Almost 50 of us staggered out on an inclement evening for the first talk of the New Year. We were richly rewarded for our efforts with a fascinating presentation by James Dickinson, about a period in our history many of us seemed to know relatively little about.
Richards father was Edward The Black Prince, who is buried in the cathedral. His famous victories against the French at Crecy 1346 and Poitiers 1356 marked a high point in England’s power in France. Richard was born in 1367 at Bordeaux. His mother Joan “Maid of Kent” was said to be the most beautiful woman in England, and apparently a bit of a girl, as she had already seen off 2 husbands. She and Edward had 2 sons, but Edward of Angouleme died young leaving Richard, from age 3, as the heir. When Edward 111 died in1377 Richard was only 10. There was not a formal regency but his uncle, John of Gaunt, ruled for him. During his youth however he had great power and was very indulged. This seems to have made him over confident and narcissistic, which would eventually lead to his overthrow by dissatisfied nobles in 1399, who it seems likely starved him to death in 1400 in favour of Edward 1V [that’s another story].
By the time of his accession most of the French possessions were lost, only Calais remaining. The ongoing wars against France and Scotland necessitated punitive taxation, which had made John of Gaunt very unpopular. Added to this the black death had killed about half the population. The result was a labour shortage and so workers pressed for higher wages. In 1351 the Statute of Labourers had been introduced; essentially a prices and incomes policy. This proved hard to enforce despite draconian penalties. Flemish merchants were excluded from it making them very unpopular. Rents could not be maintained as there was nobody to work the land.
By 1380 things were explosive. Parliament met at Northampton to raise new taxes. £160,000 was urgently needed to prevent the Crown defaulting. A poll tax was introduced on all over 16 years. Extraordinary investigators were appointed to extract the tax, which was resisted. Revolt broke out when an investigator arrived in Brentford. The Essex rebels advanced on London. John Raw and Jack Straw spread rebellion to Suffolk. In Kent, Watt Tyler from Maidstone [though claimed by some to have been born in Essex] headed the rebels. He had been an archer in France and helped shape the political demands. Gradually their manifesto emerged; an end to serfdom, handing over of hated officials, and establishment of largely self-regulating villages.
Richard, only 14, retreated to the Tower. At Blackheath John Bull, a firebrand Kentish preacher, addressed the rebels stressing loyalty to Richard. Most of the army was in France or Scotland, and so Richard attempted to negotiate at Greenwich on 13 June. However, the rebels crossed London Bridge unopposed, pressing on to the Aldgate, which they opened to the men of Essex. Prisons were stormed and prisoners released, while Flemish merchants and high officials were hunted down and murdered. The hated John of Gaunt’s house was burned, the king watching the fires from the Tower. On the 14th Richard fled to East London and again negotiated, this time at Mile End. He accepted the abolition of serfdom, but not before the Tower was captured and many officials executed, their heads displayed on London Bridge.
Many rebels now dispersed but Watt Tyler rejected the Kings charter and met the king at St Bartholomew’s Priory. Here Tyler was said to have behaved very rudely and an argument developed, during which Tyler was repeatedly stabbed. The rebellion failed. On 15th June the serfs were told to return to work. There were brutal reprisals and on 17th July the charters were revoked. The poll tax was however withdrawn, and no poll tax was introduced until the 20th century. THAT DIDN’T GO SO WELL EITHER!
Arriving at 7pm for 7.30pm punctual start. In aid of Kent Wildlife Trust on its 60th Anniversary. Raffle prizes would be welcome. Members can book a table (non-members can make up the teams of course!).
Cost: £80 per table for up to 8 team members, to include fish and chip supper (bring your own favourite tipples). For bookings, or more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel. 886387.
Venue: Norton Village Hall.