Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Occupy (Medieval) London! Part 4 (of 5)

June 12th

Wat Tyler and thousands of middle- and lower-class followers reached Blackheath by June 12th, and heard John Ball's famous sermon. Stirred with egalitarian fervor, they marched to London, crossing London Bridge unopposed the next day. Meanwhile, Jack Straw's Essex group had also arrived. They did not engage in widespread or mindless looting: their targets were symbolic of what they thought was wrong with the country. Only certain buildings were attacked.

John of Gaunt would have been a target, had he been present. The king's uncle and a shrewd and powerful politician, Gaunt was thought by the crowd to be undermining the authority of the 14-year-old monarch. What the crowd likely did not know was that the same Lollard tendencies toward social equality and against church corruption that motivated John Ball were also of great interest to John of Gaunt. Fortunately for Gaunt--and history--Gaunt was patrolling the border of Scotland at the time.

Still, the rebels found a target in Gaunt's home, the Savoy on the banks of the Thames, considered the grandest home in London. It was looted before being burned, and anything precious found therein was destroyed or thrown into the river. Legend says that a rebel who tried to keep a silver cup for himself was set upon by his comrades and killed.

On June 13th, King Richard II addressed the rebels himself, offering them several concessions. Something in the quality of the bold young boy (he was 14) calmed them, and a parlay was agreed upon. Unfortunately, while Richard was addressing one group, another large group entered the Tower of London complex. There they found who they considered to be two of the architects of their troubled land: the Archbishop of Canterbury Simon Sudbury, and the Lord Treasurer Robert Hales. Both were dragged to Tower Hill and beheaded.

On June 14th, Richard and the Lord Mayor of London,William Walworth, along with a contingent of soldiers, met the rebels at Smithfield to discuss the end of the revolt. Wat Tyler rode alone to address the king, but he was so insolent (so say reports) that Walworth hacked at Tyler's neck with his sword, whereupon a knight, Sir John Cavendish, killed Tyler by running him through with his sword.

...and then it got really interesting.

[to be continued]

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