Encyclopedia | Library | Reference | Teaching | General | Links | About ORB | HOME
|Subject:||Party politics lead to civil disorder|
|Original source:||Item 1: Public Record Office, Exchequer Miscellanea E163 5/28; items 2 and 3: Public Record Office, Coram Rege Roll, KB 27/507; item 4: Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, Ms.197, ff.146-147; item 5: Corporation of London Records Office, Plea and Memoranda Roll A27, m.2; item 6: Public Record Office, Chancery returns to writs, C258/24/9; items 7 and 8: Corporation of London Records Office, Letter Book H, ff.114, 259|
|Transcription in:||1. R.W. Chambers and Marjorie Daunt, eds., A Book of London English 1384-1425, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931, 22-31; 2. and 3b. Edgar Powell and G.M. Trevelyan, eds., The Peasants' Rising and the Lollards, London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1899, 27-38; 3a. Ruth Bird,The Turbulent London of Richard II, London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1949, 137-39; 4. Joseph Rawson Lumby, ed., Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden, Monachi Cestrensis, vol.9, Rolls Series, no.41 (1886), 50-51; 5. A. H. Thomas, ed., Calendar of Select Pleas and Memoranda of the City of London, A.D. 1381-1412, Cambridge: University Press, 1932, 54-57; 6. A. J. Prescott, "The Accusations Against Thomas Austin," Hochon's Arrow: The Social Imagination of Fourteenth-Century Texts (by Paul Strohm), Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, 173-75. 7. and 8. Henry Thomas Riley, ed. Memorials of London and London Life in the XIIIth, XIVth, and XVth Centuries, London: Longmans, Green and Co, 1868, 494, 526-27.|
|Original language:||1. Middle English; 2, 3, 4, and 7. Latin (translation of 7 by Riley); 6. Middle English and Latin; 5. and 8. French (translations by Thomas and Riley).|
[1. Accusations brought by Thomas Usk against John Northampton][N.B. This document is damaged or partially illegible at beginning and end; lacunae are indicated by ellipses, unless the possible text can be hazarded.]
On 7 ... 1384, I, Thomas Usk, in the presence of John [Charneye coroner] of London wrote this statement with my own hand and vouched for its accuracy. To ... [give coun]sel during the term of John Norhampton mayor there should [come] ... to ... that is, in John Willyngham's tavern in the Bow ... of twenty of the crafts that support him, one or two men who are chosen to be common councillors for this year, and ... John More mercer, Richard Norbury mercer, and William Essex draper, together with myself, Thomas Usk, to write down their petitions ... so that those who were present might, at [the next session of] the common council be unanimous in their position on these matters, and vote in accord on the day of that common council ... and be ... to accomplish what John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury and William Essex purposed at, whether honest or dishonest, and did ... because Sir William Walworth and other persons of status, as aldermen and common councillors, were opposed to the or[dinances of John] Norhampton, it was decided by John More, Richard Norbury and William Essex that the mayor should take as his councillors whomever he wished during his term of office, and have nothing to do with those who opposed him. And that those crafts antagonistic towards him should be represented only by the number [traditional] chosen by each craft, and no more; whereas those crafts that sided with him should be represented by as many as they wished. Thus he planned to have so many supporters that the opposing side would be powerless. Of this I accuse John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, and William Essex.
It was the full intention of John Norhampton and his advisors that is, John More, Richard Norbury, and William Essex and of all the crafts that sided with him that, with whatever support from men of power that they might obtain, four points of law be established and enforced. That is, that the aldermen should be replaced from year to year; that the common council should be selected by the crafts; that no victualler should hold judicial office; and that all non-Londoner victuallers should be free to bring their victuals to the city to sell, by retail as much as by any other method, without having to pay for the franchise. His intent was indeed that all the ordinances that were made during his term of office, no matter how bad, should be maintained forever after, through the power of the people, against any mayor that would overturn them. To this end, once the most respectable and wisest townsmen had dissociated themselves with such worthless councils, the mayor John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, and William Essex drew to their cause the common people, to give life-or-death support to this programme. At every council meeting was John More, Richard Norbury, and William Essex, and at some Adam Bame. But otherwise the mayor made his own decisions; one Willyngham, a scrivener, and one ... Marchaund clerk made a record of many matters in my absence, and on occasion were more privy [to information] than I. Certainly the overall purpose of those named above was to have the town in their control, and have it governed by their decisions, and to suppress or banish from the town all those powerful enough to resist them; and for the rest who lacked power, to have those under their thumbs forever. Of this I accuse John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, and William Essex.
Because all the long-established officers in the town were no friends to the mayor or his ideas, all those officers were to be removed over time, and replaced by others who agreed with and supported his viewpoint; for they said that such persons as had intentions contrary to his were enemies to good intent. This was increasingly used to stir up the poor people and make them more fervent in their rebelliousness towards the great men of the town and towards its officers. The people were told that the great men wished to keep the people oppressed in their lowly status forever; this notion, continually put forward, caused dissension to arise between the respectable persons and the lesser people of the town. Of this I accuse John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, and William Essex.
In preparation for the day when John Norhampton was elected for a second mayoral term, because Sir John Philpot had opposed the bad things done, as indicated above, John More took the lead in arranging for a petition to be drawn up in the name of the common council, demanding Sir John repay the money he had borrowed during his mayoralty. The plan was for him thereby to be condemned as unsuitable to hold any office in the town in future. Of this I accuse John More.
In preparation for that second election, great arrangements were put in hand by John More, Richard Norbury, Adam Bame, William Essex, and many others, including myself Thomas Usk, to ensure that on that day the commons would choose as mayor John Norhampton, and no-one else. With the intent of obtaining [during that term of office] confirmation by royal statute of all his reforms, so that they would endure perpetually. Thus the reforms would both be fixed by statute and maintained through the power of the people, as mentioned above. Of this I accuse John More, Richard Norbury, Adam Bame, and William Essex.
In preparation for the next parliament following this, mayor John Norhampton made me, Thomas Usk, go to the commons to inform them of the ordinance against the fishmongers, and to gain their support for, among other things, choosing Richard Norbury and William Essex to represent them in the parliament. He in turn was to arrange for the aldermen to choose John More and Thomas Carleton [as their representatives] for the same. And so it was done, and they pursued matters contrary to the perpetual franchises of London. Of this I accuse John Norhampton.
At that parliament effort was made to obtain an authorization directed to the mayor to punish usurers, whether initiated by a private complaint or by indictment; which letters patent allowed sentence to be passed on any man who had been proven to commit such an act, or had been party thereto. In this regard, many of the most respectable townsmen have, through false schemes and plots planned in advance, been charged with the same and such sentences have been passed on them that they would fall from their position in the town. I now realize that, through those means, it was intended to bring about an evil end: to bring down the respectable citizens who had opposed him; and this writ was purchased not for any well-intended purpose, but only out of malice, to be able to get rid of all the most respectable men. By such false scheming and plotting of their downfall would the respectable people of the town have been banished from the town. In relation to which, it had already been decided who would fill the offices of the mayoralty, aldermanries, shrievalties, and others of similar importance, in the following year; so that John Norhampton's adversaries would not hold any offices thereafter. As a result of which we might well see the destruction of the town within a short time, because of having so many capable men gone from the town. Of this I accuse John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, and William Essex.
At the contrivance of John More were indicted Walter Sybile, John Horn, and Adam Carlell. Although many inquisitions were held, [only] those that best served the king were returned. Indeed, Robert Franceys and others, whose names I no longer recall, wanted to indict Sir Nicholas Brembre of supporting Thomas Farndon; John More at first agreed to this, but afterwards prevented it, so that nothing was done. Of this I accuse John More.
Often, just before the election of Sir Nicholas Brembre as mayor, mayor John Norhampton, John More, and Richard Norbury sent William Essex and me, Thomas Usk, to Goldsmiths' Hall to speak with members of the common council in regard to electing a mayor, and for the same purpose I, Thomas Usk, was to speak to those that I knew of the common councillors about choosing John Norhampton. There at Goldsmiths' Hall it was agreed among those who assembled that certain persons from various crafts other than those who were nominees for the common council should be [summoned] on election day to join the common council, to help [ensure] the election of John Norhampton. The lesser people were to be drawn into this arrangement, so that they should feel committed to John Norhampton; so that if, in the future, someone else chosen as mayor tried to take action against him, they might be ready to support him against any accusation brought against him. If he had become mayor, I know very well that he would either have enforced all his ordinances, or else have set the entire town in an uproar. Of this I accuse John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, and William Essex.
The evening before the day when the mayor was to be elected, John More advised all his servants and his men to carry arms at the Guildhall the following day. For, he let it be known, he and his associates would keep guard at the entrances that day, with the intent that no-one should go in except those who would choose John Norhampton as mayor. Of this I accuse John More.
On the day that Sir Nicholas Brembre was chosen mayor, soon after dinner John Norhampton went to John More's house, and Richard Norbury and William Essex also came there. They agreed there that the mayor, John Norhampton, should send a message to the crafts members of the common council and to the wardens of the crafts, to tell them to come to Goldsmiths' Hall the following day, where the mayor would speak to them, to consider and arrange how to overturn the election of Sir Nicholas Brembre. And were it not for fear of the king, I am certain everyone would have been at each other's throats. Then he sent Richard Norbury, Robert Ryseby and me, Thomas Usk, to the Neyt, to the Duke of Lancaster, to say the following: "Sir, today when we wished to participate in the election of the mayor in the peace of God and the king, there came a dreadful crowd of hecklers whom no-one knew; and they, without any right other than that of force, chose Sir Nicholas Brembre mayor, contrary to the electoral procedures we have used in the past. Consequently we request you to obtain for us a writ from the king to hold a new election." But the duke replied: "No indeed, you shall have no writ. Sort out the matter amongst yourselves." Of this I accuse John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, and William Essex.
When all the people [summoned] had gathered at Goldsmiths' Hall, mayor John Norhampton painted as bad a picture as he could of the election the previous day, and said: "Sirs, this sets the scene for us to be trampled underfoot, and that," said he, "I will not tolerate. Let us rather die here and now than suffer such mischief." These words stirred up the commons, and they said that they would indeed hold another election, and not put up with such a wrong, or else all die together. Then the mayor, John Norhampton, instructed them all to go home, and quickly come back to the Cheap in strength with all their [fellow] craftsmen I reckon there were about 30 crafts. The intent was for them to assemble in Cheap and proceed to hold a new election. In fact, if the aldermen had not come to negotiate and persuaded John Norhampton to send the people home, they would have held a new election and were so worked up they would have killed anyone who tried to stop them. Of this I accuse John Norhampton.
In regard to all the matters described above, though John Norhampton, who was at that time mayor, John More, Richard Norbury, William Essex, and occasionally Adam Bame, seeing that the most respectable men had dissociated from them because of their uncompromising policies and poor decisions, and had already rejected [working with] them, nonetheless attracted support from many crafts and a multitude of the lesser people who have no understanding of government or how to make good decisions. And through confederacy, [illegal] assemblies, and conspiracy, planned and brought about as indicated above, they intended to uphold by force their false and wicked notions, under the pretext of communal benefit exhorting the people to be ready from day to day to support them in what they were evilly planning. In this way, as much after he ceased being mayor as before, all those who were on his side stirred up trouble, held meetings, and plotted what has been described above except for Adam Bame who, as far as I know, since he [i.e. Northampton] ceased being mayor, has not been involved with him. Also, John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, and William Essex would so greatly slander the respectable men of the town that the people were, and are, sufficiently emboldened to rebel against those who govern them, now and in the future, as a result of lies and agitation, conspiracies, assemblies, and confederacies made then and continued ever since, as described above. All this has come about the confederacies, the stirring up, the debates, and the great strife that is still dominating the city principally through John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, and William Essex, and what they have had done. It is on the point of bringing trouble down on the whole kingdom. The city has been tottering on the brink, and still is. Which evil intentions I aided and abetted in whatever ways I could, for which I beg grace and mercy of my liege-lord the king, and secondly of the mayor and all the respectable aldermen, and of all the good commons of the town, as one who will never again offend against the town in any way. And to tell truth, Adam Bame was not so frequently nor so heavily involved in these matters as were the others. Of this I accuse John Norhampton, Richard Norbury, John More, and William Essex.
Ever since he ceased being mayor, John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, and William Essex have busied themselves ... in winning the backing of the populace, and has put his own efforts into convening assemblies and gatherings of companies, [to urge them] to stand by him ... and he instructed me, Thomas Usk, to [go to] the Bow to meet with other folk he had gathered, and there he showed a petition that had been drawn up against him and he obtained assurance from that group that they would stand by him [only fragments of the remainder of the text could be read; they suggest that Northampton's supporters (Usk and two goldsmiths) were making a further effort to win support from the Duke of Lancaster, and they close with Usk reiterating his repentance for his part in the affair and appealing for mercy].
[2. Findings of an inquisition into the actions of John Northampton][N.B. The transcript omits parts of the text, as indicated by the ellipses.]
At an earlier date before Nicholas Brembre mayor it was presented that John Norhampton, recently mayor of the city of London (that is, in 1381 and 1382) held meetings on various occasions at the tavern of John Willyngham in the Bow involving one or two men from some twenty craft gilds that is, the armourers, girdlers, lorimers, pinners, wiredrawers, cardmakers, curriers, horners, tilers, smiths, dyers, fullers, shermen, haberdashers, cordwainers, and whichever of the other of the lesser gilds supported him who were chosen by John Norhampton to be members of the common council. On any of these occasions the mayor was accompanied there by his advisors John More mercer, Richard Norbury mercer, William Essex draper, and also Thomas Usk, a scribe for writing his documents. At those meetings were debated various matters and proposals for diminishing and subverting the liberties and customs that have previously been used in the city. The aim being that, at any [session of the] common council at which those thus elected were present, they might unanimously agree on the matters or proposals previously dealt with in that way, and thus the common council would present to the public a common face on such matters as indicated above. Following this method, John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, William Essex, and Thomas Usk introduced whatever proposals suited them and had them entered in the [Letter] book of the Guildhall of London as a matter of record. Because Sir William Walworth and others held contrary opinions, it was agreed among John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, William Essex, and Thomas Usk that, during the time he was mayor, John Norhampton should accept onto his council those who suited him, and those who put themselves in opposition to his will should be rejected. And that no-one should come to the common council from a craft that opposed him, except only two presented by the craftsmen and who were approved by John Norhampton; but from other crafts that supported him might come as many as they wished. In this way he arranged to have with him at every common council so many men from those crafts supporting him that the party opposing him, or opposing his proposals, was powerless.
They also present that during the mayoral term of John Norhampton it was ordained by John Norhampton and the others that all alderman should be removed [from the office] on a yearly basis, and others should be elected in their place. That the common council should comprise men from various crafts. That no victualler might hold judicial office within the city, and that victuallers from outside might bring their victuals to the city and freely sell the same by retail or any other method, without being subject to the liberties customarily governing victualling. The intent and plan of John Norhampton being that those articles and all ordinances made by them, whether good or bad, should in the future, through the power of the people that they had harnessed, be observed and maintained against any mayor holding office in future who might wish to act counter to them. Afterwards, once the reputable men forsook such wicked councils, as they had no option but to do, John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, William Essex, and Thomas Usk drew to them the common people of whatever crafts were on their side, to stand with them in upholding, in life and in death, the wicked platform indicated above; at all such councils there were present, alongside John, John More, Richard Norbury, William Essex, Thomas Usk, and sometimes Adam Bamme. Their intent and arrangements were aimed at having the entire city under their rule etc., even if this necessitated getting rid of all the reputable men who had the power to speak out against them.
Also, because the long-standing officers that is, the recorder, the chamberlain of the Guildhall, the common clerk, and other officers were unwilling to endorse the ideas of John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, William Essex, and Thomas Usk, but [instead] opposed them, around Easter 1382 John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, William Essex, and Thomas Usk, at the Guildhall and elsewhere, from day to day during John Norhampton's mayoralty, conspired to remove those officers over the course of time and to replace them with such men as were willing to support their ideas. They declared in public that all who held themselves in opposition to their intentions were enemies of all good intentions; this was constantly used to get the poorer of the common people worked up against the reputable men and the city officers. And John Norhampton said to the people that the great men of the city wished to have the people in subjection, oppressed, and at the lowest level they could, forever. By him persisting in saying these things, it promoted discord and dissension between the reputable men and the middling people, to the detriment of the status quo.
Also, they present that on 11 October 1382, prior to the second election of John Norhampton to the mayoralty, because Sir John Philpot was opposing the wicked acts of John Norhampton, John More falsely arranged for a petition to be drawn up and submitted by the common council to the mayor and read out on election day. It sought from John Philpot a certain sum of money that he had borrowed from various persons when he had been mayor; it was then proposed that John Philpot be prohibited from holding any position or office within the city from that time forth.
Also, they present that on that same date certain provisions were made in secret by John Norhampton and others, at the houses of John Norhampton and John More, to do everything they could to have the commons of the city agree to the election of John Norhampton and no-one else as mayor, with the intent that all ordinances previously made by John Norhampton and others might be confirmed by the king in his next parliament.
Also, they present that at that parliament a writ from the king was sought by Richard Norbury, William Essex, John More, and Thomas Carleton, giving the mayor authority to punish all usurers within the city, whether at the suit of some [private] person wishing to lay a complaint or through an indictment. It was afterwards, that same year, in London agreed between the mayor and the others mentioned that by means of this writ they might have the pretext to take action against any person who happened to be found guilty in a public suit. And thus that same year, through scheming and plotting in advance in the parish of St. Mary-le-Bow, John Norhampton would have implemented his plan through attacks on many of the most reputable citizens of good standing, so that thereafter they might be unable to hold any position or office within the city. In this way they intended to put into action all their wicked arrangements and plans which had previously been put in place by John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, William Essex, and Thomas Usk, concerning the offices of mayor, aldermen, sheriffs and other officers in the years following, so that none of John Norhampton's adversaries could hold any office.
Also, they present that at John More's contrivance Walter Sibyle, John Horn, and Adam Karlill were falsely indicted in 1382 by several inquisitions [held] before the sheriffs of London at that time, Adam Bamme and John Sely, on various charges of insurrection and other felonies [committed] at London. Of which [the findings of] the two best inquisitions were returned to the king, and not the others the remainder of the inquisitions being kept back, at John More's contrivance, in the hands of the sheriffs.
Also, they present that, prior to 13 October 1383, the date when Nicholas Brembre was elected mayor of the city, by the decision of John Norhampton then mayor, John More, Richard Norbury etc. prearranged between them through their deceitful connivance and conspiracy, William Essex and Thomas Usk frequently went to the Goldsmiths' Hall to speak with members of the common council about electing a mayor for the year coming; to which end the names of the councillors were given to Thomas Usk by John Norhampton, with the intention that Thomas communicate to the commons his understanding of the said matter. There an agreement was reached that certain persons of various crafts, whose names had not previously been put forward for the common council, would be required [to come] among the common council on election day to help elect John Norhampton as mayor. And that the middling people were to be placed on the council to provide similar support; with the intent that they stand solidly behind John Norhampton in all actions, and that if in future any other mayor elected in the city was an opponent of John Norhampton and wished to speak out against John concerning what has been mentioned above or any other wicked deeds, John Norhampton might rely on the middling people he had drawn to himself appearing to support him against all things of which he was accused.
Also, they present that on the evening before the day of Nicholas' election as mayor, John More in his house in St. Mary-le-Bow parish forewarned all his servants to be armed the following day at the Guildhall, and he told them that he and his colleague, the other sheriff, wished to stand guard that day at the entrance to the Guildhall, so that no-one should enter unless he was someone willing to elect John Norhampton in the mayoralty.
Also, they present that on the day when Nicholas was elected, John Norhampton, Richard Norbury, William Essex, and Thomas Usk came to John More's house in the Bow immediately after the [main] meal [of the day]. There it was agreed that John Norhampton should send [instructions] to those persons who, at the time of Nicholas' election, were in the common council of the crafts and to the wardens of the crafts, to come to Goldsmiths' Hall the following day, where John Norhampton would talk with them and arrange how the election of Nicholas Brembre might be annulled. And this being done, it was only fear of the king intervening in the city that prevented John Norhampton and the others instigating a public outcry and uprising, at a time when John Norhampton was mayor and keeper of the peace.
Afterwards, John Norhampton sent Richard Norbury ... to the Neyt to inform the Duke of Lancaster that on election day they had expected to proceed with the mayoral election in the peace of God and the king, but there intervened a dreadful crowd of unknown persons making a great clamour; and there, without any precedent in city custom concerning the mayoral election, they used force to elect Nicholas. They begged the duke to let them have a king's writ to proceed with holding a new election. In response to which the duke told them that they could have no writ on the matter, but should sort out the matter amongst themselves.
Also, they present that on the day following that on which Nicholas Brembre was elected mayor, at the Goldsmiths' Hall, when the populace had gathered there at his wishes, John Norhampton painted as bad a picture as he could of Nicholas' election and said to them that it was certain that an effort would be made to crush them if that election were allowed to stand, which he himself was not willing to permit; rather, he said, let us be agreed all to die together at one time than to endure such abuse.... The commons were stirred up and said that they wished to proceed to another election. So John Norhampton ordered them all to hurry home and return with all the men of their crafts to the Cheap, to hold a new election. If many of the aldermen had not intervened and negotiated with John Norhampton for a peaceful resolution, the commons would have fulfilled their wish to proceed with a new election, and they were so stirred up and hot under the collar as to threaten to kill anyone including Nicholas and the aldermen, among others who wanted to prevent them.
Also, they present that concerning all these matters described above during John Norhampton's mayoralty, that is during the years 1382 to 1383, John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, William Essex, and Thomas Usk, and on occasion Adam Bamme, subjecting to their bad government and poor decisions the good and reputable people of the city, who dissociated from them because of the abuse they had suffered in the past, [instead] drew to themselves many men of various crafts and many of the middling people who were completely ignorant of good government. Through their premeditated conspiracy and by means of popular assemblies they intended to maintain by force their perverse and wicked notions under the pretext of communal benefit, and were always exhorting the people to be ready to support them. In this way, both after John Norhampton had ceased to be mayor (that is, in 1383) and before, John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, William Essex, and Thomas Usk feloniously conspired and so greatly slandered the good people of the city that the populace was, and still is, sufficiently emboldened to rebel against those who govern them ... And because of them ... great dissension and tumult have arisen among the people, and are still holding sway up to the present, to the point where they threaten to disrupt the whole kingdom of England.
After John Norhampton was no longer mayor, that is immediately after 28 October 1383 and the year that followed, and Nicholas had assumed the mayoralty, John Norhampton, John More, Richard Norbury, William Essex, and Thomas Usk focused their efforts on winning the populace to John Norhampton's side and urging them to stand by them in their wicked acts against Nicholas Brembre. In this regard, on 18 January 1384 John Norhampton sent Thomas Usk to the Bow to meet with men he had gathered there, and there he showed them a certain petition drawn up against him and entreated them all to stand by him ... that they should not be exposed to any injury or oppression that any Londoner sought to inflict on them.
Also, they say that after John Norhampton was arrested in London by Nicholas Brembre, that is on 7 February 1384, Robert Franceys goldsmith, John Lincolle goldsmith, and Thomas Usk at their own deceitful initiative followed up with the Duke of Lancaster, to inform the duke that John Norhampton was the best mayor that had ever been and to criticize Nicholas Brembre and his administration.
Also, they present that on 11 February 1384 John More mercer, Richard Norbury mercer, Robert Franceys goldsmith, and others rose up against mayor Nicholas ... and made illegal assemblies both in the parish of St. Mary-le-Bow and elsewhere in various parts of the city and suburbs, with the result that the doors and windows of many shops in West Cheap, Budge Row, Fleet Street and elsewhere that were previously open quickly closed as soon as they had word of the uprising, and the people gathered together, conspiring to kill mayor Nicholas. Which mayor, hearing of this, gathered around him many of the aldermen and other sensible men and went in armed force to West Cheap to uphold the king's peace.
Also, it was similarly presented by a certain inquisition that John Norhampton citizen and draper, William Essex draper, Richard Norbury mercer, Robert Ryseby draper, Thomas Usk scrivener, John Maudeleyn tailor, Guy Paulyn draper, John Bere haberdasher, John Muntham joiner, and Thomas Kyngesbrigge cordwainer are the leading conspirators behind such illegal assemblies. And that they, out of malice, on 2 November 1383 in the parish of St. Mary-le-Bow in the ward of Cordwainer Street, after the aforementioned mayor had assumed all the powers of the mayoralty of the city by taking his oath, and after that from day to day, both there and at St. Paul's church, the Minorites' friary, and the Augustinian friary ... conspired against the mayor and the aldermen and ... as a result of which a certain part of the populace showed itself through various indications, in looks and in words, to be rebellious and disobedient towards the mayor etc.
They also say that this mayor, on 22 January 1384, before the king's council at Westminster and in the presence of various aldermen, spoke as politely as he could to John Norhampton concerning his misdeeds and other of his malicious acts. Although John Norhampton was unwilling to acknowledge any such misdeeds, he did however in front of the council submit himself entirely to accept whatever judgement the mayor and aldermen reached. Upon which the council ordered John Norhampton to go with the mayor and aldermen back to the city, in their custody, and there to accept and comply with their decision ... if he wished to avoid serious punishment. Which, when there, John Norhampton having agreed to do ... immediately, by the mayor's grace and out of respect for the king's council, he was set at liberty upon reputable men being found as guarantors of John Norhampton's peacable behaviour and abstention from making any assembly without the mayor's permission ... All of which notwithstanding, over the course of two days preceding Sunday, 7 February 1384, John Norhampton sent his neighbours to summon various men, numbering about 500 in total, who came to John Norhampton at St. Mary-le-Bow church on that Sunday in response to the call. John Norhampton led them through the centre of West Cheap and through the middle of St. Paul's church[yard], and thus beyond Ludgate as far as the church of the Carmelite friars in the suburbs. For which reason the mayor arrested him and he remained under arrest, until by the authority of a royal writ he was sent to Corfe Castle.
[3. Northampton's final resort to armed resistance, as reported by two inquisition juries]
a) Also, they say under oath that John Norhampton and his aforementioned accomplices [Essex and Usk], together with John More and Richard Norbury, whom he permitted to aid and abet him, devised a crafty way to engineer an uprising by the people of the city against the mayor, in a felonious and treasonable effort to overthrow the city, notwithstanding the earlier proclamation of the king's restraining order. To further the wicked plans he had already worked out, during the two days prior to 7 February 1384, without having sought licence from the mayor, they arranged for various messengers to summon men of their and other crafts, under penalty of a monetary fine, that is 6s.8d (even though John Norhampton was not at that time an officer of the king in the city), to gather on the Sunday after midday in the churchyard of St. Mary-le-Bow, London. On which day, shortly after midday in response to the summons, there assembled Geoffrey Waldern, William Hoghton, John Whytyngton, Thomas Noket, Richard Norbury, John Carbonell, John Chedder, and others to the number of about five hundred men, whom John Carpenter led as if their captain through West Cheap. The mayor being advised of this was astonished and as fast as may be hurried after them, concerned about the possibility of them causing an affray or a disturbance of the peace. Seeing them as they proceeded on their perambulation, he twice sent ahead to them, through his sergeant John Bothisham, to tell them to wait for him. But John Norhampton and his followers had no inclination to do so at that point, nor until the mayor caught up with them near the bridge over the Fleet. There John Norhampton, openly revealing the animosity towards the mayor he felt in his heart, acted in a rebellious manner to the mayor, organizing his followers by dividing them into two ranks lined up along opposite sides of the street, obliging the mayor with the men who had come with him to make his way down the middle of them, showing no honour or respect for the mayor as they ought to have done because of their oaths [as freemen].
Also, they say under oath that after Nicholas the mayor reached John Norhampton and his followers at the Fleet Bridge and asked him, as well as ordered him in the king's name, to come with him, they refused to heed his warning at first, until at the last John Norhampton ordered his companions to follow him, not the mayor, and they left the latter standing there. Nor was John Norhampton himself willing to go with the mayor, but in defiance of the mayor he and his followers stuck together in their rebellion and he went his own way.
Also, they say under oath that the same Sunday, after the rumour had spread in the city that John Norhampton had gathered a crowd in Fleet Street to put up resistance to the mayor, people of the city who sided with the mayor hurried there to help him. The mayor seeing this and realizing how stirred up the populace was and particularly how rebellious John Norhampton was, in an attempt to calm the crowds, asked and ordered those who sided with John Norhampton to move off with him from the church of the Carmelite friars; this they refused to do, declaring openly to each other that "we didn't come here with him, so we won't leave here with him". Because of John Norhampton's rebelliousness, and in order to protect his life and those of others who were with him, the mayor arrested John Norhampton and took him into custody.
Also, they say under oath that the same Sunday, after John Norhampton was arrested by the mayor in Fleet Street, as mentioned above, a certain Robert Cumberton the brother of John Norhampton and John Blyton a servant of John Norhampton, brandishing their glistening knives and daggers before the mayor, attempted a rescue on John Norhampton near the hostelry there call Topfeld's Inn, feloniously disturbing the king's peace. As a result of which, the mayor subsequently arrested Robert Cumberton and John Blyton.
Also, they say under oath that the same Sunday, shortly after John Norhampton had been placed under arrest, he arrived with the mayor at the street called Cordwainer Street. Seeing his supporters gathered around his house there and hoping that he might be rescued, he arrogantly threatened the mayor with these words, as if rejecting the fact that he was in custody, saying "You have brought me here by force, now shall I go into my house?" To which the mayor replied, "No, you shall come with me." John Norhampton responded, "If you take me any further, I won't be held responsible for any violence that comes of it. Whatever happens, let it be on your head." This was said by John Norhampton because of his intention, with malice aforethought, to benefit from the trouble he had stirred up in his effort to overthrow the city and indeed the whole kingdom of England.
Also, they say under oath that following John Norhampton's confinement in the house of the mayor, John Remes, Thomas Lincolle, Richard Brendewode, Robert Ryseby, Thomas Depham, and Simon Stratton, along with Robert Chamberleyn a servant of John Norhampton and Robert a former servant of William Essex, came with a huge crowd of people which they had raised and led to the mayor's house. They did the best they could to use force to break down the doors of that house (which had the status of the king's prison) and feloniously and treasonably to remove John Norhampton from the mayor's custody.
Also, they say under oath that Robert Cumberton, John More, John Constantyn, Robert Ryseby, Thomas Usk, William Tyngewyk, and other accomplices and supporters of John Norhampton, on the first count and also on the second one indicated above, with the agreement, arrangement, and instigation of John Norhampton, who was at that time in custody in the mayor's house, as has been said, treacherously, feloniously and treasonably plotted and raised a conspiracy involving the people of the city. That is, in the churchyard of St. Mary's and elsewhere in the city from that Sunday continuously until the Thursday following, they tried to raise the people, carry out a rescue of John Norhampton, and kill the mayor and other reputable men of the city. As a result of which conspiracy and plot, on the morning of that Thursday, Robert Cumberton, John More, John Constantyn, Robert Ryseby, Thomas Usk, and William Tyngewyk, as the principal movers, rose up and incited the people to do the same. Many shops in various streets of the city that is, in West Cheap, Budge Row, and elsewhere that were previously open were closed up, and the people who sided with John Norhampton found themselves weapons and rose up, with the result that the city would have been given over to extensive carnage and pillage, to the point of its overthrow, had not the mayor, by the grace of God, quickly brought an opposing armed force to the aid and relief of the populace, stood his ground against the rioters, and forced an end to their activities, pacifying them by encircling their forces.
b) It was presented that John Norhampton draper, Thomas Carleton embroiderer, William Essex, Thomas Usk, and Richard Norbury were the chief conspirators. They also say that John More, Robert Cumberton the brother of John Norhampton, John Constantyn cordwainer, John Doncastre coppersmith, John Muntham joiner ... were their supporters .... [The document proceeds to describe the events leading up to and of 7 February, with the progress of Northampton's perambulation] beyond Ludgate as far as Fleet Bridge. Without prior warning of this assembly, the mayor was advised of it while at a meal at the house of Sir Richard Waldegrave in Wood Street, St. Michael of Hog Lane parish, with Sir William Walworth, Sir John Philpot, Robert Warbulton, John Shadworth, Adam Bamme, Henry Bamme, and others. Taking with him John Philpot, Henry Vannere, and William Cheyne, along with Simon Wynchecombe one of the city sheriffs ... the mayor hurried to West Cheap, where he caught sight of John Norhampton and his followers heading for the church of St. Michael at Corn[market]. Then the mayor sent John Botkysham, one of his sergeants, to John Norhampton to forbid him, on behalf of the mayor and in the king's name, going any further before the mayor could catch up to him. John Botkysham reached them as they were about to go into St. Paul's churchyard and communicated to them the prohibition as instructed. That notwithstanding, they refused to wait, some of them declaring "Keep marching, keep marching". Seeing this, John Botkysham returned to the mayor and informed him of the situation. The mayor then ordered the same sergeant to go back to them again, to get them to wait for the mayor and his associates. The sergeant went and, reaching them in St. Paul's churchyard, announced his message to them. But John Norhampton and his lieutenants refused to pay heed, so the sergeant went back to the mayor and told him of it. A third time that sergeant was instructed by the mayor to go to them to say that, in the name of the mayor and the king, they should halt until the mayor and his associates reached them, or otherwise risk the penalty.
The sergeant ran off a third time and came to John Norhampton at Fleet Bridge, where he communicated his message. At that, John Norhampton and the others, looking back the way they had come and seeing the mayor close at hand and hurrying towards them, called a halt. John Norhampton lined up his followers on either side of the street. When the mayor, with a handful of others, had come up to them they passed through the middle of them, heading towards the Carmelite friary. Then, looking back the way they had come, they saw John and the people with him still standing together assembled in the positions they had held when they passed through them, rather than following the mayor; seeing this, the mayor and all the others [with him] were astonished by it. In this fashion John Norhampton demonstrated his rebelliousness and opposition towards his mayor. Upon which, the mayor then three or four times by words and signals requested and ordered them to come and go with them; but none of them budged until first John Norhampton slowly made a move, and then the others came with him, and they followed the mayor at a distance and defiantly as far as and into the church of the Carmelites ... At which point, in the Carmelite church, the mayor ordered that everyone who belonged to the liberty of the city should withdraw with him, in order to preserve the king's peace. But some declared they would not go off with him. When the mayor left the church, heading in the direction of Fleet Bridge, it was with John Norhampton in his custody ... for the purpose of calming down the folk on either side, for many had gathered together there to take sides in the uprising against the mayor; but, God be thanked, the mayor and alderman then had the more powerful following. With much difficulty, they placed a guard around John Norhampton and his brother Robert and, careful to remain alert, made their way towards the mayor's house.
When they arrived at the end of Cordwainer Street, next to William Kyng's shop and close to the entrance to John Norhampton's house, John made a request to the mayor, saying by way of a threat, "Unless you allow me to go home to my house, I will not be held responsible for any violence that occurs hereafter." This he said in an arrogant and contemptuous manner. Upon which the mayor led John Norhampton to the mayor's house, to make his custody more secure and certain.
And they say that disturbances, rumours, and clashes were instigated and fomented on a daily basis in the city and suburbs, particularly on Thursday, 11 February, when huge gatherings took place and the windows, doors, and shops in West Cheap, Budge Row and elsewhere were closed in anticipation of an uprising ... And certain troublemakers and disturbers of the king's peace that is, John More, Robert Cumberton, and John Constantyn caused an uprising ...
[4. The mayoral election of 1384]
It being the case that each 12 October the senior and more important citizens of London were accustomed to proceed with the election of a new mayor, Sir Nicholas Brembre, who had been mayor over the past year, wanted to take precautions against any disputes or disturbances being stirred up during this election. Acting secretly, he concealed armed men in rooms of the Guildhall, with the intent that, should any disagreement or dispute occur at this election, they would at once appear to subdue the rebels and troublemakers; so that fear of being punished with imprisonment, at the least, would discourage them from their disruptive behaviour and heckling, and they would immediately revert to a harmonious and communal frame of mind. What more need be said? [When] the important townsmen assembled at the Guildhall to elect a new mayor, one part of the citizenry raised loud cries of "Twyford! Twyford!", disposed to have him as their mayor, while another part had other loyalties and shouted even more loudly "Brembre! Brembre!" This division of opinion having thus arisen, Sir Nicholas Brembre gave a signal and at once the armed men emerged to confront the assembly and quell those acting seditiously. When they saw this, those who were shouting "Twyford!" took to flight. Once order had been restored, those of the important citizens who remained were united in acclaiming Sir Nicholas Brembre to the mayoralty for another term. This being achieved, Brembre with his armed troops made their way along the street called Cheap, on the lookout for any disturbers of the peace who might have congregated there, and afterwards paraded through other streets for the same purpose, with the intent that if he found any such troublemakers he would make an example of them to others, by chaining them up in Newgate for a while. In this fashion was the election carried out. Although there were those who challenged its validity, insofar as they dared, nonetheless [Brembre] remained mayor throughout the rest of the year, with the special approval of the king.
[5. Northampton squarely blamed by his enemies for the disturbances, 1385]
Memorandum that at a congregation of the mayor, alderman and several good men chosen from the wisest and most discreet men of the wards summoned and assembled in the Chamber of the Guildhall on 22 March 1385 there were present Sir Nicholas Brembre mayor, William Cheyne recorder, John Hadle, John Boseham, Robert Warbulton, Henry Vannere, John Hende, Adam de Seint Ive, William More, Nicholas Exston, John Fressh, John Rote, Roger Elys, John Fraunceis, Thomas Welford, William Staundon and Simon Wynchecombe, aldermen, and the following persons from the wards: [70 men are named, per ward].
Whereas there had long been dissension and division in the city between divers men of the same, whereby great evil and peril might arise, to the destruction and loss both of the city and of the whole realm, unless remedy were found by the aid of God, and the said mayor and aldermen and other wise men desiring peace and tranquillity, accord, unity and quiet among the people, and wishing to be informed and certified, as far as possible, as to the cause and root of the said dissension and division and how they might be ousted, and unity and accord be made and kept among the people, demand was made of every person, alderman and commoner, by the faith which he owed to God and our lord the king and the oath which he had made to the city, to declare and say openly on his conscience and as he would answer before God, sparing none, what was the cause and root of such dissension and division, whereupon all said severally that it was the life of John Norhampton, for so long as he remained alive all those that were of his covin hoped that he would return to the city and by this hope they comforted others, whereby dissension arose and would always continue so long as he lived. And further, each of them said on his conscience that the thing which would most easily engender unity and accord, and would oust all dissensions and divisions and, in their opinion, would bring the matter to a good end, would be to require and pray our said lord the king in his high and royal majesty that execution of the judgement of law given on the said John Norhampton in the Tower of London should be done, for so long as he lived the said people of his covin and lovers of his opinions would hope for his return to the city as aforesaid, which would be to the utter confusion and destruction of the city, which God forbid. And upon this, with one accord, it was agreed that it would be well for the mayor to take with him certain aldermen and commoners, such as seemed to him good, and to approach our lord the king, petitioning him in the manner and form aforesaid.
And also because the mayor and commoners were advised that for safeguarding of the city and suburbs against any peril that might arise, it would be necessary that a good ditch and a pale above it should be made around all the suburbs of the city for its defence in case need should arise, which God forbid, and because it would take too long to settle the question as to how and in what manner it should be done, since many matters and arguments would be raised among so many men and peradventure no conclusion would be made, it was agreed by everyone that the mayor and aldermen on the morrow should choose from among themselves twelve aldermen and twelve commoners of the most sufficient and discreet men in the city to ordain and treat by what means and how the said matter should be brought into effect, and in what manner the costs which would be needed might be levied, and to do all other things which appertained to the said matter.
[6. Accusations against Thomas Austin, of complicity in Northampton's cause]
First, the essence of the accusation or appeal [...]
To his worship the mayor of London: please be informed that Thomas Austyn is, and has been, one of the principal supporters of the treason against our liege lord the king; that is, in aiding and abetting John Norhampton and those holding the same views regarding the overthrow of the city of London, and regarding making a false complaint to the Duke of Lancaster that he [i.e. Northampton] was unjustly convicted before the king.
One instance of this is that Thomas Austyn was always ready to contribute to John Norhampton's cause or, personally and with his men, to stand alongside John Norhampton and his supporters against the king, insofar as he was able and dared.
Another instance is that, during Sir Nicholas Brembre's mayoralty, on every occasion that Thomas Austyn was given advance warning by the mayor to [join in the] ride to meet the king, or to participate in maintaining the peace, then Thomas Austyn was scornful and resisted the summonses, and either kept out of the way or had to go out of town on an errand.
Another instance is that two days before the time of Sir Nicholas Brembre's second election, Thomas distributed his principal goods by night to various places, for what purpose we never knew.
Another instance is that Thomas instructed all his men that none should absent themselves from his house on the following morning, at which time they would see men heading toward the Guildhall, but none returning. In the privacy of his own property, Thomas Austin armed himself from head to foot, except for his helmet, and armed the 15 or 16 men who were at hand; in anticipation that if Sir Nicholas Brembre, then mayor, took possession of the Guildhall, they (together with other companies that they expected to be there in defiance of the king's peace) would attack him, planning to have completely destroyed those who were in the right. In addition, his brother Roger Austyn went to and fro between [Thomas' group and the others], to keep them informed about what was to be attempted at the election of Brembre. Upon which Thomas Austin sent [a message] to Wigmours, where an illegal common council was held that night by the supporters of John Norhampton, that they should be ready to pursue their aims. The following morning, at the time of the election of Brembre as mayor, he went out into Cheapside and then, seeing the strength [of the opposing forces], Thomas Austyn threw off his armour and declared "All we have been trying to achieve is lost!" He quietly instructed his men to return to his shop and open it, as if nothing had happened; and so they did.
Also, another instance is that on the same day his servant, Hochon of Liverpool, was keeping watch from his room when along came Hugh Fastolf and urinated against the wall of St. Laurence's church. Hochon of Liverpool said, "There's one of those thieves," and continued, "Watch how I nail him to the wall with an arrow." Then he pulled back on his bowstring with the intent of killing him and I, John Hore, said, "Leave it out, you'll do for us all." And so it was stopped.
Another instance is that Thomas Austyn saw that other dishonest men were punished for their lies and was afraid that his deceit would be revealed. So soon after he sent to his man overseas, telling him not to mark his wares with his own [merchant's] mark, so that it might be arrested upon arrival in England; he abandoned his true mark and took this mark [illustration]. This was done for fear that his dishonesty might be revealed.
Another instance is that Thomas Austyn has said on several occasions, with forethought, that things would never be well in England while this king were king.
Another instance is that on several occasions, in his presence, his wife has said that certainly the king was never the [Black] Prince's son; she also said that his mother was never any more than a whore, through and through. Thomas never once showed any inclination to tell her to hold her tongue, but indulged her malice.
And another instance is that when Thomas Austyn realized that the Duke could not get his way with our liege lord, he said, "There is nothing for it now, but that someone arranges for two men to run Brembre through and skedaddle."
Also, another instance is that when the Duke was staying at Hertford while there was a quarrel between him and our liege lord, he [i.e. Austin] sent me, John Banham, to Hertford as quick as I could, so that I could find out when he intended to come to London and whether he would come in strength or not. The man from whom I, John Banham, should have learned this was not there, but was out delivering a message from the Duke.
Also, another instance is that on the same day as the election Thomas Austyn told me, John Banham, to go into Cheapside and spy if I could see any companies heading for the Guildhall that is, goldsmiths, tailors, cordwainers and come home and tell him.
Another instance is that on various occasions Thomas Austyn has said that things would never be right until the lying whores who controlled our liege lord the king &150; namely, Brembre were hung.
Another instance is that four days before the same election took place, Thomas Austyn [said] to a Kidderminster man: "Right now, the mayor imagines he won't face much opposition on that day. Well, he'll have more than a thousand against him, so let him enjoy himself while he can."
Another instance is that he has stolen a thousand pounds from our liege lord the king.
Another instance is that on several occasions he said he didn't care who was king, so long as he were left in peace.
Another instance is that while Norhampton's brother was in prison, all that he could find out came by word of mouth through me, John Banham. And I, John Banham, stand by [these accusations, affirming] that they are honest and truthful, without deceit or evil motive.
As regards the essence of any of these indictments, we do not have nor have we sought any other indictment regarding persons named in the king's writ, nor anyone else, other than on the articles and accusations in the document specified above; from which inquisition, recently held before Nicholas Exton mayor of the city of London, William More and William Staundon then sheriffs, and John Charneye the city coroner, we attach for you the tenor of the indictment, as follows:
Inquisition taken at the Guildhall of London on 16 September 1387, before Nicholas Exton mayor of the city of London, William More and William Staundon sheriffs, and John Charneye coroner of that city, by the oath of reputable and law-abiding men of the city, to enquire into articles and accusations contained and specified in the aforesaid document. The inquisition jurors present under their oath, saying that everything contained in the document is true, except the article stating that "he has stolen a thousand pounds from our liege lord the king." And that Thomas Austyn is guilty of all the other articles and accusations contained and specified in the document, except that in which it claims that Thomas Austyn stole a thousand pounds from the king. Those jurors say that they know nothing about that, but that Thomas at various times concealed [his obligation to pay] the king's customs and withheld them, that is the subsidies on cloth, linen, canvas and other of his merchandize imported into the city of London, to the value of one hundred and twenty-five pounds. The jurors say that all other offences contained in the document were committed mostly prior to the election of Sir Nicholas Brembre as mayor of the city of London that is, before 13 October 1384 and from there up to about 1 May following; they cannot discover among themselves that anything happened in these regards afterwards. But, the jurors say, it is their understanding that Thomas Austyn has continued up to the present to hold in his heart these evil intentions towards the city government.
We, William Venour and Hugh Fastolf, sheriffs of London, have no other indictments, appeals or accusations such as are mentioned in the writ, that were in any way received or tried during the time that we have been sheriffs of the city.
Further to this, I Nicholas Exton, mayor, am advising you that a certain extremely serious accusation was made before me and the former sheriffs, William More and William Staundon, against Roger Austyn in regard to the person of the king. Into which we have not dared enquire without special orders from the king; nor are we prepared to report on it in writing or orally, except in private. The king is fully informed on this matter.
[7. Burning of the documentary evidence of reforms, 1387]
Be it remembered, that on the Saturday next after the Feast of St. Gregory [12 March], in the 10th year etc., by precept of Nicholas Extone, the then Mayor, a Common Council of the City of London was summoned, as well of those chosen for the Common Council by each Ward of the said city, as of other the more reputable and more substantial men of the same; who assembled in such great numbers, that the Upper Chamber would not hold them; wherefore, they removed to the Guildhall below, and the Mayor, Aldermen, and Sheriffs, being seated there in the place for the Husting assigned, because that by reason of certain new oaths of the officers of the said city, and certain new ordinances, repugnant to the old and approved customs of the same, which were written down in a certain quire, or book, called "Jubile", great controversies, dissensions, and disputes were often caused among the citizens; and that therefore it had oftentimes been asked in divers Common Councils of the said city that the said quire, or book, should be burnt; it was now, by assent of the said Mayor and Aldermen, and the whole of the Common Council, and of the other reputable men aforesaid, agreed and adjudged, that the said quire, or book, should be burnt on that same day in the place without the Guildhall.
[8. Attempt to prevent a resurgence of the divisions, 1391]
Whereas many dissensions, quarrels, and false reports have prevailed in the city of London, as between trade and trade, person and person, because of divers controversies lately moved between Nicholas Brembre, Knight, and John Norhampton, of late Mayors of the same city, who were men of great power and estate, and had many friendships and friends within the same; to the great peril of the same city, and, maybe, of all the realm; to the displeasure also of God, and of every good man: and by reason thereof, if some remedy, with the Almighty aid, be not applied thereunto, destruction and annihilation to the said city may readily ensue, and peril and damage to all the realm, the which may God avert; therefore, by assent of Adam Bamme, the Mayor, and the Aldermen of the said city, considering the mischief and great damage that from this cause has ensued, and desiring to maintain the peace of our Lord the King, and of all the realm; for the common profit, they have ordained and established, that no man, great or small, or whatsoever estate or condition he be, shall speak from henceforth, or agitate upon any of the opinions, as to either of them, the said Nicholas and John, or shall by sign, or in any other manner, shew that such person is of the one opinion or the other. But let the folks of the same city be of one accord in good love, without speaking, any person to another, on the said matter, in manner of reproof or of hatred; on pain, if any one shall speak or do against any of the points aforesaid, of imprisonment in Neugate for a year and a day, without redemption; and of being subject to other penalty and ordinance in the Guildhall for the like cause made and ordained.
The setting and the principal characters | The contest | Thomas Usk
The trial | The aftermath | An assessment
The political unrest in London during the 1370s and '80s has been characterized in various ways: as a struggle between poor and rich; as a class conflict of artisans and merchants; and as factionalism between different mercantile interests, whether victuallers versus non-victuallers or simply those in power against those wanting power. There is some measure of truth in all of these interpretations. The complexity of the situation and of the motivations of the people involved does not admit of a simple explanation. Party politics, in terms of a contest for power between relatively well-defined groups with variant and sometimes conflicting interests, appears to have been more developed in London than in most English towns, simply because socio-economic structure in London was more complex and more differentiated. Furthermore, London was inevitably caught up to some degree to the political rivalries and conflicts occurring at the national level, and these too complicate the local situation.
At the same time, we should not ignore the importance, in the timing of such political conflicts, of "the man of the moment": that is, the emergence of a determined individual willing and able regardless of whether for ideological or selfish reasons to lead a movement seeking political change. John Northampton was "essentially leader of that party in London which wished to break down the monopoly of power possessed by the merchant capitalists both of the victualling and the non-victualling misteries" [Bird, op.cit., 81] although by making the victuallers and especially the fishmongers his particular targets, he was initially able to win support from non-victualling crafts, notably his own craft, the drapers, the mercers, and also the goldsmiths, who were jealous of the power of other gilds.The setting and the principal characters
This was by no means the first such division to engender constitutional reform and political conflict in London. At the earlier end of the fourteenth century the less prominent gilds,both of crafts and victuallers, were asserting themselves more strongly, their members taking up citizenship in greater numbers, and so creating an enfranchised power-base in search of constitutional changes that would increase the representation of their interests in city government changes that included making the gilds, rather than the aldermannic wards, the basic unit of government. In resisting this development, the patriciate laid complaints of conspiracies, illegal meetings, heckling and other methods to unduly influence elections, and disturbances of the peace; but the gilds' real tactic seems simply to have been to pack communal assemblies with their members and influence matters through voting power. At this period the ruling class was itself weakened by factionalism, and some of the factions were prepared to placate popular feeling with cautious reforms.
This only whetted the appetite, however, and in 1311, with the local power-struggle going on against the backdrop of a national contest (distracting the monarchy, while also making the parties inclined to curry favour with the Londoners), a set of constitutional reforms were put in place. Among other things, they made all important officers subject to popular election, and on an annual basis; and they enforced greater fiscal accountability, through comptrollers and auditors. Yet the craft gilds' attempt to dominate city government made other elements of the community nervous, furnishing the support to allow the aldermannic elite to reassert itself and restore the previous constitution. This set the scene for a contest between the reactionaries and the victualling interests, led by the fishmongers. It culminated in a forceful expression of community authority in 1319, producing fresh constitutional reform that has been described as "the highest peak of achievement that a popular movement ever attained in medieval London," despite the fact that the new provisions were dampened or ignored in the years that followed, as the national power-struggle encouraged greater division and factionalism in London.
These events are not of direct consequence to the contest for power between the parties of John Northampton and Nicholas Brembre, but to some extent they show parallels. Such waters are muddied, however, by the characters of the principals in the affair, particularly that of Northampton. At the close of Edward III's reign, London's society, economy and government was dominated by a small number of gilds mercers, grocers, fishmongers, vintners, and goldsmiths whose line of work naturally brought successful practitioners considerable wealth and real estate, and thereby influence. These were the groups who supplied most of the city's mayors and aldermen, and who have been characterized as a capitalist elite, of which Brembre was one of the wealthiest members.
A merchant heavily but not exclusively involved in the wool trade, he like others who made a successful career in London (e.g. Whittington), had no established city family on which to rely. However, he married one of the heiresses of wealthy city vintner John Stodeye (mayor 1357/58), an alliance that added to his already extensive city real estate when his father-in-law died in 1376. Through marriage, business, and property-holding, he was associated with other leading or up-and-coming Londoners, such as William Walworth and John Philpot. Brembre appears to have entered the grocers' gild around the time it was reorganizing itself as the Company of Grocers, in 1372, and Philpot shortly after. It may have been the expanding influence of the company that resulted in Brembre and Philpot both being elected both as aldermen and sheriffs in September 1372.
Compared to Brembre, John Northampton was of relatively modest means and associations. He and his family were involved with the cloth and leather-working crafts; his own gild, the drapers, was during the late 1360s and '70s, losing ground to the grocers, in terms of access to positions in city government. Yet he and his brothers were not the kind of men to submit to the authority of others, if we may judge from what are scattered pieces of evidence. The cause they appear to have espoused was opposition to the king's policy of war with France, in regard to its side-effects: turning over a large share of control of the wool trade to foreign merchants, who counter-balanced this by importing larger amounts of foreign products, such as cloth, that hurt the trade of Londoners. The drapers' underlying aim, it has been suggested, was to increase their numbers among the aldermen, thereby influencing city policies related to controlling the local market for English cloth and their rivals in that trade, the fullers and dyers. In 1368 the king temporarily restored the citizens' monopoly of the retail trade in London, abolished by the Statute of York in 1351. But the restoration was in regard to victuals, and cloth, leather, and goods sold by avoirdupois were excluded; this may have been what fostered an alliance of interests among the drapers, skinners, mercers, and to an extent the grocers.
Telltale signs of the coming storm can be seen years in advance. John Northampton had been bound over to keep the peace in 1365, in the context of some personal quarrel. In 1369 he and John More, along with other drapers and mercers, were required to put up bonds to guarantee they would not initiate any violence or hold assemblies; this may have been prompted by an attack on foreign merchants. In 1371 the renewal of taxation to support the war led to resistance to tax-collection by Northampton's brother William, who himself had already run into trouble with city authorities in 1365, when arrested for trade abuses; he foolishly started a brawl outside the mayor's house and was again arrested. That same year, after the king had lectured the mayor and aldermen about keeping the peace in London, John Northampton, John More, and William Essex were among a group of twelve men arrested and imprisoned for a few months, being released upon providing assurances that they would make no more assemblies and would behave peaceably. It appears as though a party intent on agitation was already forming around Northampton. In the early 1370s, Northampton and Essex were members of a commission investigating cases involving usurious loans made by foreign merchants.
Although his commercial activities have left only a few traces and do not come close to the level of activity of Brembre's, John Northampton was fairly prosperous and likely to have been one of the leading members of his craft gild; certainly the men who were his principal supporters in the coming political struggle were essentially those who served as masters of the smaller craft gilds; such men wanted to rise in London society and were in a position to harness the underlying discontent among the crafts. Much of his landed property came, however, through his second marriage, at some point in the early 1370s, to a co-heiress of the Preston family. His and his wife's properties were concentrated in Dowgate and Cordwainer Street Wards, the latter being where his drapery business was located. The grocers were also based in Cordwainer Ward and Northampton's wife's grandfather, John de Preston, had been an important corder a group that had a long-standing working relationship with the grocers.The contest
Northampton's property in Cordwainer Ward gave him both the financial qualifications and local influence that made him a potential choice for alderman. With perhaps the sponsorship, or at least the acquiescence, of the grocers influential in that ward, Northampton was elected its alderman in 1375. The following year he was one of a group, which included several of his subsequent followers, who advised the mayor to summon an assembly to deal with charges that the city government had been run for some years in an oppressive and self-interested manner this was fallout from the 'Good' Parliament's purge in mid-1376 of persons influential at the royal court, in the circle surrounding John of Gaunt, and including London vintner and financier Richard Lyons and two other aldermen. Other London victuallers among the aldermen, including Brembre, may have been under suspicion too, as they absented themselves from the assembly that had been summoned. Although there is no direct evidence Northampton was leading a specific party at this point, his enemies subsequently accused him of being behind the constitutional reforms of that came out of the assembly of 1 August 1376.
Certainly those reforms headed in the direction that Northampton wanted: to reduce and eventually break the power of the aldermen, the city's most powerful officials who represented the interests of the city capitalists. One reform subjected the posts of aldermen to annual election, no-one being eligible for re-election to the same position until a year's interval. This had been one of the reforms of 1319, confirmed by royal charter, but was ignored once the mercantile patriciate regained power. It was in effect for a few years after 1376, but the stipulation about the interval was abolished in 1384, and annual election in 1394. Further changes in 1376 transferred the election of the common council from the wards to the craft gilds, made the council a fixed body that had to be consulted at least twice a quarter, and required that no measures put forward by mayor and aldermen could become a local by-law unless approved by the majority of the common councillors. It was from this group, rather than from the aldermen, that Northampton was expecting to find his main support for his broader aims of unseating the capitalists from power, for a ward-elected council likely made the choice of members more susceptible to aldermannic influence. However, the reform seems to have had little impact on the composition of the council, forcing Northampton to take other measures to stack the council when he himself became mayor. Nor did annual election impact greatly on the composition of the court of aldermen, which continued to be dominated by grocers and fishmongers. Another reform made the common council the agency for electing mayor and sheriffs, rather than electors chosen by mayor and aldermen. These changes in electoral procedures were also reversed in 1384.
Only twelve of the twenty-four aldermen gave their assent to these reforms, and six of those were grocers; these assenters perhaps felt it better to acquiesce in the reforms than provoke a struggle that might bring the king's intervention a prospect highly feared by the aldermen, even though Edward III had limited the circumstances under which the monarchy would seize the city liberties into its own hands. The reforms may have been assisted by indirect support from John of Gaunt, who had similar underlying interests to Northampton's; this would help explain why Northampton later turned (unsuccesfully) to Gaunt for aid in crucial moments. Brembre, Philpot and Walworth were among those who were absent from the proceedings; they presumably represented a more militant viewpoint, but not yet inclined to open resistance. A committee of eight was formed to review the city ordinances; it included Northampton and several of his known supporters. The constitutional reforms, along with re-written oaths of office which probably emphasised the accountability of officials to the community, were embodied in a new edition of the city custumal, selecting for inclusion only those earlier ordinances considered good by those now in power. It was called the Jubilee Book.
The jubilation of the reformers was short-lived. In 1377 Brembre, Walworth and Philpot came to the fore as the leaders of the capitalist party and re-united it in the face of Gaunt's efforts to extend the authority of the marshalsea court into the city. They proposed to support the young Richard II (with money) against Gaunt's influence. They were able to have the mayor then in office deposed and replaced by Brembre; and a regulation, agreed to by a special common council elected only by a select number of the more important gilds, provided that any common councillor removed from office for good cause could never be re-elected or serve as alderman. The same year Northampton lost his aldermanry, and his supporters on the common council were deposed on the charge of betraying city secrets and not supporting the resistance to marshalsea jurisdiction.
His party crippled and Gaunt's influence superseded by the courtiers surrounding Richard II, Northampton began to rebuild. He decided to extend his powerbase into Dowgate Ward, where his wife's grandfather, John de Preston, had once been alderman for an eighteen-year stretch. An intensive period of buying property in that ward in 1381 and 1382, including property owned by the man who had succeeded Preston as alderman, was followed by Northampton's election as alderman in March 1382.
But by that time he had already secured the mayoralty at the election of October 1381. How he managed this is not clear, but he evidently found support from some quarters and, with the city still recuperating from the effects of the Peasants' Revolt and probably not relishing any internal disputes that might excite the populace, the capitalists appear to have acquiesced in his election. Perhaps the grocers were still interested in using Northampton's supposed influence with Gaunt. As yet they had no inkling of the revolution he was contemplating.
The policies Northampton pursued at first were not such as to cause great alarm among the capitalist party. His various actions, taken together, have been described as a campaign against immorality: reiterating earlier ordinances regulating the dress of prostitutes; establishing punishments for prostitutes, adulterers, and lascivious priests; and restricting the amounts of money to be given as offerings at mass, baptism, or weddings (it being claimed that the wealthy, by offering large sums, had established expectations that the poor could not meet). He also moved, in February 1382, to have revoked the 1377 ban from office on his supporters; it was immediately after the revocation that John More was made an alderman. Northampton's principal goal of undermining and displacing the existing London elite began in the early summer. He attacked the trade monopoly of the fishmongers; since the monopoly was a source of general resentment in the city, it was not going to arouse widespread opposition among the elite. This policy was pursued by the city's parliamentary representatives all Northampton supporters in October; when the fishmongers objected, More discredited them by accusing two of their number of complicity with the rebels of 1381. The popularity of this attack on the fishmongers may have been what enabled him to obtain from the king letters recommending Northampton's re-election that same month.
But in his second year of office, the broadening of his efforts to undermine the power-base of the capitalists beginning by forcing Philpot out of aldermannic office made it evident to them that they had to have him removed from the mayoralty. The grocers finally were prepared to join forces with the fishmongers in this; Brembre led the way. Northampton was unable to get any support from the king or Gaunt that might have countered this. With the success of the capitalists' resurgence, through Brembre's election, Northampton felt forced to more drastic measures to ensure what he had achieved was not overthrown measures, described in the documents above, extreme enough to stimulate at least one key defection from his party. His resentment immediately after the election was palpable, and although he soon after made a show of peace and reconciliation with Brembre, this was just to win himself a little time in which to gather his thoughts. For a man with the extreme views of John Northampton, there really was no middle ground. He was determined and inflexible.
It is not clear what Northampton's intent was with the protest march of 7 February 1384. If to provoke a showdown with the mayor, then it is strange he surrendered himself at the crucial moment. Perhaps he was simply trying to demonstrate his level of support in the city. Or perhaps he had some idea of marching well beyond Fleet, to Westminster, to put his case to the king a ploy dangerous and unlikely of success, with the events of 1381 still resonating. Northampton may simply have been uncertain how to proceed, now that Lancaster had refused to support him, and perhaps hoped to stir up enough popular support to intimidate Brembre into giving way another slim hope, given Brembre's strength of character.Thomas Usk
At this point, Thomas Usk becomes a pivotal player in events, providing a tool to assist Brembre in acting against Northampton. A Londoner by birth, the son of a craftsman, Usk is little in evidence before the 1380s. He had been trained as a scribe, a training that would have involved acquiring some understanding of the law. It is possible that Usk was recruited late in the day, well after Northampton had come to power, although the sources are not so explicit as to rule out Usk having done work for Northampton at an earlier period. When subsequently trying to dissociate himself from the guilt of Northampton and his lieutenants, he portrays his role as strictly that of employee: clerk, messenger, publicist, perhaps even legal advisor. As an employee, it does not follow that he espoused the political philosophy of Northampton, any more than Cratchit had the same outlook on life as Scrooge. However, upon taking up the mayoralty, Northampton realized he could not rely on the city bureaucrats, whose loyalties lay with those they had been accustomed to serve. He may have found a sympathiser in one of the clerks of the bureaucracy, John Marchaunt, but more likely used Marchaunt for official documentation, and for that relating to his behind-scenes machinations made use of private sector secretaries.
If Northampton felt he could trust Usk and trust him with some fairly important tasks he must have believed Usk was a sympathiser with his aims. Usk himself admitted to being sufficiently comfortable with his role in Northampton's circle, involving himself in governmental policies that he believed initially at least would be good for the community, that he did not care if this incurred him the enmity of the aldermannic class. But later, he claimed, he came to see Northampton's aims in a different light. Interestingly, Usk is seen in 1376 in the role of attorney successfully suing someone who had assaulted John Bere, one of Northampton's more prominent and unwavering supporters. Although we cannot safely draw conclusions from such isolated evidence, it may be Usk had some peripheral involvement with the Northampton faction prior to 1383; Northampton must have had some reason to select and place his trust in Usk.
Usk's change of heart came while he was suffering imprisonment, a traumatic experience especially for someone of learning and artistic sensibility. Following Northampton's arrest, his lieutenants continued to agitate, in the hopes of obtaining his release or, if necessary, rescuing him by force. More and Norbury were therefore also arrested; Essex had already gone into hiding, perhaps abroad. Usk himself was under arrest by early August 1384. Whether through pressure from Brembre's people, as Usk himself later claimed, or concern about his future, or out of genuine distaste for what Northampton's movement had become, Usk decided to make a confession. Brembre had Usk transferred to his own house, a less uncomfortable form of detention. Usk composed the appeal (set of accusations) given above and, as the process of law required, delivered it to the coroner.
This is not the only example of Usk's writing that has come down to us. He is in fact better known as the author of The Testament of Love, a work that survives to us only in a sixteenth-century rewrite and was for some centuries mistakenly attributed to Chaucer. The idiosyncratic work has elements of philosophy and allegory, touches on a range of subjects, and was in part an apologia for his seeming betrayal of Northampton and a consolation for the hatred this brought him. It reveals a familiarity sometimes apparently secondhand with the writings of some key Christian philosophers, such as Boethius and St. Augustine, as well as those of his far better-known contemporaries, Chaucer and Gower. It is believed to have been written between the time of Northampton's fall and Usk's own, probably closer to the former event. Since Usk places the narrator in prison, it is possible he conceived the work during his imprisonment following Northampton's arrest an imprisonment that caused him to be resentful, for there he felt abandoned by his allies, and that they had used rather than valued him. But the main purpose of the work seems to be to justify his confession and portray himself as a man of integrity, who could be trusted with further positions of responsibility; the work was probably written following Northampton's conviction, when neither faction had confidence in him. A portion of his text presents his own perspective on the affair, reiterating positions taken in his appeal against Northampton, and also reflecting conventional political philosophies of that time; whether those philosophies were always his or represent a realignment (or even brainwashing) as the result of his imprisonment, cannot be said.
Given the evidently autobiographical nature of parts of his text, but bearing in mind that Usk tends to talk in general terms rather than specifics (Northampton not being mentioned by name), that Testament of Love is couched in a form that is literary rather than historical, and that it was written after his transfer of loyalties and the collapse of the party he originally supported, we are offered what may be some insights into his motivations. He was evidently deeply perturbed by the fact that his former allies who previously (apparently in his role of messenger) had commended him as one to be believed, now condemned him as a liar and a betrayer of his master, while those who had branded him as a villain subsequently relied on portraying him as credible. He is therefore at pains to defend his integrity as one dedicated to the truth.
Usk explains his involvement with Northampton as commitment to what he had initially believed a meritorious cause, but observes that "common profit in the community does not obtain unless peace and tranquility through just governance proceed from that profit." Consequently his conscience later told him he had deluded himself, that Northampton was motivated by malice and envy, and that the cause he was aiding would produce not benefit to the community, but tyranny. Despite this change of heart, those he had opposed ("the mighty senators") imprisoned him and pressured him, with threats of life imprisonment or execution, to make a confession that would lead to the defeat of Northampton. He persuaded himself therefore that it was his duty to make a statement in order to rescue the community "the commonalty being above all things else what I am bound to maintain and defend" from the risk of a disruption of peace, the attribute "most necessary to commonalties and cities."
This statement begins with a more literary rendering of several of the points covered in his appeal:
First, those persons who had induced me to serve their purposes, I not knowing the secret intent of their meaning, drew also the feeble-witted people, who have no insight of governmental prudence, to clamor and cry out on matters that they themselves directed; and under the pretence of the common advantage, they emboldened the ruled to take on the actions of the rulers, and they also directed people innocent of political cunning to cry after things which 'may not,' they said, ' stand unless we serve as the executors of those matters, and unless authority of execution is handed over to us by common election. And that must come by strength of your maintenance, for we, expelled from such degree of power, the oppressiveness of these old hinderers shall again rise up and put you in subjection such that you will complain in endless woe. The government,' they said, 'of your city, left in the hands of extortionate citizens, shall bring in pestilence and destruction to you, good men; and therefore, let us have the common administration of government to lessen such evils. Also,' they said, 'it is proper to commend the good and punish the guilty as they deserve. There are many citizens who are afraid of actions that will be taken, because the extortions they have committed are continually against these purposes and all other good intentions.'Usk goes on to describe the failed attempt by Northampton and his associates to win at all costs the election of 1383, followed by the effort to have the election annulled, leading in due course to their trial before the king.
It seems to have been Northampton himself who sought to have his case heard by the king, but this may well have suited Brembre, who seems to have aimed to have Northampton tried for treason or sedition, by emphasising the conspiratorial character of the Northampton faction and its intent to provoke social disorder; a conviction for treason would allow for Northampton's execution. Usk's appeal was invaluable in this, in that it was tantamount to the confession/accusation of an approver: a convicted criminal who turned king's evidence on his fellows and validated his accusations by acknowledging his own complicity. The trial took place at Reading in mid-August. Usk's appeal was presented and apparently accepted as if that of an approver, even though Usk had not himself been convicted or even charged. In Testament of Love Usk claims that, true to approver's tradition, he had offered to prove his accusations through combat, but that the accused disdained that offer, preferring to confess and threw themselves on the mercy of the court. However, this was part of Usk's effort to assert the truthfulness of his accusations against Northampton. Independent evidence indicates rather that Northampton, after denying Usk's charges, offered to put his fate in the hands of God via a judicial combat. The court was not interested in the outdated tradition of combat, which was also repugnant to London custom; nor was it in Brembre's interests to have matters decided in that way. Usk was shuffled off, and the king provoked by Northampton's lack of deference, particularly his demand to have Gaunt present to speak for him sentenced Northampton to be hung. At the queen's intercession, this was commuted to life imprisonment. Both he and Usk were returned to custody.
Northampton was able to raise jurisdictional uncertainties and claim a new trial, which took place in London before justices of the King's Bench in September. Brembre decided on a different tack, not involving Usk directly but making use of his confession. An inquisition was held in St. Mary-le-Bow parish to pronounce on the evidence against Northampton. It may have been one of several inquisitions, for it was not unusual in the case of serious offences to widen the range of public opinion consulted, by holding multiple inquisitions; an example is mentioned above regarding the inquisitions into citizens' involvement in the Peasants' Revolt, of which only the findings most suitable to the results desired by those in power were then forwarded to a court which had the authority to convict and punish the offenders. The findings of the St. Mary-le-Bow jury are so similar in content and structure as to be clearly an edited version of Usk's script, in which the terminology of the charges is now recast as inquisition jury presentments, omitting the personalized elements Usk's own opinions or readings of situations altering Usk's personal admissions of complicity into simply the inclusion of his name among the list of offenders, and adding some fine details and a couple of additional, minor charges. Of these new charges, the matter of influencing the choice of the parliamentary representatives does not seem anything especially beyond normal political machinations; similarly, the charge that More contemplated accusing Brembre of supporting Farndon, although not implausible, appears equally insubstantial.
We should not think of the inquisition presentments as a balanced statement of evidence presented by hostile and friendly "witnesses" but rather as a list of charges against the accused whose validity the jury, by reiterating, was affirming. Usk's appeal was clearly the basis for the charges on which this jury was asked to pronounce; we see, for example, the same political perspective of the patriciate reflected, characterizing the players in the piece as the "good men" who have been injured, the "wicked" conspirators of the Northampton party, and the lower class of townsmen who were not fit to have a say in government. The jury's restatement of the charges emerged again in 1388, along with other inquisition findings on the events of the early 1380s, when Northampton's followers were seeking pardon or compensation for convictions or oppressions suffered at the hands of Brembre. The text was again altered, further depersonalizing it; this is the version given above from the Coram Rege roll.The aftermath
At the trial in London Northampton was again convicted. The city authorities urged his execution. Along with More and Norbury he was imprisoned for a while; but, through the intercession either of Gaunt or the chancellor, Michael de la Pole, this was commuted to a sentence of exile from London. Due to the objections of the Brembre party, Northampton was not allowed to come any closer to the city than 100 miles; in 1386, Gaunt obtained a reduction of this to 80 miles. After Gaunt's return in 1390 from his Spanish adventure his influence was sufficient to obtain a pardon for the trio. Northampton returned to the city, but almost everything he had tried to achieve had been dismantled and the old patriciate was even more strongly entrenched in power than ever.
Removal of the leaders did not immediately quell the struggle between the factions; underlying grievances continued to bubble to the surface for several years. Just two months after his election, Brembre found it necessary to prohibit any public assemblies and encourage citizens' arrests of anyone found engaging in such gatherings. As he approached the next election, a sign of his continued anxiety are the ordinances reiterating the illegality of conspiratorial gatherings, forbidding any citizen from bringing a petition before parliament on the subject of the government of the city, and restricting attendance at the election to the "senior, good and important men" of the city. He evidently anticipated opposition at the election to his own plans of having himself re-elected. Among the accounts we have of that election is the one given above, in a continuation of the chronicle of Ralph Higden (which originally went up to 1327); of several continuators, including Higden himself, the writer of the events from 1383 is believed to have been monk of Westminster abbey the strong interest in London affairs being one of the arguments for this. As a member of a community in which conformity, harmony and obedience was expected, the monk was naturally more sympathetic to Brembre than to Northampton.
To contest the 1384 mayoral election, the Northampton party found a figurehead in goldsmith Nicholas Twyford; although not really a supporter of Northampton, Twyford had been one of the aldermen acquiescing in the constitutional reforms of 1376, and was an enemy of Brembre for his own reasons. The crafts that had supported Northampton turned out in force on election day, some of them armed, to exert influence on behalf of Twyford. Brembre, not foolish enough to rely on the public proclamation made just before election day forbidding anyone to bear arms or armour or to come to the election unless specifically summoned, was ready for them. He had brought in a force of his own, some probably tenants of his estates outside London, had equipped them with arms he had smuggled into the Guildhall, and had posted his men both there and in ambush along Cheapside; when the pro-Twyford demonstrators gathered at the Guildhall, they were dispersed by an aggressive charge of Brembre's men, and sent fleeing home. Brembre was re-elected, as he was again in 1385, and at the following two elections his close supporter, Nicholas Exton, followed him in office; they ensured that members of their faction held other key offices. After the collapse of that party's fortunes, however, Twyford won the mayoralty in 1388 as a moderate candidate, yet one whose sympathies by now lay more with the patriciate's constitutional views.
Throughout his period in power, Brembre continued to take legal action against individual supporters of the Northampton faction, on any pretext he could find, leading to imprisonments and even executions. He is likely behind the further petition in 1385 to have Northampton executed, on grounds of the continued disruptions occurring in the city.
Opportunities were also taken by others to settle personal scores by accusing their enemies of affiliation with the Northampton faction. The example given above is a set of accusations made, in early September 1387, against mercer Thomas Austin by his former apprentice John Banham, backed by fellow apprentice John Hore. Whether any of these accusations, which are reminiscent in type to those penned by Usk, have substance is uncertain. Although Austin was a member of the mercer's gild that backed Northampton, and as such he sat on the common council during Northampton's first mayoralty, his name is not among the sometimes long lists of those singled out for mention as Northampton supporters; and, in the late '80s when the patriciate was allowing access to power by others than Brembre factionalists, he was made common councillor, alderman, and sheriff in quick succession. This suggests he was a moderate quite different from the picture painted by Banham. Furthermore, the motivation for the accusations was less than public-spirited: earlier in the year Banham was sued by Austin to account for revenues from merchandize he had sold on Austin's behalf from 1382 to 1385, and was imprisoned in consequence of the charge (and later convicted in part). The counter-accusations may be seen as an attempt to discredit Austin and pre-empt his suit. Although there is no smoke without fire, some of those accusations are so vague, circumstantial, or difficult to corroborate, that a jury should have had a hard time pronouncing with confidence on them.
Nonetheless, in the highly-charged political atmosphere, the accusations were credible enough and were designed to arouse fear in those then in power. They responded by arresting Thomas, his wife, his brother Roger, and Hochon (elsewhere called Hugh), and putting together a jury to rubber-stamp the charges. It is not impossible that the Austins perhaps Roger in particular were already suspect and the Brembre party had been looking for an opportunity to act against them; Banham's predicament could have provided that opportunity, to find another tool to be used as Usk had been, to bring treason charges. Most likely the accusations are a mix of truths, exaggerations, and fabrications, but they nonetheless illustrate the kind of attitudes and behaviours that were expected in the context of the factional animosities of the time. They also show how the focus of grievances was on the key personalities, rather than on underlying issues of governance. Furthermore they reflect the resentment towards the way in which power struggles at the national level were intertwined with those internal to London. The document translated here is a response to a demand by Chancery for copies of all the evidence; the ensuing review of the case by Chancery resulted in the release of Thomas and the others in February 1388. The shift in political power at the national level may have been responsible for the London authorities' decision not to pursue the matter further.
Brembre's vacation of the mayoralty in 1386 was taken as an opportunity by several of the non-victualling gilds to complain to parliament about his behaviour while he was in office. The mercers, for example, began their petition with a description of how Brembre had used force to win the 1383 election, and continued by telling how he persecuted his enemies thereafter, how he manipulated the 1384 elections first by summoning only his supporters to vote, and then violently intimidated any others who came to the Guildhall; after which he continued to bring false charges (the mercers claimed) against their members. The petition also dwells on Brembre's close relationship with Richard II, which he was able to use to prevent his enemies appealing to the king.
In 1387 the cordwainers complained to parliament about the burning of the Jubilee Book; later that year Exton charged them under the terms of Brembre's prohibition of assemblies. That same year Lord de la Zouche was lobbying at court for a pardon for Northampton, prompting Exton's administration to send him a blunt letter advising him to mind his own business. In 1388 it was the turn of the cutlers, complaining to parliament that Exton was continuing Brembre's extortionate policies, and asking for the permanent removal from office of his cronies, recorder William Cheyne and sheriff Hugh Fastolf. Northampton's return to the city in 1390 sparked fresh fears among authorities of a re-opening of old wounds, and led eventually to mayor Bamme's proclamation against public discussion of Northampton or Brembre. But to regain power would have been more of an uphill battle than it was in the 1370s, and Northampton perhaps now lacked the will or the energy. He played no further role in city politics.
Brembre's pre-eminence, achieved in 1383, lasted little longer than had Northampton's. He had already earned unpopularity among some of the London gilds during an earlier mayoralty and, following his displacement of Northampton, ruled with an iron hand and used force to maintain himself in power, in a London still unsettled. More significantly, he was too closely linked to national politics; having loaned large sums to Richard II, he had too much invested in the status quo. He tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Londoners to fight for Richard against the Lords Appellant. The latter, at the Merciless Parliament in 1388, included Brembre in the list of impeachments. He was tried, obtained no support from mayor Exton or any other fellow Londoners, who mostly preferred to stay out of national conflicts, was convicted and hanged.
As for Usk, his transfer of loyalties did him little good. Willing to be used, perhaps looking for a cause, he had become a tool to help the Northampton faction achieve its ends, then received the same treatment by Brembre's faction. Once Brembre had Usk's appeal, its author's use to him was limited. He was rewarded for his contribution to Northampton's downfall with a pardon for his part in the affair. Eventually, he won the confidence of the royalist party sufficiently that he gained appointment as under-sheriff of Middlesex (1387); whether Testament of Love was any help there we cannot say, for it is not clear whether Usk's contemporaries read it. His rehabilitation was to prove his downfall: he was caught up in the charges of maladministration brought against Brembre and others of the king's faction; in particular he was accused of having drawn up false charges against some of the Appellants. Still the target for resentment in the city over his betrayal of Northampton, two weeks after Brembre's execution he too ended up at Tyburn, drawn, hanged, then (still alive) slowly beheaded. He went to his death asserting the truth of his appeal against Northampton. By contrast, Brembre had, at the gallows, admitted to Northampton's son that he had wronged his father a confession we can attribute to Brembre's preoccupation with his afterlife destiny rather than guilt about his past.An assessment
The charges laid against Northampton, although engineered by his opponents, are in broad terms credible; some points are corroborated by other sources. But they are also in part a case of the victors rewriting history from their own perspective. Northampton's own account of affairs would have been somewhat different, if not in substance, then in perspective. At the same time, the Usk appeal must necessarily have been a selective version of events, in that it focused on the actions of only one faction. For example, in preparation for the 1383 mayoral election Northampton had packed the common council with his supporters, had installed a few supporters among the aldermen (although only a small number can be unequivocally identified with his party), had guards posted to turn away any hostile voters, and should have been in a position to intimidate hostile aldermen against voting for any alternate candidate. Given all this, it is hard to imagine that Brembre could have emerged victorious in the election without having been able to bring to bear greater force than that provided for by Northampton; certainly at his re-election in 1384 he premeditatedly used armed force to frustrate the hopes of an opposing candidate. Yet that aspect is not dwelt on in Usk's appeal or the inquisition presentments, other than as an uncorroborated claim used by Northampton to try to obtain the intervention of Lancaster in city affairs; this piece of "evidence" was important not only for condemning Northampton in many eyes for his disloyalty to the city, but also because Lancaster's rejection provided grounds to dismiss a claim that was otherwise broadly credible. But we should not expect Brembre's actions to come under question; the presentments, we must remember, were charges not evidence, and Brembre was not the one on trial.
Northampton has been described by Pamela Nightingale as an astute, calculating politician, using radicalism only as a tool to achieve an essentially reactionary goal of supplanting the gilds then dominating city government with others, notably his own. Although the element of self-interestedness is undoubtedly present, it is hard not to see Northampton as a radical in some regards. A capable politician is able to reconcile interests and find the path of compromise. This was not Northampton. The extreme measures to which he resorted during his second mayoralty, perhaps partly out of desperation as he sensed a resistance against him crystallizing, had him increasingly working outside of the system. Northampton might perhaps have accomplished some enduring reforms had he chosen to work within the system. There was widespread sympathy for some of his aims. But if his principal aim was to replace one set of power-holders with another, then we may concede he was astute enough to know that this could not be done without radical changes; the events of 1376-77 having shown that changes within the system could easily be reversed once power changed hands.
In this sense, we should not imagine that Northampton's political convictions were democratic in a way that we might understand them in a modern context. Although he appears to have put more faith in the "power of the people" than was warranted (just as he seems to have overestimated his relationship with Gaunt), it may be doubted whether Northampton truly had any more confidence in popular decision-making than did the ruling class, which was contemptuous of the idea that such ignorant persons were qualified to have a significant say in government. On the other hand, we should not represent Northampton's faction merely as Northampton and a group of followers. The continued agitation of his party, after he himself was removed from the game, indicates that the underlying dissatisfaction with the almost monopolistic hold a few of the leading gilds had on government was real enough and not Northampton's invention.
Nonetheless, a leaderless party could not keep itself afloat for long. No political perspective in medieval English towns favoured a form of democratic government in which there was sustained and meaningful popular participation. Then, as today, good leadership was seen as the key to good government. Northampton's aim, to overthrow the ruling elite, was acceptable insofar as it meant replacing the distrusted rulers with others that the populace hoped, perhaps even expected, would rule better. He knew such aims could not be achieved simply by legislating constitutional changes. It was necessary to ensure that his followers continued to hold power, in order to maintain a reformed constitution, and that other measures be put in place to secure what he had accomplished: obtaining statutory recognition of the reforms, and using annual election to ensure that those in office were supporters of a reformed constitution. And it was necessary to remove the leaders of the elite from access to power, whether by disqualification, exile, or death; Brembre saw the same approach as necessary to defeat Northampton's party.
Such measures would never have allowed for the "power to the people" approach that Northampton exploited to win office temporarily. Nor would the dictator/mob style of democracy that Northampton was prepared to install have found approval with the central government, since it would not well have served two fundamental requirements that government had of urban administrations: law and order, and revenues. None of this mattered. Northampton's intent to break the hold of the wealthy on government was a non-starter. That hold was too strong, too long-standing, and a leaderless populace was unable to mount real opposition to the elite regaining control of government, without the significant violence for which it had no stomach. The live-and-die together bond, which hearks back to the roots of the communal movement when the townspeople were not so divided by class consciousness, was still fine for mob mentality, but no more maintainable when the Londoners' fiery leader was out of the picture than for the peasant army when Wat Tyler lay dying.
Northampton's failure could be ascribed to his own uncompromising nature. Brembre was little better, and such success as he achieved was because he had the status quo on his side. On a personal level, both men ultimately paid for their sins. London was caught up at this time in factionalism, just as England was embroiled in factionalism in national politics. Not until more moderate leaders took the helm were London affairs able to settle down. For both Northampton and Brembre, politics proved a fickle mistress. As Usk wrote, "Fortune sheweth her fayrest whan she thynketh to begyle."
"any other method"
"ordinance against the fishmongers"
"to represent them"
"to punish usurers"
"Walter Sybile, John Horn, and Adam Carlell"
"best served the king"
"the mayor would speak"
"it was presented"
"11 October 1382"
"election of John Norhampton"
"placed on the council"
"uphold the king's peace"
"encircling their forces"
"The document proceeds"
"St. Michael of Hog Lane"
"a harmonious and communal frame of mind"
"whereby dissension arose"
"I, John Hore"
"stolen a thousand pounds"
"everything contained in the document is true"
"motivations of the people"
"earlier end of the fourteenth century"
"has been suggested"
"reforms of 1319"
"committee of eight"
"popularity of this attack"
|Created: May 27, 2003.||© Stephen Alsford, 2003|