1. Richard II (1367–1400), who became king of England on the death of his grandfather Edward III in 1377. Fourteenth-century portraits are exceptionally rare and this full length, larger than life size portrait is unique. Painted in oils on a wooden panel, probably in the 1390s, it hangs in Westminster Abbey. Richard was highly conscious of his regal dignity and more images of him survive than of any other monarch before Henry VIII.
2. Edward III (1312–77). This wooden funeral effigy is a more realistic portrayal of the king than his idealised tomb effigy because it was taken from his death mask: the droop at the corner of his mouth was caused by one of the strokes that eventually killed him. The effigy, dressed in royal robes, was displayed on his hearse at his funeral and then preserved at Westminster Abbey, where it is the earliest surviving example of its kind.
3. John of Gaunt (1340–99), Richard’s uncle, whose properties and servants were targeted during the great revolt. The heraldry of this Renaissance copy of a contemporary portrait demonstrates not only Gaunt’s own royal lineage but also his adopted title of king of Castile and Léon, which he claimed through his wife Blanche. Her father’s arms, the castle and lions of Castile, appear on Gaunt’s surcoat and are also overlaid on the royal coat of arms within the Order of the Garter at the top left hand side of the portrait.
4. A panorama of London in 1616 by the Dutch engraver, map-maker and publisher Claes Jansz Visscher (1587–1652). Southwark is in the foreground, with the church of St Mary Overy and the High Street leading to London Bridge by which the rebels from Kent entered the city. Note the customary display of traitors’ heads on poles above the gatehouse at the entrance to the bridge: this was where the rebels exhibited the heads of the chancellor and treasurer, the former with his archiepiscopal mitre nailed to it.
5. A country household in winter is the illustration for the month of February in a richly illuminated manuscript Book of Hours commissioned in the fifteenth century by the duke of Berry. English land-holdings similarly consisted of a house, with a separate stone-built bake-house to minimise the risk of fire, agricultural buildings for the stock and food processing, and an enclosed yard. Note the hay-stack behind the barn and the four bee-skeps against the far wall.
6. Bath-tubs were a feature of every moderately wealthy home where there were servants to fetch the water: the rich even had dedicated bathrooms with tiled floors and piped hot water. This painting of a man bathing is contained within an initial letter in the four-volume manuscript of Omne Bonum, the first encyclopaedia of universal knowledge to be arranged in alphabetical order, compiled by James le Palmer, an exchequer clerk, probably in 1375.
7. A woman feeding her chickens, a marginal illumination from the Luttrell Psalter commissioned by Sir Geoffrey Luttrell between 1320 and 1340. Note that the hen is tethered to prevent it flying away and that the woman is carrying her distaff and spindle so that she can spin wool or flax into thread for weaving.
8. A team of oxen ploughing a field in preparation for sowing crops. Ploughing was a skilled occupation commanding high wages. A marginal illumination from the Luttrell Psalter (see plate 7).
9. A horse pulls a harrow to break up the clods created by ploughing and to cover the seed planted in the tilled earth. A boy follows, armed with a sling and stones to scare away the birds and prevent them eating the precious seed. A marginal illumination from the Luttrell Psalter (see plate 7).
10. Sowing the seed, a task which had to be carried out by hand. Note the bird helping itself to the grain in the sack. A marginal illumination from the Luttrell Psalter (see plate 7).
11. Reaping the harvest. It was vitally important to gather in the harvest while the weather was fine so that the crops did not rot. Everyone had to lend a hand, young and old, men and women; many servants working in towns also returned to their villages to help with the harvest. Here the women are cutting the crop with sickles while a man follows behind to bind it into stooks ready for threshing the grain. A marginal illumination from the Luttrell Psalter (see plate 7).
12. After the ears of grain have been removed for threshing, the stooks are gathered up and piled into stacks to provide fodder and bedding for animals throughout the winter months. A marginal illumination from the Luttrell Psalter (see plate 7).
13. The sacks of grain are brought to the local windmill for grinding into flour. Many landlords made a substantial income by insisting that their tenants should use the manorial mill and charging them to do so. In a bitterly resented exercise of its power, the abbey of St Albans prohibited its tenants from owning or using hand-mills so that they could not grind corn even for their own personal use. A marginal illumination from the Luttrell Psalter (see plate 7).
14. The month of November in the duke of Berry’s Book of Hours (see plate 5) is illustrated by an example of pannage, the customary right of villagers to let loose their domestic pigs in woodland so that they could be fattened up on acorns, nuts and beechmasts ready for killing. A pig, or its equivalent value, was usually demanded by the landlord in return. The enclosure of many woods to create private parks in which their owners could hunt wild game but from which the villagers were excluded was a major grievance which fuelled the great revolt.
15. Clerics hunting rabbits with dogs and bows and arrows. The right of free warren (to hunt game within a specified area) was a valuable privilege enjoyed only by the aristocracy which the rebels of 1381 sought to abolish. Although clerics were officially prohibited from hunting by canon law, many of them did so, and monastic houses and episcopal landlords often kept warrens for the rabbit meat and fur. An illuminated initial from the Omne Bonum (see plate 6).
16. Miraculous healing powers were attributed to the relics of St Alban, the first English martyr, which were preserved in a shrine at the Hertfordshire abbey of St Albans. In this drawing by the historian and chronicler Matthew Paris (c.1200–59), himself a monk of St Albans, the shrine is carried in procession by the monks and crippled beggars pray to it for a cure.
17. The ancient monastic church of the abbey of St Albans, now a cathedral, is virtually all that remains of one of the most powerful Benedictine houses in England. It has the longest nave of any English cathedral and a square central tower dating from the eleventh century. A gatehouse built in 1365 is the only other part of the abbey to have survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539; it is now part of St Albans School. There is no trace of the infamous parlour floor constructed out of the hand-mills seized from the rebellious townsmen.
18. The Abbey Gate, Bury St Edmunds, which opened into the great courtyard of the abbey, was used by the abbey servants and was the main access from the town. Built in the mid-fourteenth century, it replaced the original building which was attacked and destroyed by the townsmen during the riots of 1327 as part of their long-running feud with the abbey.
19. An illuminated initial from the Omne Bonum (see plate 6) for the entry on Cessio Actionis. The man on the left is handing over the deeds to a property while the man on the right offers him payment. Only freemen were legally permitted to acquire or sell land by charter and the confiscation of properties bought by villeins without their landlord’s permission was a source of anger and frustration among tenants.
20. Two sergeants-at-law, the medieval equivalent of barristers, wearing their distinctive dress of a white coif or close-fitting cap and a furred gown, argue their case before two judges. Lawyers were a prime target of the rebels in 1381 because they were frequently involved in oppressive and sometimes venal administration of the shires and aristocratic and monastic estates. An illuminated initial from the Omne Bonum (see plate 6).
21. An illuminated initial from the Omne Bonum (see plate 6) for the entry on Confession, depicting a prisoner confessing his crimes before a judge.
22. A watercolour painting by Thomas Girtin (1775–1802), copied by J. M. W. Turner (1775–1851), of the ruins of the chapel in John of Gaunt’s Savoy Palace on the Strand, London, which was destroyed by the rebels on 13 June 1381.
23. The Tower of London and its distinctive White Tower, where Richard II and his councillors took refuge as the rebels from Kent and Essex approached the city. Richard is said to have climbed one of the turrets on 13 June to see the devastation they were wreaking on his capital. London Bridge, with the chapel dedicated to St Thomas Becket in the centre, can be seen in the background. An illumination from a 1483 manuscript volume of poems by Charles d’Orléans (1394–1465) who spent thirty-five years as a prisoner in the Tower after his capture at the battle of Agincourt.
24. Archbishop Sudbury kneels bare-headed as his murderer makes to strike off his head: his mitre lies on the floor beside him. John Hales, prior of the Knights Hospitaller, similarly kneels to meet his fate while behind him another rebel stabs the Franciscan friar William Appelton, who was John of Gaunt’s physician. In this miniature from a copy of Froissart’s Chronicles, commissioned by a Flemish nobleman in the 1470s, the murders are depicted taking place inside the Tower whereas, in reality, the victims were dragged out of the chapel and beheaded on Tower Hill.
25. The skull of Archbishop Simon Sudbury is preserved in the collegiate church of St Gregory which he had founded with his brother in Sudbury, Suffolk. After his murder on 14 June his head, with his mitre nailed to it, had been put on a pole and paraded through the streets before being displayed above London Bridge. The head was taken to Sudbury after the revolt was over but his body was buried in Canterbury Cathedral.
26. This highly stylised and anachronistic miniature from a manuscript of Froissart’s Chronicles (see plate 24) depicts John Balle riding at the head of his troops to meet Wat Tyler, who is standing in the foreground in front of his army. Both sets of rebels display the royal standard and the banner of St George to illustrate their loyalty to King Richard and the fact that they believed they were acting with his authority.
27. This miniature from the same manuscript (see plate 24) illustrates the meeting at Smithfield on 15 June, where Wat Tyler was struck down and killed by members of the king’s party. Richard takes centre stage as Tyler is murdered but is also shown riding to confront the rebels and demand that they show their loyalty to him by following him from the field.
28. Edward Burne-Jones’s iconic frontispiece for the 1892 edition of William Morris’s A Dream of John Ball immortalised the famous couplet which Balle used as the text for his alleged sermon at Blackheath. The book became a socialist classic and was published throughout the English-speaking world.