Today in London radical history, 1549: Londoners demolish rich folk’s gardens in ‘suburban common fields’

“Before this time the inhabitants of the towns about London, ‘Iseldon’, Hoxton, Shoresditch, and others, had so inclosed the common fields with hedges and ditches, that neither the young men of the city might shoot, nor the antient persons walke for their pleasures in those fields…This saying so grieved the Londoners, that suddainly this yeere a great number of the City assembled themselves in a morning: and a turner, in a foole’s coate, came crying thorough the City, ‘shovels and spades shovels and spades’. So many of the people followed, that it was a wonder to behold; and within a short space all the hedges about the City were cast down, and the ditches filled up…”

On 4th August 1549, some boisterous Londoners went out en masse to gardens built by rich folk on the ‘suburban common fields’ outside the walls of the City, to the north. This was probably on Moorfields or Finsbury Fields, open spaces with a tradition of such demolitions, in the context of a longer history of disorder and immorality. Below we will recount some of the activity around ‘encroachments’ on the Fields, often linked to the mass practice of archery, (together with some of the fields’ wider unruly history).

Straddling what is now the southernmost tip of the Borough of Islington and the north edge of the City, Moorfields was an open stretch of ground, which held a legendary place in the lives of medieval Londoners. Just outside the City’s walls, and hard to control for its authorities, for centuries the fields were a traditional place of bawdy recreation, outdoor sex and banned games, as well as a meeting ground for rebel or radical crowds. The disorderly and rebellious spirit of the fields spread to the streets which were gradually built around it, which became known for political and religious dissent, muckraking journalism and DIY publishing.

“This Fen or Moor Field,” says Stow, “stretching from the wall of the City betwixt Bishopsgate and the postern called Cripplesgate, to Finsbury, and to Holywell, continued a waste and unprofitable ground a long time, so that the same was all letten for four marks the year in the reign of Edward II; but in the year 1415, the 3rd of Henry V., Thomas Falconer, Mayor, caused the wall of the City to be broken toward the said moor, and built the postern called Moorgate, for the ease of the citizens to walk that way upon causeys towards Iseldon and Hoxton.”  ‘Iseldon’ is Islington.

Fitzstephen the monk, who wrote an account of London in the reign of Henry II, describes Moorfields as the general place of amusement for London youth. Especially, he says, was the Fen frequented for sliding in winter-time, when it was frozen. According to his account, locals whizzed across the ponds on a kind of primitive cross between ice skates or skis: “Others there are, still more expert in these amusements; they place certain bones-the leg-bones of animals-under the soles of their feet, by tying them round their ankles, and then taking a pole shod with iron into their hands, they push themselves forward by striking it against the ice, and are carried on with a velocity equal to the flight of a bird, or a bolt discharged from a cross-bow.” The piece of water on which the citizens of London performed their pastimes is spoken of by Fitzstephen as “the great Fen or Moor which watereth the walls of the City on the north side.” (possibly a pool on the now long lost river Walbrook).

Moorfields became especially popular for gatherings during holidays, particularly among the London apprentices. Young, footloose, often unpaid and socially oppressed and badly treated at work, apprentices usually played a central role in disorder, riots, and street politics throughout the middle ages and up to the eighteenth century. Moorfields and open spaces were especially popular on holidays, May Day, Shrove Tuesday, saints’ days etc – all occasions well-known for rowdy entertainment and outbreaks of political violence – leading to such regular trouble every year that in 1578, for instance, assemblies were banned on the traditional apprentice holiday of Shrove Tuesday.

It has been suggested that the Moorfields could have been where the city’s youth played the earliest football games, first recorded around 1170-83. Football was a great passion of the young, again especially apprentices; correspondingly it grew to be a headache for the authorities, as it often led to trouble: obstruction, damage, fights and sometimes riots. In medieval times it was no enclosed spectator sport, but often played through the streets, or in open spaces; hundreds sometimes took part – not so much silky skills as violence and disorder.

In 1314, there was “great uproar in the city… through certain tumults arising from great footballs in the fields of the public”. This led to a law making the game illegal; a ban repeated in 1331, 1365, 1388, 1410, 1414, 1477 and so on (in fact it was only really legalised in the 19th century.) In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, crowds would use football matches as a cover to gather for riots against landlords enclosing common land. In 1615 there were ‘great disorders & tumults’ in the city over a mass football game…

Part of the reason for the banning of football, apart from the trouble it caused, was that it was blamed for taking young men away from what were seen as more important pursuits – primarily archery. In the middle ages archery training was compulsory for men of fighting age; since there was no standing army, in times of war, citizen archers were vital for England’s war effort. Moorfields was one of the spaces where archery was practiced, for several centuries.

Another was Finsbury Fields, the medieval name for the open lands between what are now Old Street and Angel, stretching as far north as the modern St Paul’s Road/Balls Pond Road. The 1578 ban on London apprentices gathering on Moorfields on Shrove Tuesday was implemented here as well.

Like most open spaces, Finsbury Fields was also a place of illicit sex, clandestine meetings, prostitution and general immorality.

As Finsbury Fields was gradually built over, one of its fringes, later known as Islington Common, remained open, around what’s now Arlington Square, (west of New North Road, north of the canal). The Common was preserved from enclosure for years due to its use for archery practice since medieval times. But Finsbury Fields’ reputation as a place of dubious sports and outdoor sex was also preserved here.

Shovels and Spades, Shovels and Spades

Moorfields had already seen conflict as early as 1141-3, when ‘walls and curtileges’ erected on Moorfields outside the City wall were destroyed by Londoners apparently annoyed at the obstruction to their enjoyment of the space.

Both Finsbury Fields and Moorfields lay between the City and the outlying villages to the north, and they became the scene of conflict between the two. Partly this arose from the City-dwellers’ need for space for recreation and archery, and the villagers need for farming land, but this was also complicated by the actions of richer inhabitants of both the villages, and the City itself, who would often attempt to privatise some of this land for their own exclusive use.

Around 1513-1514, the conflicting demands on Moorfields and Finsbury Fields led to riotous scenes.

“… concerning the inclosures of common grounds about this cittie, whereof I mind not much to argue, Edwarde Hall setteth downe a note of his time, to wit in the fift or sixte of Henry the eight: before this time sayth hee, the inhabitantes of the Townes aboute London, as Iseldone, Hoxton, Shorsditch and others, had so inclosed the common fieldes with hedges, and ditches, that neyther the yong men of the City might shoote, nor the auncient persons walke for theyr pleasures in those fieldes, but that either their bowes and arrowes were taken away or broken, or the honest persons arrested or indighted: saying, that no Londoner ought to goe out of the City, but in the high Waies.” (Chronicle of the Greyfriars)

This suggests that either wealthier village dwellers, or even the authorities in those parts, attempted to exclude Londoners from the Fields by force, (whether with some form of sanction of law or not). In any case, this did not go unchallenged:

“This saying so grieved the Londoners, that suddainlie this yeare a great number of the Citie assembled themselves in a morning, and a Turner in a fooles coate came crying through the Citty, ‘shovelles and spades, shovelles and spades’: so many of the people followed that it was a wonder to behold, and within a short space all the hedges about the City were cast down, and the diches filled vp, and every thing made plaine, such was the diligence of these workmen: the kinges councell hearing of this assembly came to the gray Fryers, & sent for the Mayor and councell of the city to know the cause, which declared to them the injurie and annoying done to the citizens, and to their liberties, which though they wold not seeke disorderly to redresse, yet the comminalty & yong persons could not be stayed thus to remedy the same. When the kings councell had heard their answere, they dissimuled the matter & commanded the Mayor to see that no other thing were attempted, but that they should forthwith call home the younger sort: who having speedily achieved their desire, returned home before the Kings Councell, and the Mayor departed without more harme: after which time (sayeth Hall) these fieldes were never hedged…”

It seems from this account that preserving space for archery was partly a cover – the approved, even enforced sport; but other motivations existed, to keep the land free for more pleasurable purposes for all.

The process of encroachment onto the Fields outside the City was obviously ongoing, however, as the chronicler continues:

“but now wee see the thing in worse case than ever, by meanes of inclosure for Gardens, wherein are builded many fayre summer houses, and as in other places of the Suburbes, some of them like Midsommer Pageantes, with Towers, Turrets, and Chimney tops, not so much for vse or profite, as for shewe and pleasure, bewraying the vanity of mens mindes, much unlike to the disposition of the ancient Citizens, who delighted in the building of Hospitals, and Almes houses for the poore, and therein both imployed their wits, and spent their wealthes in preferment of the common commoditie of this our Citie.”

Resistance against the mini-enclosures also continued though, as in 1549, as the Chronicle of the Grey Friars records, on “The fourth day of August, of wych was Sonday, much people met and set to work from Newgate all along by the City walls to pull down the gardens that was made along by the walls of the City with houses, and so all along unto [Bishopsgate].”

It may be significant that this took place when it did – 1548-9 saw mass revolt against enclosures across eastern and southern England, (most notably Kett’s Rebellion),  but also nearer to London, at Northaw Common, Ruislip, and Enfield – which may have inspired this action in August…

For want of roome to shoote abroad

The importance of archery, and the laws enforcing its practice, were a formative part of this anti-enclosure riot; ironically archery was even at this time beginning its decline, as more modern weaponry was replacing it. By 1570, the City trades that depended on archery (the Bowyers, Fletchers, Stringers and Arrowhead-makers) were suffering as a result, petitioning the Queen and the Lord Treasurer, complaining of the poverty many of their number were falling into. As with many groups facing obsolescence, they confused causes and symptoms, technological and economic change and morality; archery was declining, they maintained, because of the official toleration of unlawful games, the loss of traditional spaces where it was practised, as well as individual neglect. Stow in his Survey of London, concurs: archery had become “almost cleane left off and forsaken; for by means of the closing in of common grounds, our archers, for want of roome to shoote abroad, creepe into bowling alleys, and ordinary dicing houses, neerer home, where they have roome enough to hazzard their money at unlawful games.”

Enclosures historically are often seen in simple terms, with the rich as enclosers and the poor as victims and losers out. While this is broadly true, things were not always so clear-cut. Many landowners profited by fencing off land and preventing others from using it; often the local poor might be banned from collecting wood or other fuel for burning, or residents might be stopped from grazing their animals in woods or common fields. These and other practices had gathered tradition and ritual around them, as well as strong emotional and political overtones, and were widely seen as ‘rights’ or customs that people were entitled to. In reality, these rights were almost always at the discretion of the lord of the manor. But, especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there was also a current among the rich and land owning classes that opposed enclosure; sometimes because they genuinely charitably believed in allowing poorer folk to subsist, sometimes because they themselves put some store by tradition, the traditional order and long-established social relations. But also out of pure self-interest, as with Finsbury Fields and Moorfields, because of the military needs of the state, or because some feared that making life harder for the lower classes would provoke disorder, disruption of the status quo, for instance by forcing people into moving around, uprooting, pushing them into begging and crime… In the last years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the powers that be were much exercised by the increasing numbers of homeless, displaced persons, forced into travelling by enclosure, and by the destruction of the traditional welfare system (the confiscation and abolition of most of the abbeys and monasteries dating from the 1530s.)

This conflict within the upper classes, about the wisdom of enclosures, can in fact be observed for centuries, though it was the enclosing ‘faction’ that kept the upper hand for much of that time.

In the case of ‘the suburban common fields’, however, the well-to-do enclosers incurred the enmity of the highest authorities.

Both king James I and his son Charles I issued edicts preventing any enclosure of the Fields, which would “interrupt the necessary and profitable exercise of shooting.” James’ instruction to the Lord Mayor of London and the Lord Chancellor (among others) echo the petitions of the distressed archery trades; “divers persons about the City, possessing lands, &c, had taken away from the archers the exercise of shooting in such fields and closes, as time out of mind, had been allowed to be shot in, by making banks, hedges, and plucking up the old marks, and making ditches so broad, without bridges &c.;” he ordered that the land two miles around the City be surveyed and any land traditionally used for archery be restored to its former state. Ironically while the Stuart kings may have opposed enclosures here (and elsewhere), they were notable enclosers themselves elsewhere, for instance Charles seized a huge tract of land from several parishes and forced many smaller landowners to sell to him, for the enclosing of Richmond Park in Surrey.

Actions against enclosure, at least when carried out by archers, and targeted against particular obstructions on their old rights, seem then to have had some official sanction, and continued for two and a half centuries after the riot of 1513/14. The Artillers Company of London, representing the archers of the City, were accustomed to marching round the Fields, demolishing anything that they claimed prevented them from practicing their craft (similar to the old parish custom of Beating the Bounds). So as late as 1782 it was reported that “they found the gate of a large field, in which stood one of their stone marks, near Ball’s Pond” both locked and chained, and four men placed to prevent their entrance. The adjutant ordered it to be forced; after which they marched across and opened another gate.” Three years later “the Company marched to Finsbury Fields to view their stone marks [targets]… they removed several obstructions.” And in 1786, “considerable encroachments having been made upon the antient marks belonging to the Company, the Court ordered notice to be given to all occupiers of lands in Baumes and Finsbury Fields, between Peerless Pool South, Baumes-Pond North, Hoxton East, and Islington West, wherein any of their marks were placed, to remove any obstruction to the Company’s rights.”

[The Peerless Pool mentioned above was a pond lying immediately behind St Luke’s Hospital, off old Street, to the east of the parish church. Originally nicknamed the ‘Perilous Pond’, after several bathers were drowned there, it was later transformed into a swimming bath in 1743. Local jeweller William Kemp had it enlarged to a length of sixty yards by thirty. The pool became a popular resort, especially in summer evenings, until it was built over around 1860.]

In August 1786, Company archers pulled down several parts of a fence erected by one Samuel Pitt for gardens and summer-houses, and were only prevented from knocking down a wall built by Messrs Walker, Ward and Co (owners of the local lead mill) after one of the leadmill partners assuring them their needs would be accommodated. As with Beating the Bounds, the ritual nature of their march is seen in this latter dispute: “One of the archers’ division was then ordered to shoot an arrow over the said enclosure, as an assertion of the Company’s right…” The military importance of archery had long since become been outmoded, and it remained solely as a recreational pastime, but the traditions were fully maintained.

Of course, the Company’s actions may well have also benefited other ordinary users of the open fields, and no doubt the archers took a mischievous pride in imposing their will on richer residents of a nominally higher class in this way, which in most walks of life would not have been permitted. This kind of licensed disorder, allowed within certain limits and for certain ends only, contains some echoes of the social control functions of medieval carnivals and festivals, where a short, temporary, relaxation of tight disciplines and hierarchies helped to keep a lid on social tensions and class antagonisms for the rest of the year.

Again in 1791, when digging for gravel destroyed several archery butts on Islington Common, “A detachment marched to the spot pursuant to a previous notice to the occupiers and commissioners of the roads to remove any obstruction, and to replace the marks. These objects were obtained.”

It’s also possible that young men joined the Artillers Company either because it gave them some small power in life – or, speculating here – given that the Company may have been invested with a certain traditional role as guardians of the common fields by City dwellers, that some men joined it with an eye to keeping a watch on the ‘encroachments’ by the well-to-do. Elsewhere, certain families, social groups, workers in particular trades, residents of notable streets or villages, came to see themselves and be seen as traditional guardians of the ‘common rights’ on local commons or woods – perhaps the riot of 1514 played a part in the Artillers Company adopting that role for Moorfields and Finsbury Fields. Another factor might be the reputation that some of the City suburbs adjoining the Fields – Shoreditch, Bishopsgate and Spitalfields – had for disorder and disrepute themselves – many of their residents were generally up for a bit of agro…

It is however interesting that, although the open spaces around the village of Islington and between it and the City later became places of disorder, gathering spots for rowdy, often radical crowds, that Finsbury Fields and Moorfields are the only ones where any form of struggle seems to have taken place around enclosure – though possibly this simply means they were the only ones where a memory has survived.

Moorfields’ central role as a meeting point and recreation ground led to its’ being one of main the gathering places for crowds of rebellious apprentices. Public holidays were a popular time for crowds to gather, and when they got together, social or economic grievances often sparked demonstrations and riots. Mayday and Shrove Tuesday were two of the main traditional holidays, especially know for outbreaks of disorder. For instance, during the Shrove Tuesday riots of 1617, when crowds of apprentices met on Moorfields, as well as in Wapping, and marched off to attack prisoners and free their inmates, pull down brothels, and fight with the sheriffs and militia.

This kind of upsurge of rebelliousness stepped up a gear in the English Civil War years.

For instance, on Whit Sunday (4 May) 1639, Katherine Hadley distributed pamphlets to holidaying apprentices, appealing for them to support a campaign demanding the release of the imprisoned puritan activist, and future Leveller leader, John Lilburne (who was also then an apprentice)… the apprentices held a mass meeting, then headed off to riot at Lambeth Palace. Katharine was arrested & sent to the Bridewell (the workhouse-cum-prison by the river at Blackfriars).

Open fields were also used for clandestine meetings. During the almost schizophrenic religious turmoil of the mid-Tudor era, when protestant and catholic regimes succeeded each other in rapid succession, several hundred of each were executed for adhering to the wrong beliefs (depending on who was in power), as well as various smaller sects like Anabaptists being persecuted by both. Many were burned alive at Smithfield, as recounted below. In April 1558, forty men and women were seized at a nighttime protestant meeting in an Islington field. Half of them were sent to Newgate Prison; thirteen refused to attend catholic mass, and seven of these were burned at Smithfield in June. Despite a proclamation read by the Sheriff of London, threatening arrest and punishment for anyone showing support, a large and sympathetic crowd assembled, shouting and protesting at the executions.

It’s very likely that the earlier reforming dissenters, the Lollards, who flourished in the fifteenth century, would also have met in Islington’s open countryside. We know they had many sympathisers in the area, for example around Smithfield, and that Sir John Oldcastle, the Lollard insurrectionary leader, was a Clerkenwell landowner, who hid out in what’s now Farringdon Road are, while on the run around 1413-14. As Lollardy became increasingly persecuted, secret congregations gathering away from urban areas to avoid arrest became their preferred, even the only safe, method of meeting.

A Walk for thieves and lovers

The barren region of Moorfields and Finsbury was first drained (no doubt to the great indignation of the London apprentices) in 1527, laid out in pleasant walks in the reign of James I., and first built on after the Great Fire, when all the City was turned topsy-turvy. Moorfields before this was described as “a place for cudgel-players and train-band musters, for its madhouse (one of the lions of London), and for its wrestlers, pedestrians, bookstall-keepers, and ballad-sellers”, featuring “raised paths and refuse-heaps”, deep black smelly ditches and open sewers; “a walk for thieves and lovers, suicides and philosophers, and as Howes (1631) says, ‘held impossible to be reformed.’ ”

Moorfields was also a traditional location for pre-arranged or spontaneous rumbles between groups of London workers (rivalries often derived from the old medieval guild jealousies). For example, in 1664, mobs of the butchers and weavers fought there: “26th July, 1664. Great discourse yesterday of the fray in Moorfields; how the butchers at first did beat the weavers, between whom there hath been ever an old competition for mastery, but at last the weavers rallied, and beat them. At first the butchers knocked down all for weavers that had green or blue aprons, till they were fain to pull them off and put them in their breeches. At last the butchers were fain to pull off their sleeves, that they might not be known, and were soundly beaten out of the field, and some deeply wounded and bruised; till at last the weavers went out triumphing, calling, ‘£100 for a butcher!’”

The cheap bookstalls of Moorfields were famous; Gray refers in a letter to Warton to “a penny history that hangs upon the rails in Moorfields;” while Tom Brown (1709, Queen Anne), to illustrate the insolence and forgetfulness of prosperity, describes how “a well-grown Paul’s Churchyard bookseller, [despises] one of the trade that sells second-hand books under the trees in Moorfields.”

Parks and open fields were also popular for outdoor sex; more so for gay men than with female prostitutes (because they had to be more discreet, given that ‘sodomy’ could well be a hanging offence). Moorfields was well known by the eighteenth century as a gay cruising ground, or ‘molly market’. The path that ran across the middle of these fields was known as the Sodomites’ Walk. This was used so regularly by gay men, that it’s obvious that their main aim was to make contact with one another, rather than simply to pick up passing straight errand boys. The basic technique was to stand up against the wall alongside the path and pretend to be taking a piss, and to wait until someone struck up a conversation about the weather. For example, a man named William Brown was entrapped along the Sodomites’ Walk in 1726, by a hustler who worked for the police in order to get immunity from prosecution as a sodomite. The constable told the judge that when he asked Brown why he had taken such indecent liberties, Brown “was not ashamed to answer, I did it because I thought I knew him, and I think there is no crime in making what use I please of my own body.”

This very modern-sounding defence was apparently not uncommon… Rictor Norton identifies is as arising from the “Enlightenment philosophy that sexual pleasure was a personal area that the law had no business meddling with.” There was even a serious public debate in the newspapers in 1772, when a number of respectable people argued that sexual relations between men should be legalized as long as they take place between consenting partners over the age of 14, the age at which a boy became an adult.

In August 1726 a ‘gang of sodomites’ was chased by Constables across Moorfields but escaped. The streets that grew up around Moorfields also became well-known for this gay subculture – a molly house in Christopher Alley, off Moorfields, was kept by John Towleton, whose nickname was Mary Magdalen.

Moorfields was landscaped in the 1590s in an attempt to bring order to all of the above infamous ‘uncontrollable’ area. This may represent the earliest known use in London of altering public space as a means of social control. Its notorious immorality may have also contributed to Moorfields’ popularity for open air religious meetings – non-conforming groups spoke regularly there from the seventeenth centuries, no doubt partly in an attempt to save the souls of the field’s immoral frequenters… However, the Fields also accommodated a part of the huge tent city that sheltered Londoners displaced and made homeless by the Great Fire of 1666 (many others moved off to the north-east, some ending up roaming Epping Forest and Enfield in search of shelter and food.)

Advertisements

Today in London’s religious history, 1553: a riot at St Paul’s

The religious divisions of mid-16th century England may not have given birth to outright civil war, as happened in France, though there were a number of abortive rebellions pertly stimulated by religious aims. London was a centre of religious debate and dissent – always a hotchpotch and melting pot of religious ideas, simply because of its size and the different communities attracted here, and the opportunity to meet people, discuss ideas, evolve new theologies…

The rapid turnover of regimes and official religions under the Tudors – from Catholic orthodoxy, through the dissolution of the monasteries and mild reform, radical Protestantism, catholicism, to a milder Anglicanism – saw dissenters of various stripes burnt, imprisoned, or driven into exile.

Mid-16th century London had evolved many dissenting protestant congregations, nominally part off the one established church, which were variously tolerated, persecuted, encouraged, then repressed again… While many people held strong beliefs one way or the other, most were very likely content to adhere to whatever wouldn’t get them into trouble with the authorities. Though the bewildering theological roller-coaster caught out many who just couldn’t keep up with what was orthodoxy and what was heresy this month…

Opposing views sometimes led to violent clashes.

On August 13th 1553, a riot broke out outside St Pauls Cathedral, at ‘Pauls Cross,’ when worshippers objected to a preacher praying for the souls of the departed and defended the widely hated Bishop Bonner.

Catholic Queen Mary had recently succeeded to the throne and was in the first stages of rolling back the strict protestant regime of her predecessor Edward VI. The reformers who had dominated Edward’s reign were in a desperate rearguard action against reversal of their changes.

This incident is noticed in the public chronicles. Gilbert Bourne, the preacher, Queen Mary’s chaplain, offended the audience by speaking vehemently in the defence of Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, who was already known as a prosecutor of protestants and other ‘heretics’ and would garner an odious reputation over the next five years for burning numerous dissenters under Queen Mary’s catholic regime. Bourne also spoke out against against the protestant reformer bishop Ridley. A great crowd booed and abused Bourne, with cries of “Papist, Papist! Tear him down!” One of the crowd threw a dagger at Bourne, which struck one of the sideposts of the pulpit. “Maister Bradford, the celebrated Reformer, came forward to persuade the people to quietness, and by the help of that worthy man and of maister Rogers, (both of whom were afterwards sacrificed in cold blood by their religious adversaries,) Bourne was conveyed safely away into Paul’s School. Grafton’s Abridgement, 1566, and Stowe’s Summarie of the same date.”

The privy council, which was sitting at the Tower of London, took immediate alarm at this disturbance. On the 16th of August, Homfrey Palden was “committed to the counter for seditious wordes uttered by him againste the preacher Mr. Burne for his sermon at Paule’s crosse on Sunday last;” and the same day the celebrated Bradford and Veron, “two seditious preachers,” were committed to the Tower, as was “Theodore Basill, alias Thomas Beacon, another seditious preacher.”

Subsequent sermons in the following weeks saw preachers thought to be speaking on matters that would inflame their hearers protected by up to 200 armed guards. The next sermon was specifically on the subject of loyalty to the monarch’s religious decrees and to ‘the old faith’.

What is not clear is the composition of the crowd that kicked off against Bourne’s sermon. Were they radical protestants? Regular churchgoers to whom Bonner’s name in particular meant fear and loathing? John Rogers, and John Bradford, both leading radical protestants, had been a notable presence in the crowd – in fact he had intervened to try to calm the congregation down, enabling Bourne to escape unharmed. But the Queen and church conservatives interpreted this as them having a great deal of influence with the riotous crowd, whether or not they had stirred them up or not. Both were to be imprisoned and executed for heresy in 1555.

It’s not clear if the St Paul’s riot is the same incident described in a letter from the ambassador of the Holy Roman Emperor from August 1553, where he mentions that

“great scandal occurred, and outrages against religion were committed lately on the person of a priest who dared to say mass in a chapel here m London; some took the chalice, others the vestments; the ornaments on the altar were broken in pieces, and two or three hundred people assembled and made such riot that the mayor had been obliged to go in person to quell the tumult. He succeeded, and saved the person of the priest by taking him into custody. “

It is possible that the St Paul’s uproar was part of a series of disturbances…

Paul’s Cross, outside St Paul’s, was used for the dissemination of ideas by preachers backed by the authorities from the fourteenth century; but the spot was also known as a kind of speakers corner through medieval and early modern times. This had evolved partly from the ‘folkmoots’ – assemblies of citizens that had at one time represented a form of community self-government, but also had a history of use for agitation and articulating anger or discontent. Crowds were not only used to hearing ideas – religious, political, social – set out by speakers here, but also to reacting to them and taking part in the proceedings.

The uproar against Bourne was only part of series of sermons at Paul’s Cross, showing it was a venue for a debate in the to and fro of theology. (Some of which can be read here)

While repression of Protestantism was well underway, resistance continued, if clandestine… a dead cat which had been made to look like a priest saying mass was found on a cross in Cheapside, and at a sermon in April 1554, Bonner’s chaplain gave a sermon displaying the cat and ordering the culprit to come forward. In June, when the chaplain spoke again, he was shot at and a search was made of every house in the precinct of St Paul’s to find the culprit, but to no avail.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

Check out the Calendar online

Follow past tense on twitter

This month in London riotous history: weeks of unrest over food prices, 1595

In June 1595, 1,000s of apprentices took part in a series of riots on Tower Hill in London, culminating in an abortive plan for insurrection. The rioters were mostly very poor, protesting about the appalling social conditions of 1590s London. Their grievances included the scarcity and rising cost of food, the greed of the mayor and of other wealthy citizens. But as the month went on, the repression of the protests and mistreatment of participants became a grievance that escalated the movement…

The 1590s were a decade of social and political crisis. Food prices rocketed, partly due to scarcity; four successive harvests failed between 1594 and 1597. Inflation led to high prices; wages fell up to 22 percent from the previous decade, and real wages are thought to have been at their lowest for centuries before or after.

Taxes were heavy, and many of the poor struggled to pay them (in 1593, people were said be ‘selling their pots and pans to pay tax’) there was constant threat of invasion from Spain and war in Ireland… Acute hunger in the countryside led large numbers of rural dwellers to flock into London in the hope of finding work or at least relief; but employment in the capital plummeted. The economy was stagnating.

In London, the pressure of food shortages and high prices for staple foodstuffs led to discontent, and to protests. Flour prices in the capital increased by 190 percent between 1593 and 1597, other food underwent similar increases.

In June 1595, the crisis provoked food riots in the City of London, the first since the 1520s. There were 12 riots or large scale crowd protests between 6th and 29th June, in London and Southwark. Seditious libels were circulated attacking the authority of the Lord mayor, Sir John Spencer, know as ‘Rich’ Spencer, for his great wealth.

In the first riot of June 6, apprentices numbering two to three hundred rescued a silkweaver who had been committed to Bedlam after protesting outside the Lord Mayor’s house.

On 12th June, there was a riot over the price of fish: This appears to have been sparked when apprentices sent to buy fish at Billingsgate market found all the fish had been bought up already by ‘fishwives’ (market stall holders in effect). The apprentices seized the fish and sold it at the rate already agreed by the mayor. (The implication being the fishwives were preparing to sell the fish at a dearer price).

On 13 June, a riot over price of butter took place in Southwark, the part of the City south of the river Thames, and known for lawlessness and rebellion. 300 apprentices assembled in Southwark, took over the market and enforced the sale of butter at 3d. per pound where the sellers had been charging 5d. They also issued a proclamation that butter be bought and sold openly in the markets not old to private houses or inns.

In both these cases it is stressed in contemporary accounts the discipline of the crowds concerned, and that their actions were agreed to or at least accepted by magistrates. The riots have been suggested as examples of the ‘moral economy’ described by some historians, identifying a common vision of accepted prices, practices and relationships, which to some extent united some people from all classes in the pre-capitalist era. Inflating prices was viewed as immoral, breaking agreed levels of subsistence, especially on food staples, and collective action, even if it broke the law, was widely condoned, even among some in authority. A part of this was the aim of maintaining social peace, but there was also an element of upper class paternalism, an ideal of vertical social relations, but characterised by the responsibility of those in power to treat the lower orders benevolently to some extent. This was increasingly being threatened by evolving interests out to increase profits.

On 15th June, crowds attempted to rescue jailed comrades: “At this day certain prentices being committed to the Counter [the city Prison] by the constable for some misdemeanours, divers other prentices congregated themselves and came to the Counter and said they would have them forth again, using very hard speeches against the Lord Mayor; but the gates being shut against them and they not prevailing, they tarried not long but departed away.

The same day, not long after the said assembly of prentices at the Counter, a serving man that had a prentice to his brother dwelling in Cheapside, which prentice had complained of his master’s hard usage towards him to his said brother, the serving man hereupon coming to the master and quarrelling with him about the misuse of his brother, in multiplying of words the serving man brake the master’s head; and by this brawl the people gathering together and much hurley burley following, Sir Richard Martin hearing thereof came forth into the street, apprehended the serving man, and by the constable sent him to the Counter. As he was in carrying thither the prentices that formerly had resorted to the Counter and would have taken thence the prentices as aforesaid, did meet with this serving man, rescued him from the constable, and brought him back to Cheapside. Whereupon Sir Richard Martin, hearing of this disorder, came forth suddenly with such company as he had of his own servants and presently apprehended the serving man again, reprehended the prentices for their so great disorder, took six of the principal offenders, and so by the constable sent the serving man and the six prentices to the Counter, and caused irons to be laid upon them all. About an hour after when all things were quiet, saving only some dregs of people remaining in the streets gazing and expecting for novelties, as in such matters always it happeneth, the Lord Mayor, hearing of the broil and business which Sir Richard Martin had appeased and not knowing thereof, comes into Cheapside, accompanied with Sir John Hart, where finding all things in quiet, Sir John Hart, accompanied with Sir Richard Martin, went again to the Counter, charging the keeper thereof to look well to his prisoners and to see irons laid upon them all and to be safely kept, and so they returned to their houses.

The Lord Mayor likewise, after he had sent Sir Richard Martin and Sir John Hart to take order for the safe keeping of the prentices in the Counter, also presently returned towards his house, and about London Wall a prentice meeting him would not put off his cap unto him, whereupon the Lord Mayor sent him also by his officers to the Counter, which was done quietly and without opposition of any.”

Clearly, the troubles were beginning to move beyond moral economy and into dangerous subversion. And the spirit of unrest was being spread to the army – always a dodgy moment for the powers that be:

About the 16 or 17 of June, “certain prentices and certain soldiers or masterless men met together in “Powles”, [St Pauls] and there had conference, wherein the soldiers said to the prentices, “You know not your own strength”; and then the prentices asked the soldiers if they would assist them, and the soldiers answered that they would within an hour after be ready to aid them and be their leaders, and that they would play an Irish trick with the Lord Mayor, who should not have his head upon his shoulders within one hour after. At which time they spake of farther meeting together.”

The tensions did not die down yet.

On the 27 of June, “certaine young men apprentices and other, were punished by whipping, setting on the Pillory, &c. for taking 500 pounds of butter from the market women in Southwarke after the rate of 3 pence the pound, whereas the sellers price was 5. pence the pound. [the shepherds] caught the bakers up and took from them about four or five dozen cakes, for which they paid them the usual price, however, giving them a hundred walnuts and three baskets of grapes.”

The public whipping and pillorying of some of these rioters instigated a further riot that day – the pillories were torn down, and a gallows was erected in front of the house of the Lord mayor.

On the evening of 29 June, a crowd of at least 1000 apprentices marched on Tower Hill. According to reports they planned to ransack gunmakers shops and then rob the rich and take over the City: ‘to robbe, steale, pill and spoil the welthy and well disposed inhabitaunts of the saide cytye, and to take the sworde of aucthorytye from the magistrats and governours lawfully authorised’.

The crowd was said to have included shoemakers, girdlers, silk-weavers, husbandmen, apprentices, discharged soldiers and vagrants; they carried “halberds, bills, goones, daggs, manie pikes, pollaxes, swords, daggers, staves and such lyke.”

When City officers, the Watch from Tower Street ward, arrived to try to pacify or disperse them, the crowd stoned them, displaying a banner, “hartened unto by the sounding of a Trumpet… the Trumpeter having been a souldier.” Others tore down the pillories in Cheapside, the City’s main drag,

Even more seriously for the City authorities, it seems that the rioters won some support from the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Michael Blount and his garrison. When the Mayor arrived with sheriffs to make arrests and read a proclamation ordering the rioters to disperse, Blount objected to the carrying of the Mayor’s sword of justice before him, and about 10 of his garrison not only refused to help repress the crowd, but weighed in against the sheriffs, and “assaulted an beat the sword-bearer and the mayor’s servants.”

The riot on Tower Hill was the largest uprising in the City of London in nearly 80 years, and was unusual in its direct criticism of the elite.

The Lord mayor of London was so worried about the protests and especially the plot of 29th June, that he appealed to queen Elizabeth. In response she issued a royal proclamation “for apprehending such vagrants and rioters. In which her majesty signified her will to have a provost-marshal with sufficient authority to apprehend all such as should not be readily reformed and corrected by the ordinary officers of justice, and them without delay to execute them upon the gallows by order of martial law. And accordingly Sir Thomas Wilford was appointed provost-marshal, who patrolled the city with a numerous attendance on horseback, armed with pistols, apprehended many of the rioters, carried them before the justices appointed for their examination, and after condemnation, executed five of them on Tower-hill.”

Five apprentices appear to have been hanged on Tower Hill on July 24th.

In his order of execution, the Mayor directed each inhabitant of the ward “that they keepe within their houses all their men servants and apprentices to morrow from three of the clock in the morning untill eight at night, and the same householders be . . . all that time ready at their door . . . with a weapon in their hande.”

The mayor also requested that the Privy Council suppress stage plays, which they claimed had incited “the late stirr & mutinous attempt of the fiew apprentices and other servants… the casue of the increase of crime within the City.”

Some of the price-enforcing apprentices, though initially punished for the misdemeanors of riot and sedition, were retroactively charged in 1597 with treason, following the reasoning that the popular attempt to regulate prices constituted an attempt to alter the laws of the realm by force.

The hunger thousands were experiencing didn’t end in 1595, and nor did attempts to remedy the situation by force. In 1596, there was an abortive attempt to launch an uprising in Oxfordshire at Enslow Hill, which seems to have arisen from anger at enclosures locally, but inspired by the food riots in London and elsewhere. The plotters had aimed to link up with the London apprentices, who were clearly seen as up for continuing the fight. However, the plotters, who had allegedly intended to murder local enclosing landowners, attracted too little support, dispersed when it was obvious there were not enough of them, and were easily rounded up when one of them stupidly confessed to his employer.

The council from its treatment of the rebels considered the Enslow rebellion threatening although in reality it never got started. Five ringleaders were taken to London, interrogated, imprisoned for six months, tortured and then sentenced to death for making war against the Queen. In June 1596 two were hanged, drawn and quartered the fate of the rest is unknown.

The rioting of the 1590s did die down, possibly in the face of the threat of massive repression. But although the bad harvests, the constant war and heavy taxation had produced a time of crisis, as England entered the 17th century, increasing enclosures and dislocation were to continue to pile pressure on the poor, and economic and social transformation would produce uprising and resistance on a scale that would dwarf the events of 1595…

Sources: (A New and Accurate History and Survey of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Places Adjacent… Edward and Charles Dilly 1766)

The Pursuit of Stability: Social Relations in Elizabethan London, Ian W. Archer

The London Apprentice Riots of the 1590s and the Fiction of Thomas Deloney, Mihoko Suzuki

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

Check out the Calendar online

Follow past tense on twitter

Today in London’s multi-faith history: Cuthbert Simpson burned at Smithfield, 1558

Centuries of corruption, accumulation of wealth, extortion of rent, tithes and vicious punishment of dissenters provoked many rebellions and heresies against the Catholic Church. All were generally crushed or accommodated until the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th century, which split the church across Europe.

After a slow start, protestantism took root in England, helped by the marriage difficulties and dynastic obsession of the obviously psychotic king Henry VIII. Never a protestant himself, the syphilitic nutter seized the chance to exploit the atmosphere of questioning of Catholic orthodoxy to divest parts of the Church of a great deal of their land and wealth, much of which was subsequently redistributed one way or another, sparking an upheaval in property ownership, and giving a huge boost to the agricultural revolution then being tentatively born.

But it was during the reigns of his children that serious religious division opened up in England. Successive protestant (under Edward VI) and Catholic (under Mary) regimes first instituted, then tried to reverse, reforms in religious practice, belief and creeds. While the religious divide in this country never took anything like the ravaging forms of the open warfare seen in France in the late 16th century or Germany in the 17th, Catholic repression in the 1550s and protestant intolerance in the succeeding decades saw hundreds of arrests and imprisonments for ‘heresy’, and tens executed.

The heaviest period for religious executions was under Catholic Queen Mary in the 1550s, and most of those met their deaths at Smithfield, just north of the City of London (as we have already discussed on this blog).

Since protestants could expect to be burned if they were caught and refused to repent, they went underground. Congregations organised themselves in secret, and met to worship in each other’s houses, or in woods, fields, away from the eyes of authorities or anyone who might grass them up. Despite this, a number were raided, and participants ended up on the Smithfield pyres.

Cuthbert Simpson had been arrested at a clandestine meeting in the Saracen’s Head inn in Islington. Simpson was (according to historian of protestant martyrs John Foxe) a married deacon of an underground protestant congregation, who was responsible for keeping a list of names of the group, collected moneys etc… He was arrested with two assistants, Hugh Fox and John Devenish; all three were charged with conspiracy and treason.

Simpson was held in the Tower of London, and is reported as having withstood harrowing torture there, as the authorities attempted to prise further names of secret ‘heretics’ from him.

John Foxe recorded an alleged last letter that Simpson sent to his friends from captivity, describing what happened after he refused interrogators’ demand that he begin naming names (paraphrased into modern English).

I was set in an engine of iron, for the space of three hours as I judged. After that, they asked me if I would tell them. I answered as before. Then I was loosed, and carried to my lodging again. On the Sunday after, I was brought into the same place again before the lieutenant, being also constable, and the recorder of London, and they examined me. As before I had said I answered. Then the lieutenant sware by God, I should tell. Then did they bind my two forefingers together, and put a small arrow betwixt them, and drew it through so fast that the blood followed, and the arrow brake.

Then they racked me twice. After that was I carried to my lodging again; and ten days after, the lieutenant asked me if I would not confess that which before they had asked me. I said I had said as much as I would. Then five weeks after, he sent me unto the high priest, where I was greatly assaulted; and at whose hand I received the pope’s curse, for bearing witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And thus I commend you unto God, and to the word of His grace with all them that unfeignedly call upon the name of Jesus; desiring God, or His endless mercy, through the merits of His dear Son Jesus Christ, to bring us all to His everylasting kingdom. Amen. I praise God for His great mercy shewed upon us. Sing Hosanna unto the Highest, with me Cuthbert Simson. God forgive me my sins. I ask all the world forgiveness, and I do forgive all the world; and thus I leave this world, in hope of a joyful resurrection.

On March 28th 1558, Simpson and his assistants Fox and Devenish were burned or heresy at Smithfield.

Raids and executions of protestants continued… In April 1558, a few days after Simpson, Fox and Devenish’s deaths, forty men and women were seized at a nighttime protestant meeting in an Islington field. Half of them were sent to Newgate Prison, of whom thirteen, refusing to attend catholic mass, seven of these were burned at Smithfield in June. Despite a proclamation read by the Sheriff of London, threatening arrest and punishment for anyone showing support, a large and sympathetic crowd assembled, shouting and protesting at the executions.

Although we might think all religious belief is basically medieval, and view killing people for minor differences in doctrine to be alien, even laughable (if it wasn’t so tragic), obviously the desire to impose faith on others by force is hardly a dead issue in modern times… Some of the people execeuted at Smithfield were trying to work out some control over their own lives through the language and framework they knew, ie faith, and in many cases religious dissent either contained within it or masked social and political rebelliousness, or was itself directly challenging to the state. Many others were just (usually poor) people who were either wrong-footed by the rapid turnover of regimes and official religions under the Tudors, who simply continued to believe in what they had always been told to think (on penalty of everlasting fire), or merely expressed their own mind to the wrong person/made an unwise joke. Either way really Smithfield represents a site of abomination. The Christian whingers and tabloid godblatherers who today bleat about ‘aggressive secularism’ might want to reflect that there is a huge deficit on the account, which remains unpaid. Though there’s never a wrong time to burn a church or two.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

Follow past tense on twitter

Today in London’s sporting history: Football banned in London (again), 1572.

On 30th August 1572, the playing of football was banned in the City of London. And not for the first time.

Some say football has its origins in ancient folk customs deriving from pagan ritual, perhaps from “magical rites performed to raise energy, which is then directed to the desired goal, which is usually the fructification of crops, cattle, people and the well-being of the land itself.” I think it was one of the Chelsea Headhunters wrote that. If this hippy bollocks is true or not, gradually local football games evolved all over the place, played on village greens, wastelands, and in the streets, especially as cities grew.

The first footie in Britain was played by huge numbers of people on vast ‘pitches’ with very few rules. Villages were divided into two sides, often based on where they lived. The stuff about ritual associations may be true in that games were often linked to special dates in the calendar and some of these traditions have survived today. For instance, on January 1 in Kirkwall, Orkney, street football breaks out at 10.00am each year. There is a Hocktide (first Sunday after Easter) game at Workington, Cumbria, and July sees ‘Reivers Week’ at Duns, Borders, where the ‘ba’ game’ is between the married and single men of the town. But the biggest day of the year for folk football in Britain is Shrove Tuesday. Some 50 such local traditions are recorded, although only six survive today, at Sedgefield, Co Durham, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, Atherstone in Warwickshire, Alnwick in Northumberland, Corfe Castle in Dorset and St. Columb in Cornwall.

In medieval London, open spaces, like the legendary Moorfields, on the old City’s northern borders (near today’s Moorgate station) were where the city’s youth played the earliest football games, first recorded around 1170-83. Football was a great passion of the young, especially apprentices; it grew to be a headache for the authorities, as it often led to trouble: obstruction, damage, fights and sometimes riots. In medieval times it was no enclosed spectator sport, but often played through the streets, or in open spaces; hundreds sometimes took part – not so much silky skills as violence and disorder.

Footballers colonised spaces in the city built for more respectable purposes. London’s Royal Exchange, built in the 1560s so merchants could meet and do deals without the ‘unpleasantness’ and trouble of meeting in the street, had, within ten years, become a dangerous place, “ill lit, used by football players, lewd boys, rogues and whores”, especially at night.

In 1314, there was “great uproar in the city… through certain tumults arising from great footballs in the fields of the public”. This led to a law making the game illegal; a ban repeated in 1331, 1365, 1388, 1410, 1414, 1477 and so on (in fact it was only really legalised in the 19th century.)

The law was repeatedly enforced, though the numerous renewals show that it was eternally defied.

In 1373, London skinners and tailors were busted in Cheapside carrying knives during a football match. Cheapside was a popular place for apprentices to gather & cause trouble. In 1590 three journeymen were jailed after “outrageously and notoriously behaving themselves at football play…”

It’s worth noting that the 1314 ban was imposed at time of a war against the scots; football was constantly blamed for distracting the lower orders when they were supposed to be engaged in proper military pastimes. England’s kings relied on a sizeable contingent of their army being citizen archers trained to use longbows, a devastating weapon in the wars before guns, and time spent kicking a ball around should be spent training in archery. Other bans on football also came at times of war or preparation for it – in 1365, 1414, for example… As late as 1562, 35 London men were fined for neglecting to own bows and arrows and practice archery…

The August 1572 ban arose specifically because of sacreligiousness: football was often most attacked for violating the Sanctity of the Sabbath, when you were not supposed to do anything except worship god quietly. Inevitably, since Sunday was the only day off for working people, many took no notice. The Bishop of Rochester’s demand for the suppression of football on Sundays in 1572, made it clear that it was particularly offensive when when played during church services! (This did not only mean outside, apparently sometimes people took the game inside the church too – fair enough. As early as 1287 the Synod of Exeter had banned ‘unseemly sports’ from churchyards.)

Philip Stubbes summed up the general prejudice against football in his Anatomie of Abuses in 1583: “Any exercise which withdraweth us from Godliness, either upon the Sabaoth or any other day, is wicked and to be forbidden..”

Pre-industrial football also had a long association with unrest: the simple fact of playing in big gangs in the street was a worry to authority, as it caused uproar, damage to property, violence and injury, drew people away from work and other orderly pursuits. However, it was also used as a cover for crowds to gather for other purposes – riots, demonstrations, political meetings and to organise workers in trades (banned from legally ‘combining’ to campaign for higher wages or better conditions).  From the 16th to the 18th centuries crowds would use football matches as cover to gather for anti-enclosure riots, especially in East Anglia.

Football also went together with carnival, ‘Shrovetide’ and other festivals; the outbreak of bingeing, feasting, processions and theatre, as well as often disorder, unrestrained sexuality and partying before period of Lent abstinence seems to have gone hand in hand with a rowdy kickabout.

The ban on football was enforced in other towns too: for instance it was outlawed in Halifax in 1450; Leicester in 1467 and 1488; in Liverpool 1555 and Manchester several times in the 1600s… Imagine if it was still banned in London, Liverpool and Manchester – that’d open up the premiership.

Riotous matches continued long after the 1572 ban however… The puritans of the 17th century also hated the game. Fear of the poor, and increasing hatred of their pastimes and behaviour by the rich, underlies even superficial crowd control and need for military alternatives; even overtly non-political self-organised working class activities were thought to threaten the class system.

Ruling elites simply detested the lower classes, and everything they did; yes, in 1531, when Sir Thomas Elyot wrote in his treatise The Boke Named The Governour that football is “nothing but beastlie furie and extreme violence”, but also in 1892, when an English gentleman was quoted as having complained: “The lower middle and the working classes may be divided into two sets; Fabians [meaning socialists] and Footballers, and ‘pon my word, it’s difficult to say which is the greater nuisance to the other members of society.”

One area where it took longer to suppress street football was North east Surrey, in what is now South West London. Even though by then it had been reduced to an annual ritual game on Shrove Tuesday, this one day was too much for local authorities who had always resented the gathering of crowds & the risks of disorder…. The most explosive confrontation in this region over street football took place in Kingston; magistrates attempted throughout the 1790s to suppress the Shrove Tuesday street football game, (the powers that be were especially nervous about large gatherings of people at this time of war & widespread political radicalism ). Local merchants also resented the ‘loss of business’ the game apparently caused. In 1799 a mob assembled in the marketplace to defy the order banning the match… Some of the most active were nicked, but the crowds refused to disperse. The military based at Hampton Court “failed to turn up” when asked to help in the suppression: they were playing footie themselves on Hampton Court Green! The crowds went on to rescue their arrested mates. The long battles over Kingston’s street football didn’t end till 1867, when the corporation forced it into a new playing field – leading to angry protests & riots.

In Barnes the annual Shrove Tuesday game caused “a great nuisance” in 1829 & 1836, & the vestry (the parish council) urged its suppression. In Richmond a long tradition of street football, especially at Shrovetide, was finally put down by force in 1840; it was also banned in the same year in nearby twickenham, though a local brewer allowed it to be played in his meadow. In Hampton Wick and East Molesey it was forcibly put down in 1857, and in Hampton repression was also forced through in 1864.

In Wimbledon the local beadle was ordered to ban unlawful games on the Sabbath, such as the street football played here, probably on Easter Monday (Fair time) in Football Close. Shrovetide street football was also played in Thames Ditton into the 19th century.

Even in the late victorian times when street football had been largely repressed and the whole ‘sport’ bourgeoisified, outbreaks could still occur: in 1881, “The ancient custom of playing at football in the public streets was observed at Nuneaton on the afternoon of March 1st. During the morning a number of labourers canvassed the town for subscriptions and between one and two o’clock the ball was started, hundreds of roughs assembling and kicking it through the streets. The police attempted to stop the game, but were somewhat roughly handled.”

Street football survives as ritual games in Derby and Ashbourne… now a grovelly affair of royal patronage, and co-opted as an advert for some pissy lager a few years back… There’s nothing worse than violent rituals co-opted and made respectable.

The Upper classes however decided to appropriate the game in the 19th century, but only after they enforced some changes to alter its social status and change its whole ethos. So they tried to remove it from the street, reduce it to small teams not mass participation, and also made in men only. This colonisation though in turn reverted back to the working class, often mediated through clergymen and factory owners using it to instil discipline and hard work on the plebs.

The ‘Muscular Christians’ of Victorian times not only saw that, properly altered, given a set of rules, the game could be used to impose discipline first of all on the upper classes themselves in their public schools; and from there to help impose discipline, team spirit, physical fitness on unruly workers. So loose customary traditions were replaced by a hard set of rules written at Cambridge University by former public schoolboys.

From factory bosses forming teams of workers, to missionaries introducing the game to the benighted foreigners in Britain’s colonies, to psychotic PE teachers today, the imposition of these rules was part and parcel of internalising bourgeois values on the plebs.

Interestingly one reaction to this was an anti-football element among respectable radicals and trade unionists – for instance striking trade unionists in Derby in 1833-34, who saw the local game as “barbarous recklessness and supreme folly”, promoted by the local elite in a display of de-radicalising paternalism, and the Chartist newspaper, the Northern Star, approved of repressing street football.

But bourgying up the rules and professionalising the game didn’t entirely pacify football forever: It is something of a myth that football crowds were all well-behaved gatherings of dapper middle-aged men in hats until the 1960s. For instance, the term ‘hooligan’ was invented in 1898. And researchers at Leicester University say more than 4,000 incidents of hooliganism occurred at football matches between 1894 and 1914, particularly from 1894 to 1900 and 1908 to 1914. They suggest a link between outbreaks of football violence and the presence in the crowd of members of youth gangs, the so-called ‘scuttlers’ or ‘peaky blinders’.

The dons who refined the game were however opposed to the idea of football as a mass spectator sport, which led to such unseemly scenes as crowds of working class people shouting and swearing, and kept alive the violence and tribalism of pre-industrial footie, even though a separation had been made between player and fan… In a way, hooliganism attempts to break this separation down, to make the game about the spectator taking part, even if its, er, to kick the shit out of a rival firm. Nationalism, racism and male violence are also in there as well, in a big way – but they were in medieval times too.

Of course football in the street, park, estate continues, if not on the same scale as it once did. I’ve played it on the roofs of council blocks I was supposed to be working on, through the halfbuilt offices of the City; hung over in a misty park after a mad party. Being as silky as a lame donkey I prefer the kick and rush of yer medieval through the streets version, but each to their own.

This post owes something to an article read in Do Or Die way back when, though some of it pre-dates my coming across that piece.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

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

Yesterday in racist history: queen Elizabeth I tries to banish black people from England, 1596.

NB: There is a dispute about the historical accuracy of the statement ‘Queen Elizabeth did this’… Was it done in her name by officials of her government? Due to pressures of time we haven’t looked into it and will try to do so. Written July 2016 hence Brexity slant; thank fuck that’s all done n dusted eh?

……………………………………

Queen Elizabeth banishes foreigners from England… No, not, the final fulfillment of yer extreme Brexiteers’ fantasies…(But, yeah, similar.) No, the other queen Elizabeth. But it does get onto Brexit a bit at the end…

On 11 July 1596, Queen Elizabeth I sent a letter to City officials: “On Her Majestie understanding that there are of late diver blackamoores brought into this realme, of which kinds of people there are already to manie… Her Majesty’s pleasure therefore ys that those kinde of people should be sent forth of the lande, and for that purpose there ys direction given to this bearer… Wherein wee require you to be aydinge and assisting unto him as he shall have occacion, thereof not to faile.”

A week later, she issued an edict to “various public officials, including the lord mayor of London, requiring their co-operation in the deportation of sufficient numbers of Blackamoores to defray the costs incurred by the merchant, Casper van Senden, in returning English prisoners from Spain and Portugal.”

Most historians give 1555, when five Africans arrived in England to learn English and thereby facilitate trade, as the beginning of a continual black presence in Britain. It’s difficult to estimate numbers for the black population of London or other towns at the time, due to a lack of public record. There was no tax on the import of slaves, such as operated in other European countries, and the government had a monopoly on the trade of Africans from Guinea as house servants. At that time slaves provided a lifetime of wageless labour for the cost of the initial purchase, and increased the status of the owner. It was 1588 before attempts were made to formalise their presence.

Most black servants were slaves; some were freed men from Guinea, or Moors from north Africa. The Moors had strong ties with Spain, with which Elizabeth was at war, and were Muslims, and they became objects of suspicion to the government.

At the time Elizabeth’s 1596 instructions had little effect, but are seen as having stirred a “sense of racist differentiation and to have begun the development of a vocabulary of discrimination.” If this discrimination was “a religious rather than racist one” (as historian Emily Bartells analyses it), to the queen, there were other factors at work.

The 1590s were a time of great unrest in London, caused by lean harvests and a hungry population. In the 16th century, the ruling classes became increasingly concerned about poverty and vagrancy, as the feudal system – which, in theory, had kept everyone in their place – finally broke down. The dissolution of the monasteries had also destroyed much of the only welfare system that existed to care for the destitute. The elite feared disorder and social breakdown and, blaming the poor, brought in poor laws to try to deal with the problem. Protest over poverty turned to riot several times in London, and in 1595 to near insurrection as several weeks of turbulence shook the capital. Some of this rage emerged as xenophobia and attacks on migrant workers. Mainly these were French or Flemish craftsmen, but the queen may have thought that any groups of foreigners were likely to be a target for trouble. Elizabeth’s orders against Black people were an attempt to blame them for wider social problems.

The 1596 order, however, seems to have had no significant effect. Expressing fear that they might be taking jobs and goods away from English citizens and that ‘the most of them are infidels having no understanding of Christ or his Gospel,’ the Queen issued another ineffectual edict, then finally commissioned a Lubeck merchant, Casper van Senden, to cart them off in 1601. ‘[I]f there shall be any person or persons which are possessed of any such blackamoors that refuse to deliver them,’ the Queen wrote, other citizens were to notify the government of their presence.

Despite the Queen’s order, black people were by then well established in Britain’s houses, streets and ports. Ludicrously the idea has been put forward that Queen Elizabeth issued these edicts because she was an opponent of slavery! In fact, her own support of the English slave trade led inevitably to the increase of the Afro-British population: for instance authorising and bankrolling Sir John Hawkins, a man who later added a shackled African to his coat of arms, and his cousin Francis Drake – yeah, that Drake – to compete with the Portuguese and Spanish for this lucrative market. A trade Hawkins had already been pursuing for over thirty years: he and Drake enslaved thousands of africans.

The use of black servants and entertainers by royalty and nobility filtered down to much less affluent households and establishments. As long as black people were seen as fashion accessories, and as long as ownership of them was encouraged their numbers inevitably increased. James I continued the fashion in his more licentious court, where ‘conspicuous fashionable consumption was flaunted, and Negroes, as part of that fashion, became more in evidence’—he had a group of black minstrels and his wife had black servants.

It’s worth pointing out that as well as channeling racism the queen also did a neat bit of business, as she arranged for the slave trader Casper van Senden to transfer the deported slaves as exchange for English sailors in prison in Spain, and failed to pay the slave’ owners’ anything in the way of compensation, You have to hand it to her, she was a master of manipulation. Bartels also suggests that the increasing number of foreigners arriving in London were the result of privateers capturing Spanish ships, and that Elizabeth in fact wished to use their affiliations with Spain as currency in prisoner exchange. Many English prisoners lay in foreign gaols, and the ‘blackamoores’ were her bargaining tools.

*******************************************************************************

Today there are other folk who think that they can turn back time, to some mythical time when Britain was all white people, ruled the waves, and everyone knew their place and had full employment. Without even mentioning how ‘ruling the waves’ was based so heavily on the slave trade mentioned above (a whole other discussion to be had there), the whole idea of this glorious time is dangerous nonsense. The working class people who dream of it had no more control over their lives than now. Some of this longing was one motivation for the Brexit vote, and has been fuelling a sharp rise in racist abuse and aggressive nationalist sentiment around the UK.

But for all those who think leaving Europe will bring rewards to the excluded, abandoned, suffering from decimated industries and bleak prospects – wake up. The most likely political result is a harsher regime further to the right, more austerity, more cuts. To avoid people getting together to fight this, the wealthy need ‘indigenous’ working class people to be blaming migrants, and migrants to be afraid. No golden age will come – you can leave the EU but the global nature of trade, labour, the imbalance of wealth and poverty, the crises caused by war will not disappear.

The only fight over resources is not between native and foreigner – its between rich and poor. We need to be getting together to redistribute the abundant wealth of the world – for the needs of all not the profit of the few.

“the only race that matters is the rat race…”

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

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

Today in London’s history: Thomas More beheaded; wrote about Utopia, but a persecutor of ‘heretics’. 1535

“He was a good man…he was a saint…”

Sir Thomas More is generally revered – as a martyr, by catholics, because he was beheaded for refusing to say that the authority of King Henry VIII trumped that of the Pope; in secular and humanist circles, as an important humanist intellectual, a lynchpin in the stirrings of the liberal enlightenment. Both of these views hold him as man of conscience, of integrity and honour, refusing to compromise his core beliefs even for a king he respected and loved and who was prepared to give him a fair measure of leeway even at the last.

In recent years an alternative view of More has begun to be aired, which stresses his role as a persecutor of early protestants, a man utterly opposed Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation, who as Lord Chancellor oversaw the torture of Lutherans, and the burning of several at the stake. More’s initial efforts were directed against the English scholars and reformers who dared to read the New Testament in English rather than Latin, which was against the law in England at the time, and worse, to translate the texts so that others could also do so.

“…the heretic hunter of the mid-1520s, who personally broke into Lutherans’ homes and sent men to the stake, … [and who] would punish religious dissent not only with “displeasant” words but with state violence.” (James Wood).

When Sir Thomas learned that John Tewkesbury, a London leather-seller, secretly possessed banned books, he had him burned alive. After the execution, More expressed his satisfaction: “[He] burned as there was neuer wretche I wene better worthy.” More cherished the image of Tewkesbury burning not just on earth, but in hell, “an hote fyrebronde burnynge at hys bakke, that all the water in the worlde wyll neuer be able to quenche.”

“While he was in office he did everything in his power to bring that extermination to pass. That he did not succeed in becoming England’s Torquemada was a consequence of the king’s quarrel with the pope and not a result of any quality of mercy that stirred through More’s own heart… With the help of John Stokesley, the Bishop of London, More personally broke into the houses of suspected heretics, arresting them on the spot and sometimes interrogating them in his own home. He imprisoned one man in the porter’s lodge of his house, and had him put in the stocks. He raided the home of a businessman called John Petyt, who was suspected of financing [protestant Bible translator William] Tyndale; Petyt died in the Tower. Six rebellious Oxford students were kept for months in a fish cellar; three of them died in prison. More was now a spiritual detective, a policeman in a hair shirt, engaged in “what would now be called surveillance and entrapment among the leather-sellers, tailors, fishmongers and drapers of London.” Six protesters were burned under More’s chancellorship, and perhaps forty were imprisoned.” (Wood)

When reformers objected that it was not Christian for the church to burn heretics, More’s sharp legal mind was ready with a typically legalistic riposte: the church did not burn people; the state burned them. This was strictly true, because the ecclesiastical courts tried heretics and the state courts sentenced them. But although More asserts that the church is kind and loving, that “It is not the clergy that laboreth to have them punished to death.” that “spiritual law” is “good, reasonable, piteous, and charitable, and nothing desiring the death of any therein”, he knew that the state could be relied upon to torture and execute ‘heretics’. In essence, the church asks the heretic to repent; if he does not, the church excommunicates him, at which point “the clergy giveth knowledge to the temporalty, not exhorting the prince, or any man else, either, to kill him or to punish him.” The church does not urge anyone to punish the heretic; it “leaveth him to the secular hand, and forsaketh him.” You can see him in parliament arguing that torture and extra-ordinary rendition of suspects via Libya had nothing to do with the british security officers present…

More has been described as “cruel in punishment, evasive in argument, lusty for power, and repressive in politics” (Wood)… even as “a particularly nasty sadomasochistic pervert” (Jasper Ridley)

In the Catholic world however he was increasingly revered and eventually canonised: In 1935, Pope Pius XI officially declared Sir Thomas a saint. In 2000, Pope John Paul II even asserted that More had “served not power but the supreme ideal of justice,” and lauded him for “unfailing moral integrity.”, and officially declared Sir Thomas the patron saint of Catholic statesmen and politicians. We’ve gone beyond irony into somewhere else entirely here.

It is worth reading a fuller description of More’s crusading assault on early protestants in England.

The recent fictional portrayal of More by Hilary Mantel, as a pedantic, snobbish and self-satisfied piousness, opposed by the bluff and honest Thomas Cromwell, may well turn the tables a little, although that may be swinging the pendulum the other way a tad… Hey ho.

While More was undoubtedly an active and avid heretic hunter; is that balanced by his authorship of a classic humanist text? Like most visions of the future or ideal living, Utopia is fundamentally about the times More was going through: times of upheaval, threats to order and economic dislocation.

More was repelled by the effects of economic change on the poor that he could see happening around him in the early 1500s, and his vision criticises the growing inequality enclosure, property etc were producing. But his response very much reflected his background in the London merchant class, and his education, designed to train him up as part of an elite.

In More’s Utopia, although private property has been abolished, Utopia involves hard work and a rigid social hierarchy. Everyone (bar a few scholars) is obliged to work; the common right of all to the fruits of the labour of all is based on shared work (and shared enjoyment, admittedly), on abundance but also on enforced collectivism. Utopia, like Plato’s Republic (a very influential text for early humanists like More), is static, fixed, everyone in their place.

More didn’t trust the lower orders, fearing the poor, afraid that allowing the spread of any kind of questioning ideas among them would lead to riot, disorder, rebellion… He had seen, and taken a leading part in repressing, the tumultuous Evil Mayday riot in 1517, where anger at economic change had been channeled into attacks on migrant craftsmen working in London. More was horrified by Martin Luther’s moderate proposals for church reforms, which he saw as empowering an unleashing of the desires of the poor, and thus as having lead to the Peasants War in Germany. His hatred of heresy may have been fierce, but it was heavily tempered with a pragmatic approach – preventing the spread of discussion of religious ideas among those not properly educated to understand them, because discussion of ideas is dangerous in itself and leads to rebellion.

More’s vision of an ideal ordered society was not even published in English in his lifetime – till 1551 in fact; partly because of its sharp critique of current social policy and economic developments in England. But he was content to see it printed in Latin and circulated in a limited form among the humanist intellectual set in Western Europe that he was a part of. Such ideas were not for the unwashed, only for those who could consider such possibilities in abstraction without the suggestion of actually taking place. In his Utopia there are still convict labourers, and a meritocratic elite.

In contrast of course, the poor and labouring classes had for centuries been evolving a very different utopia of their own – the Land of Cokaygne. A paradise of laziness, where food, clothes and shelter were said to lie around free for all to take; where animals ran around ready cooked, and wine flowed in the rivers; where sexuality was open and unrestrained, morality was abolished, and the social order was turned on its head.

Cokaygne was a dream that in some ways resembled the millennium, the second coming of Christ as related in the bible (though with some serious variations…) While priests taught that this was a religious event in the future, separate from daily reality, the dream of Cokaygne was a powerful one to the hungry poor, living from harvest to harvest at the mercy of the gentry’s whims and wars. But there were rebels attempting consciously to bring about the Millennium, in More’s era. They saw it not as a metaphorical event in a distant future but a political event to be created, by force if necessary. They were not afraid of seizing the moment – because their class background was very different to Thomas More’s; they were experiencing the changes he opposed, directly, but their response was not in Latin, and didn’t involve academic discussion. More’s actual response to dissent, to religious rebels and early protestants, was to oversee their prosecution, and in a few cases their execution, in his position as Lord Chancellor. His perfect society was always one controlled from the top down, with ideas and actions tightly limited if its subjects wanted to eat.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

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

Today in London’s reactionary history: Mayday revels turn end in a pogrom against foreign workers, 1517

May Day has a long history. Although since 1889 it has been celebrated as International Workers Day, celebration on the first of May goes back centuries. In the middle ages it was a holiday, a traditional day of carnival. It marked the arrival of spring: many people would take the day off work, gathering from the evening before to drink, dance, play games and get off with each other. In London was notably popular among the apprentices, who were always a rowdy lot. But days of celebration, drinking and partying could easily turn to rioting, especially when the city was disturbed by political or social tensions. In 1517, the Mayday party was to turn very nasty…

Londoners have often been suspicious of foreigners, particularly if they thought the newcomers represented competition for jobs. Even among the most positive class uprisings that have enriched London’s history, this element of xenophobia can be seen: for instance in the 1381 Peasants Revolt, some Londoners took the opportunity to attack Flemish craftsmen working in London. As today, the wealthy elite was quite happy to hire ‘cheap foreign labour’ & then fail, or be unwilling, to protect them from local resentment: playing us off against each other has always worked quite nicely for them.

During the reign of Henry VIII, there was an increase in the numbers of migrants living in London. Many were craftsmen who settled outside the City walls, often in Spitalfields and the Bishopsgate area. Some brought new skills and techniques,  in trades as diverse as weaving, silver and gold-smithing, jewellery making, tailoring, clockmaking and brewing. There were celebrated printers, basket makers, joiners and caterers. While some of these skills made them welcomed by the wealthy, they also aroused anger and resentment from the existing artisan population.

London actually had quite the racial mix of the time, with the Italians forming “a commercial and financial aristocracy”. There were Frenchman and Jews. Greeks, Italians and Spaniards comprised London’s physicians. Studying these migrants throws up some interesting parallels with the more recent targets of racism. Many arrived fleeing religious persecution in their home countries. There was also a tendency to work hard to establish themselves. In the way of things, in a pattern seen over centuries in London, such groups often become gradually assimilated, although not without hostility, ostracism and campaigns of denunciation and some level of abuse and attacks. On occasion, there are major outbreaks of mass violence. These usually spark from an external trigger – often economic hard times.

In the early sixteenth century, London was suffering from a trade recession. In 1517,  complaints started to rise, against the ‘large number of foreigners living in the city’. John Lincoln, described as a broker, or second-hand dealer, persuaded Dr. Beal, the vicar of St Mary’s Church in Spitalfields, to preach against the foreigners in his sermon in Easter week of 1517. Beal agreed and to a great congregation in the fields outside the city he “denounced the aliens who stole Englishmen’s livelihoods and seduced their wives and daughters; he said that even birds expelled interlopers from their nests, and that men were entitled to fight for their country against foreigners.” Over the following two weeks there were sporadic attacks on foreigners and rumours abounded “that on May Day next the city would rebel and slay all aliens”.

Sebastian Giustinian, the Venetian ambassador in England, reported: “With this exasperating language and much more besides, he so irritated the populace that they threatened to cut the strangers to pieces and sack their houses on the first of May.”

The usual complaints, familiar in every generation against every new group of incomers, began to circulate. Edward Hall, a twenty year old student, wrote: “The multitude of strangers was so great about London that the poor English could get any living… The foreigners… were so proud that they disdained, mocked, and oppressed the Englishmen, which was the beginning of the grudge… The Genoans, Frenchmen, and other strangers said and boasted themselves to be in such favour with the king and his council that they set naught by the rulers of the city… How miserably the common artificers lived, and scarcely could get any work to find them, their wives, and children, for there were such a number of artificers strangers that took away all the living in manner.” Mod-up the language and its right of the Daily Mail.

On 28th April 1517 John Lincoln, clearly the Nigel Farage of his day, posted a bill upon the door of St Paul’s Cathedral, complaining that “the foreigners” were given too much favour by the king and council. It claimed that “the foreigners” had “bought wools to the undoing of Englishmen”. Sebastian Giustinian went to see Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, and then king Henry VIII, on April 29th, worried about the rumours that “people would rise and kill the foreigners on May Day”…  

King Henry promised that all foreigners would be protected. Cardinal Wolsey instructed the Lord Mayor and the city officers to enforce a curfew on the eve of May Day.

Sir Thomas More, the Under-Sheriff of London and his men, patrolled the streets on the night of April 30th. Some young apprentices broke the curfew – when an officer tried to arrest one of them, a riot broke out. More’s men charged the rioters with their staves. This inflamed the situation – soon afterwards a large crowd of young people were attacking foreigners and burning the houses of Venetian, French, Italian, Flemish and German merchants. However this was only the prelude to the events of the following day…
Edward Hall reported that “diverse young men of the city assaulted the aliens as they passed by the streets, and some were stricken and some were buffeted, and some thrown into the canal… Then suddenly was a common secret rumour, and no man could tell how it began, then on May Day next the city would rebel and slay all aliens, in so much as diverse strangers fled out of the city.”

It was reported that rioters ran through the city with “clubs and weapons… throwing stones, bricks, bats, hot water, shoes and boots, and sacking the houses of many foreigners”. It is estimated that 2,000 Londoners sacked the houses of foreign merchants.

“…alderman Sir John Murray tried to arrest two boys enjoying a bout of ‘sword and buckler’ in front of a large crowd of apprentices they took it that the City authorities intended to suppress traditional rights. With a cry of ‘Clubs!’ poor Sir John was chased off and his quarry left to escape.
Frayed tempers and London gossip soon created a number of street-corner crowds led by both workers and ‘gentlemen’.
Then more people arose out of every quarter, and out came Servingmen, and Watermen, and Courtiers, and by a XI of the clock there were in Chepe six or seven hundred. And out of
Paul’s Churchyard came three hundred which wist not of the other, and so out of all places they gathered, and brake up the Counters, and took out the prisoners that the Mayor had hither committed for hurting of the strangers, and came to Newgate and took out Studley and Petyt, committed thither for that cause .
More, now in a funk over what to do next, tried to talk the crowds into going home when they reached St Martin’s Le Grand but his band of supporters were pelted, abused and forced to retreat, leaving the rioters free to attack property and passers-by in Cheapside, Cornhill and Fenchurch Street. A foreign merchant called John Meantys had his house wrecked. Originating in Picardy, Meantys was not merely the King’s French Secretary, he was also well known for sharp practice and illicit wool carding.”

The rioting continued all night and on the morning and afternoon of May Day. According to Jasper Ridley: “The hated Frenchmen were the chief target of the rioters. Several were assaulted in the street. The French ambassador escaped, when his house was attacked, by hiding in a church steeple… The London watch was quite incapable of dealing with the rioters. The Constable of the Tower opened fire on them with his cannon, but only shot a few rounds and did no damage.”

That afternoon, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, brought 1,300 soldiers into the city and mass arrests began to take place. The first batch of 279 people were brought before the courts later that day. Edward Hall described the prisoners as “some men, some lads, some children of thirteen years… there was a great mourning of fathers and friends for their children and kinsfolk.”

There is some disagreement about how many people were punished for the riotous events. Estimates for the number executed ranged from eleven to as high as sixty. Those executed suffered the penalty of being “hanged, drawn and quartered”.

John Lincoln was tried separately on 6th May. He was found guilty and executed. The public was said to be shocked by the way Henry VIII had dealt with the rioters, especially as they commented that no one had been killed by the rioters. Jasper Ridley points out: “For the first time since he became King, Henry risked his popularity with the people by his severe repression of the anti-foreign rioters of Evil May Day. The resentment felt against the foreigners; the sympathy for the young apprentices; the grief of the parents when their boys of thirteen were executed; the feeling that in many cases the more innocent had been punished while the more guilty escaped; and the tales, which Hall reported, of the brutality of the Earl of Surrey’s soldiers who suppressed the disorders, all aroused great sympathy of the rioters.”

Although the king was accused of being “far more sympathetic to foreigners than the common folk”, it was clearly very important for Henry “to show the foreign merchants that they could safely come to London and carry on their business there; and, even more important, he would not tolerate anarchy in his realm, or any defiance of his royal authority and laws.”

According to Edward Hall the rest of the captured rioters (said to be as many as 400), with halters around their necks, were brought to Westminster Hall in the presence of Henry VIII. He sat on his throne, from where he condemned them all to death. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey then fell on his knees and begged the king to show compassion while the prisoners themselves called out “Mercy, Mercy!” Eventually the king relented and granted them pardon. At which point they cast off their halters and “jumped for joy”.

Tensions over migration, however, have obviously cropped since… Many times. As they are again today. While the ability of malcontents like John Lincoln to involve hundreds in pogroms has diminished, there’s no telling how things will pan out. Especially with the plethora of sunny commentators and media whipping up hysteria against migrants wherever they can.

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

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