arrest offenders and compel restitution and the payment of compensation, thus putting the full force of the law behind their attempts to recover their property and receive damages. One of the first off the mark in obtaining this kind of commission was John Herlyng, an esquire of the royal household, steward of the liberty of Bury St Edmunds and castellan of Castle Rising, Norfolk, but he was swiftly followed by William Crosyer, John Sibil, the abbot of Stratford Langthorne, the warden of Cressing Temple and the university of Cambridge.14 These again were dangerous tools to put into the hands of those seeking revenge since impartiality could hardly be expected when so many of those appointed to these local commissions had themselves been targeted by the same rebels. What is more, the summary nature of the proceedings and the power to recover goods from anyone in possession of them, not just those who had taken them, naturally lent themselves to abuse: Ralph Barbour, for example, was prosecuted because he had bought several valuable items, including a psalter, which were later found to have been pillaged from Henry Lomynour’s house in Norwich. The fact that the commissioners were ‘unlawfully oppressing the people beyond measure by extortions and other intolerable grievances’ was eventually recognised by the crown; on 12 September sheriffs were ordered to proclaim that all proceedings under these commissions were to cease and to set free all those imprisoned by them: in future, anyone who wished to reclaim stolen property or recover damages should do so through the normal processes of the king’s courts.15

Private prosecutions continued unabated, however, until the House of Commons successfully petitioned that no new actions should be brought after 8 July 1383 and allowed anyone accused to be acquitted if three or four men of good repute gave testimony in their favour before the court. This intervention, again, was an attempt to remedy the abuse of process by people like Hardyng, who brought thirty-nine separate actions against people who could afford to pay him off, or John Sibil, who inflated the value of the crops stolen from his Cambridgeshire manor at Horseheath to obtain higher damages. Almost three hundred private prosecutions were brought against alleged rebels by around one hundred and twenty-five plaintiffs, the majority of them being actions for trespass in Essex, Norfolk and London/Middlesex. There is clear evidence to show that plaintiffs such as Gaunt and Butterwick, for instance, supported each other by sharing information and listing as many names as possible in the hope that at least some would be convicted.16Despite being singularly unsuccessful as far as obtaining judgment against the defendants was concerned, they were an effective means of harassing enemies and extorting money from those accused, falsely or otherwise, of participation in the revolt. They created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion which the introduction of a time limit on future actions was intended to address, enabling ‘peace and tranquillity to be nourished and augmented throughout the realm and to cease strife and contentions’.17

The final weapon in the government’s armoury for crushing the revolt or, more correctly, overturning what it had achieved, was the issuing of writs to compel tenants to render all their customary dues and obligations. This was happening even before Richard formally revoked his letters patent: on 30 June the commissioners in Lincolnshire were ordered to make proclamations without delay that all tenants, bond and free, should ‘without gainsaying, murmuring or resistance perform the works, customs and services due to their lords, as they used to do before the disturbance now arisen in divers counties’, nor were they ‘to delay them on any pretence, or to claim other privileges or liberties than they formerly had’, on pain of arrest and imprisonment. The same writ was issued on behalf of the abbot of Stratford the same day, and the litigious Margaret, countess of Norfolk, followed suit on 1 July. Over the course of the next few weeks, as the harvest approached and the need for labour grew more intense, many more were issued, mostly to religious houses, such as the abbeys of St Albans and Ramsey, but also to individuals. Richard, earl of Arundel, for example, whose rebellious tenants had allegedly caused him a thousand pounds’ worth of damage when they invaded Lewes Castle on 16 June and burned his records, was now facing a labour strike and obtained one for his lands in Sussex on 2 July. The king himself had to acquire one on 22 July for his Hertfordshire manor of King’s Langley, to which he added a clause commanding his tenants to return ‘a charter made to them concerning manumissions and pardons’ so that it could be cancelled.18

Many tenants proved remarkably stubborn: the harvest came and went but Stratford Langthorne Abbey, the Knights Hospitaller (whom Richard had taken into his special protection after their prior’s murder) in Lincolnshire and the vacant archbishopric of Canterbury all had to apply for further royal assistance to force their tenants back to work – and not always successfully.19 On most manors, however, landlords and tenants had to come to some sort of pragmatic accommodation. All the villeins on the manor of Moze, Essex, for example, were deprived of their holdings because they had burned the court rolls but they were allowed to have them back again on paying fines of ten or twenty shillings; the record of the re-grant states that it was also made to ‘their heirs and assigns’, indicating that these villeins effectively held by hereditary tenure just like freemen. The tenants of the bishop of Norwich’s manors where court rolls were burned were ordered to return any damaged ones and to make new custumals, rentals, extents, terriers and lists of those tenants owing suit of court on pain of a five-pound fine.20

When parliament met in November 1381 the revolt was over but the atmosphere was still tense. The opening was delayed by several days to settle ‘a great dispute’ between Gaunt and the earl of Northumberland, both of whom had brought large retinues of armed men with them. Gaunt had been at Berwick, Northumberland, negotiating with the Scots when the revolt broke out; on 18 June he concluded an eighteen-month truce then, two days later, moved south to the royal castle of Bamburgh, where he received messengers from the earl bearing letters advising him to remain at Berwick ‘until you may be better apprised of the state of the king and the affairs of the realm’. Gaunt took this, or verbal messages given at the same time, to mean that the earl refused him admission to his castles: it is even possible that Gaunt was already virtually outside the walls of the earl’s castle of Alnwick when he received these messages, which made the latter’s action even more offensive and the dispute more explicable. Given the rumours that Gaunt had been declared a traitor and the rebels wanted his head, it seems clear that Northumberland did not want to be tainted by association. Gaunt may also have felt that the king had abandoned him as he then fled over the border to seek sanctuary with the Scots, only re-emerging after 3 July when Richard issued writs declaring his uncle ‘to be most zealous in his cause’ and commanding royal ministers and his subjects alike to give Gaunt their assistance in conducting him safely back again. Even so, Gaunt had remained skulking around his northern English power bases until the revolt was over. Determined to seek revenge for at least some of these humiliations, Gaunt had fixed on Northumberland and the earl was forced to make a formal apology in full parliament for his ‘disloyalty’.21

There could have been no stronger reminder of the events of the summer than the fact that neither Sudbury nor Hales were at parliament to give the opening addresses: instead they were given by William Courtenay, archbishop-elect of Canterbury, and the new treasurer Sir Hugh Segrave. The latter invited the Commons, on Richard’s behalf, ‘to investigate and search for the causes, motives, and principal reasons for the aforesaid uprising and insurrections, so that having discovered and learnt them, and having entirely rooted them out, people will place the greater trust in the remedy to be ordained, should the commons ever again wish or wickedly propose to perpetrate evil in such a manner’.22 Richard’s acceptance that the rebels had genuine grievances is evident in this determination to seek out and remedy the root causes of the revolt, and perhaps even more so in his offer to abolish villeinage again, which he obviously recognised as one of those root causes. His remarkable appeal to the Commons,23 over the heads of his councillors, as to whether his revocation of his ‘letters of franchise and manumission’ had been right, clearly caused consternation. It is a measure of just how unusual it was that the Commons did not know how to respond to their charge to go away and discuss these matters. Unable to come to a conclusion they asked, through their speaker Sir Richard Waldegrave, for the charge to be repeated ‘so that we may well understand it’. It was reiterated, with due emphasis on the abolition of villeinage, but the Commons was not prepared to take such responsibility on itself: it was only after consultation with the prelates and lay peers that they were able to reject the king’s proposal and say ‘with one voice’ that the king’s revocation of his letters had indeed been ‘well made’.24

Waldegrave’s speech analysing the causes of the revolt has often been hailed as a penetrating and daring critique of the state of the realm. In fact, it is little more than a rehearsal of all the old complaints which resurfaced whenever there was political trouble of any sort. Waldegrave blamed excessive numbers of servants in the royal household and in the king’s courts, too many ‘embracers of quarrels and maintainers, who act so much like kings in their shires that right and justice are scarcely administered to anyone’ and the excesses of the king’s household purveyors. None of these things had featured on the rebel agenda, though quest-mongers and lawyers had been among the main targets of the revolt. It is true that other things of which he complained had more relevance to the revolt: the forcible levying of subsidies and tallages, the continual levying of great sums for defence which failed to secure the realm from attack and the ‘evil officers and counsellors’ who ought to be dismissed. The fact remains that none of the rebel demands, from abolition of all forms of villeinage and freedom from tolls and customs to the revocation of the Statute of Labourers, was even mentioned. This was hardly surprising given that so many of the knights of the shire (and indeed burgesses) had suffered personally in the revolt and that it was their vested interests which had been under attack. Nevertheless, the Commons presented petitions to the king requesting that the chancery, treasury and judicial benches should all be purged of corrupt officials since ‘there was and is a great murmuring throughout the realm that they are for the most part too fat in body and in purse, and too well provided, and their benefices ill managed, through the grievous oppressions done and practised by them against the people, by colour of their office’. The chancellor himself was replaced by the Commons’ preferred candidate Sir Richard Scrope, but otherwise it was business as usual in all these departments.25

The Commons also petitioned for the general amnesty that was granted in this parliament. They asked for three pardons: first for those ‘lords, gentles, and others’ who had killed rebels without due process of law; secondly for those who had committed treason and felonies during the revolt, with the exception of the principal instigators whose names would be submitted to parliament; and finally for those who had not rebelled. The king, of his grace, granted all three general pardons, excepting only those who had murdered Sudbury, Hales or Cavendish, the towns of Canterbury, Bury St Edmunds, Beverley, Scarborough, Bridgwater and Cambridge (though later in the same parliament he was persuaded to include all except Bury St Edmunds) and without prejudice to private prosecutions. The list of ‘principal instigators’ excluded from grace comprised 287 named individuals, the vast majority of them from London. There were two catches, so far as anyone seeking a pardon was concerned: the first was that it had to be sued for, which made the applicant vulnerable by admitting his guilt; the second was that it had to be paid for, which many of those in more menial positions could not afford to do, even if they were innocent. A year later, another parliament would remedy this by petitioning the king to issue a second general pardon, excluding only those on the list and Bury St Edmunds: this was the first comprehensive general pardon which did not require individuals to sue for and buy their own letters – a generous concession given that at least two thousand pounds had been raised so far by their sale.26

Other measures were taken to deal with the revolt. Inundated with complaints from the university of Cambridge, the king summoned the mayor, bailiffs and burgesses to appear before him. In September Richard had ordered the borough to quash its election of John Mareschall, a prominent leader of the revolt, as its new mayor and to replace him with ‘a fit person’. The replacement, Richard Maisterman, despite being a victim of the rebels, proved no more conciliatory and refused to surrender the charters the university had granted during the revolt. It took the full force of the king sitting in parliament to compel the borough to hand them over for cancellation and, as punishment, the town was deprived of many of its lucrative market franchises, which were granted to the university.27 All bonds, releases and other deeds, together with any acquisitions of land or rents, made under duress during the revolt were quashed, voided and cancelled by statute. Those who could provide proof that they had lost ‘charters, releases, bonds, statutes-merchant, court rolls, or other evidences’ during the rising were offered remedies, including free copies of any charters which had been enrolled in chancery. There was one small victory for the rebels: the king repealed Great Yarmouth’s charter which Bacon, Lister and their band had cut in two. It proved a pyrrhic victory, however, as Richard reinstated it in 1384, only to repeal it in 1385, then reinstate it again permanently in 1386.28

Perhaps the most important measure of the parliament, however, was the drawing up and enrolment of a form of commission which could be used to deal with any future popular uprising. Based on the commissions to keep the peace, it gave extraordinarily wide powers for the commissioners to arrest anyone who arranged or participated in

conventicles or gatherings contrary to our said peace, and all others whom you or any one of you know for certain to be persuading, encouraging, and inciting our people, whether by word, deed, act, cunning, or any other art, to rise up and rebel in such conventicles and gatherings … and punish and destroy them at your discretion if they rebel against you or resist you, and … crush, extinguish, and oppose all such illicit conventicles and gatherings by any methods or means within your power, even by force and armed might if necessary.

The commissioners were given authority to enter liberties normally exempt from such intrusions, to raise as many knights and men-at-arms as seemed necessary to them to oppose, punish and destroy such rebels and to execute justice on all perpetrators of ‘treasons, murders, felonies, or arsons, or who be found in the act of committing thefts and robberies’. No future king of England, facing a popular revolt, would be without the legal administrative tools to suppress it.29

What parliament did not do was grant another poll-tax or even an old-fashioned subsidy, despite the king’s plea that he was greatly in debt and Gaunt’s extraordinarily insensitive demand for a loan of sixty thousand pounds for six months’ wages for two thousand men-at-arms and two thousand archers to bolster his brother Langley’s failing expedition in Portugal. This caused ‘great argument and altercation in the said parliament’ but the Commons stood firm: ‘bearing in mind the ill will which the common people still express in rancour throughout the kingdom, they did not dare nor wish to grant tallage in any way, or anything else for which the said commons would be liable or responsible’. What they did grant was a four-year extension of the wool subsidies, with the heartfelt but hopeless prayer that the burdens of war might soon be abolished so ‘that the poor commons may live in peace and tranquillity’.30

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