Today in London’s rebel history: The Savoy Palace attacked, 1377.

The Savoy Palace, which lay roughly where the Savoy Hotel now stands on the Strand, in London’s West End, was built as the home of the king Edward III’s hated & powerful son, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. On 20 February 1377, the palace was besieged by an angry crowd.

The day before, at St Paul’s Cathedral, rebel cleric John Wyclife had been called to answer to the Bishop of London, having denounced greedy & worldly church officials. Wyclife was a protégé of John of Gaunt, king’s son, head of the government, soon to be effectively regent for child-king Richard II. Wycliffe was a reformer, but he was also to some extent a tool in the hand of the Duke of Lancaster (some of his denunciations had been ‘inspired’ by Gaunt, aimed as they are at some of the Duke’s political enemies). When Gaunt appeared to defend Wyclife, his haughty behaviour lead to a slanging match with the Bishop: assembled crowds turned on the unpopular Duke & he had to flee.

The next day a meeting of citizens heard that Gaunt’s ally Henry Percy was holding a captive in his house at Aldersgate: interfering with the City’s right to control its own judicial affairs… the result was another riot. Percy’s inn was stormed, the crowds then marched along Fleet Street to attack Lancaster’s palace of the Savoy. Gaunt, dining elsewhere, scarpered by boat to Kennington.

They also traced Gaunt to his sister’s manor house in Kennington & attacked that too.

(Wyclife meanwhile returned to Oxford, where his criticisms of the church were to develop into outright heresy & inspire the Lollards.)

Four years later in the Peasants Revolt, the Savoy was totally destroyed (on 13th June 1381) by rebellious crowds on the Peasants’ Revolt’s most fun-filled day. Chroniclers disagree whether the men of Kent burned it, or the commons of London, who were the Duke’s most ardent enemies.

Later the restored building was used as combined barracks and prison, holding conscripts, East India Company forces, military rebels & deserters… The area of the palace was a medieval Liberty, that of the Duchy of Lancaster Without Temple Bar which partly led to the tangled jumble of rooms, having a right of sanctuary. A no-go area of crims, especially thieves, and rebels, grew up around it, which lasted for centuries.


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

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