Post-classical history



1 Westminster Chronicle.

2 Walsingham.

3 This model of understanding popular rebellion has been best developed by Eric Hobsbawm. For a specific discussion with regards to 1381, the reader should consult Prescott, Judicial Records.

4 Leader of the theorists is R. Hilton. See Bond Men Made Free for an example of great historical and theoretical rigour but a lack of compelling narrative.


1 In The Nuns Priest’s Tale, Chaucer uses the memory of the revolt as an extended simile for the hullabaloo created when the human and animal characters in that story are chasing a fox.

2 As remembered by the chronicler Henry Knighton.

3 Ibid.

4 A classic account of labour legislation is B. H. Putnam ‘The enforcement of the statutes of labourers during the first decade after the Black Death’ (1908).

5 As described in the Statute of Labourers, which wrote the Ordinance of Labourers into official law in 1351.

6 This complaint was made at the October parliament of 1377, the first of Richard II’s reign.

7 For a scholarly account of the Great Rumour, see R. J. Faith, ‘The Great Rumour of 1377 and Peasant Ideology’ in The English Rising of 1381 (Past and Present Society Conference proceedings, 1981). Faith explains the position of rabble-rousers (described in the parliamentary petition of 1377 as ‘counsellors, procurers, maintainers, and abettors,’ stirring the countryside up with ‘counsel… and manipulation’) such as one John Godefray, who appeared before Wiltshire justices, accused of having counselled villeins that ‘exemplifications … by record of the book of… Domesday’ would prove them to be free.

8 Complaint made at the Good Parliament, held April-July 1376. The standard one-volume account is GH Holmes, The Good Parliament (Oxford 1975).

9 Description from the chronicle Vita Ricardi II, quoted in Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt.


1 Parliament in the fourteenth century was not a place for politicking and party sniping, but a bartering shop between king and political community. Deals were struck in which the Crown traded concessions for reform and better governance for access to the parliamentary commons’ grasp of the national wealth in the form of taxation. Between Crown and the commons in Parliament sat the nobility, whose interests tended to side with the Crown. The Crown relied on influential lords in the upper chamber to broker compromise that suited the national interest but also paid for government policy.

2 According to the Parliament Rolls.

3 Ibid.


1 See ‘A Note on Sources’ for further reading about the Janus Imperial case.

2 The two best biographies of John of Gaunt are S. Armitage-Smith, John of Gaunt (repr. London, 1964) and A. Goodman, John of Gaunt: The Exercise of Princely Power in Fourteenth-Century Europe (Harlow, 1992).


1 Henry Knighton.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Anonimalle Chronicle.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.


1 Anonimalle Chronicle.

2 Anonimalle Chronicle.


1 Partly because of Gaunt’s notorious obnoxiousness and partly because of his deep regard for the rights of the Crown there was a popular, if mistaken, supposition that the duke of Lancaster coveted the throne for himself.

2 Anonimalle Chronicle.

3 Anonimalle Chronicle.

4 Anonimalle Chronicle-see also H. Eiden, ‘Joint action against “bad” lordship: The Peasants’ Revolt in Essex and Norfolk’, History, vol. 83 (1998).

5 Anonimalle Chronicle.


1 The Anonimalle Chronicler suggests there were 50,000 on Blackheath Hill and 60,000 in the Essex party north of the Thames. Froissart guessed at 60,000 on the hill.

2 The Anonimalle Chronicle mistakenly places the earls of Buckingham and Suffolk in the Tower with Richard. Buckingham was either in Wales (as Froissart suggests) or Brittany during the revolt; Suffolk was in East Anglia.

3 We follow Froissart’s version of events here: though not always reliable, he did have some decent sources at court, and it seems plausible that the rebels, having seized Newton, would put such a valuable resource to good use.

4 Certainly it stuck in the mind of the Westminster Chronicler, who remembered the ‘A revell!’ cries.


1 For this and more on Corpus Christi, see M. Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture, (Cambridge, 1991).

2 For a convenient description of Richard’s coronation, readers can consult Richard II, by N. Saul (Yale, 1997).

3 This idea is explained in G. L. Harriss, Shaping the Nation (Oxford, 2005), p. 251.

4 These are the words that Froissart put in Ball’s mouth as typifying his stock sermons on the unholy inequality that pervaded in England. They are also filtered through the translation of Berners, which adds to their elegance, even if it detracts from their authenticity.


1 Gower, Vox Clamantis.

2 For a discussion of accusations levelled at aldermen connected with Walworth in the aftermath of the revolt, see Bird, Turbulent London.

3 Anonimalle Chronicle.

4 Ibid.


1 For details of the history and architecture of the Temple, see Baker, Medieval London.

2 For timing see Westminster Chronicle.


1 Prescott, ‘Portrait Gallery’.

2 For more neat examples of the private feuds that played out during the rebels’ time in London, see Prescott, ‘Portrait Gallery’.

3 Anonimalle Chronicle.

4 Ibid.


1 Walsingham.

2 Froissart.


1 London inquisition before the sheriffs of 20 November 1382, reprinted in Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt and Oman, Great Revolt. We must, however, bear in mind that politics lie behind much of what is recorded in the sheriffs’ inquisition. There is a chance that Farringdon is erroneously placed here.

2 Flaherty, ‘Great Rebellion in Kent’ records that Thomas Noke of the Hundred of Tenham was accused after the revolt of killing James French at Mile End.

3 Only the Anonimalle Chronicle places Tyler at Mile End. While the Anonimalle’s author seems largely reliable with his description of events in London, on this occasion there is cause for doubt. The totally different character between the demands made at Mile End and the following day at Smithfield seem to bear out the supposition drawn from the rest of the chronicles, i.e. that Tyler was absent from this meeting, and probably closer to the wilder, more militant group of rebels that surrounded the Tower.

4 Anonimalle Chronicle.


1 Several of the chroniclers record that Sudbury said Mass that morning. The medieval Mass was strikingly dissimilar to anything experienced in the mainstream Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. For a brief glimpse of the Tridentine Mass-a reasonable approximation of the high medieval ceremony-recreated in a modern setting, see and Action=Details&-Item=559, for a Scandinavian interpretation.

2 M. Aston, ‘Corpus Christi and Corpus Regni’, in Past and Present (1994).

3 Walsingham.

4 Ormrod, ‘The Peasants’ Revolt and the Government of England’, Journal of British Studies, 29 (1990) adds physical evidence to Walsingham’s lurid account of the sack of the Tower.

5 According to Walsingham.

6 Although by this point in his account it is almost certain that Walsingham’s account of Sudbury’s death is more hagiography than hard, historical fact-the sentiments of Sudbury’s supposed argument ring true. One suspects, however, that Walsingham’s portrayal of Sudbury’s Christ-like compassion for his executors may be a step too far.


1 Froissart records the ‘great venom’ of those who stayed behind in London, with the intention to slay and rob the folk of the City. Read as a whole, the chroniclers seem to infer a greater malice in the rebels who remained in London after the departure of eastern rebels following Mile End.

2 The chroniclers differ on the number of executions that took place on Tower Hill. The Anonimalle Chronicler claims that Sudbury, Hales and Appleton were killed there, shortly followed by John Legge and ‘a certain juror’, and that these were the heads carried to Westminster, while three others executed around the City, presumably about midday, were added to the grisly display once the procession returned to London Bridge. The monk of Westminster agrees that five were killed on Tower Hill, but implies that all five were killed together. Walsingham and Froissart record that Legge was killed with Sudbury, Hales and Appleton (but do not mention the juror); Knighton, in a muddled account, records seven Tower Hill executions.

3 See City of London Letter Book H, in Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt. Stepney was, in 1381, known as Stebenhithe.

4 For Richard’s particular love of Westminster Abbey, see Stanley, Westminster Abbey.

5 London Letter Book H.

6 Honeybourne, Sketch Map of London.

7 Prescott, ‘Portrait Gallery’.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt.

11 Barron, London in the Later Middle Ages.

12 Ibid.

13 J. Stow, Survey of London (1598).

14 Ibid.


1 Timings for Saturday, 15 June derive from the Anonimalle Chronicle, rather than the Westminster Chronicle. The latter puts the time of Richard’s visit to Westminster much earlier in the day. But the Anonimalle Chronicle and City of London Letter Book H both agree that disorder continued until late on Saturday afternoon. The Anonimalle Chronicle times the King’s visit to Westminster at 3 p.m., whereas Letter Book H records discord in the City until vespers (around 6 p.m.). 5 p.m. therefore seems a reasonable estimate for the time of the Smithfield conference.

2 Anonimalle Chronicle.

3 A.J. Prescott, Digitising the Event (, 2005) reports that Robert Bennett of Barford St John, a convicted felon and government approver, executed on the evidence of a Middlesex jury for allegedly taking part in the burning of the Savoy and Clerkenwell Priory, claimed that Imworth’s wife had entrusted him with six silver spoons as the rebels approached.

4 For a history of the abbey, and much of the below, see Stanley, Westminster Abbey.

5 Timing according to the Anonimalle Chronicle.

6 Stanley, Westminster Abbey.


1 The most famous early description of Smithfield comes from William Fitzstephen in his ‘Description of London’, c. 1170.

2 Levelling charges of treason against rebels in the aftermath of the revolt was certainly made easier if the authorities could paint them as having organised militarily beneath flags and pennons, but given their obvious deference to Wat Tyler as leader, entrusted to negotiate on behalf of them all, it is reasonable not to doubt the chroniclers’ assertions that ‘the commons arrayed themselves in bands of great size’ (Anonimalle Chronicle).

3 For a brief description of St Bartholomew’s see Baker, Medieval London.

4 Walsingham records that it was Sir John Newton, the rebels’ onetime captive and Keeper of Rochester Castle, who was sent to summon Tyler. It would have made for a logical choice, but in the account of Smithfield we are obliged to follow the Anonimalle Chronicle in light of its greater overall accuracy, attention to circumstantial detail, and probable eyewitness status.

5 In the outlaw legends, which were probably beginning to gain mainstream oral popularity late in the fourteenth century, a respectful meeting between the outlaws and the king was a standard denouement. See S. Knight and T. Ohlgren, Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales (Kalamazoo, 1997) for a collection of outlaw stories.

6 Anonimalle Chronicle.


1 Walsingham.

2 According to the Anonimalle Chronicle. Other sources have Tyler dead at the time of the initial scuffle in front of Richard II.


1 The commission is printed in Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt.

2 The narrative that follows relies on the first-hand witness account by Thomas Walsingham.


1 We can assume Ball’s movements based on his appearance in Coventry in mid-July.

2 Walsingham and Knighton collected examples of Ball’s letters-examples from the two chroniclers are printed in Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt.

3 Knighton records the fullest account of Despenser’s progress through East Anglia.

4 Froissart gives a romantic, and perhaps faintly ludicrous, account of Salle’s death at the hands of a mob.


1 Westminster Chronicle.

2 Recorded in Walsingham.

3 Knighton.

4 The Parliament Rolls from the parliament of November 1381 give a lengthy account of the unrest in Cambridge on Corpus Christi weekend.


1 See Eiden, ‘Joint action’.

2 Cf footnote 1, Chapter Nineteen, above.

3 See Prescott, ‘Judicial Records’.


1 See Prescott, ‘“The Hand of God”: the Suppression of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381’.

2 Prescott, ‘Judicial Records’.

3 Walsingham, who recorded the battle, presented it as a modern parallel to Boudicca’s last stand.

4 Walsingham.

5 Ibid. Walsingham ascends to new peaks of glee when he describes Richard’s pompous denunciation of the rebels.


1 Quoted in Prescott, ‘“Hand of God”’.

2 Ibid.

3 The first figure is Prescott’s minimum estimate for the number of rebels killed in battle and by order of the royal commissioners and justices (see Prescott, ‘“Hand of God”’); the second is the number recorded by the Monk of Evesham, a chronicler who wrote a life of Richard.

4 Details on Richard’s attempts to quell the dispute can be found in K. Towson, ‘“Hearts warped by passion”: The Percy-Gaunt dispute of 1381’, in Fourteenth Century England III, ed. W. M. Ormrod (Woodbridge, 2004).

5 My thanks to Oliver Morgan for his thoughts on Shakespearean rabbles, and for pointing out the two passages quoted.

6 For all the above examples, see L. M. Matheson, ‘The Peasants’ Revolt through Five Centuries of Rumor and Reporting’ in Studies in Philology, Spring 1992, No. 2.

7 E. Burke, Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs; T. Paine, Rights of Man: Part Two; F. Engels, The Peasant War in Germany.

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