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 circulate 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 und 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. He 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 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

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Today in London trade history: master tailors go to court to restrict rights of their workers, 1415

In London, as in many other cities, the middle ages saw work and its rules and regulations codified in trade Guilds, composed of workmen from specific trades and crafts. Their purpose was to defend the interests of the trade, regulate the quality of workmanship and the training of new members, and provide support and welfare for their members. Established by charter and regulated by the City of London, London’s guilds also provided a political voice to their members, who as freemen of the City had the right to elect members of the Court of Aldermen and Common Council. London had eighty-nine guilds in the eighteenth century, ranked according to a hierarchy of precedence with the twelve Great Companies at the top. The powers of the guilds to regulate economic activity declined substantially in the eighteenth century, and their primary functions were increasingly confined to providing social prestige, business contacts and a political voice to their members. They also provided substantial charity to their members, partly funded by large charitable bequests which they administered.

Membership in a guild could be taken up in one of three ways: by completing a seven year apprenticeship, by patrimony (if one’s father was a member of the company), or by redemption (payment of a fee). None of these routes of entry ensured that the member would actually practice the company’s trade. Owing to the Custom of London, members of London guilds could practise any trade in the City. Consequently, even though a completed apprenticeship remained the most common route to membership, guilds often included numerous members who did not actually practice the relevant trade. The ratio of members practising the craft to others varied from guild to guild, with the less prestigious guilds such as the Carpenters’ Company having a larger number of practicing craft members. Other companies, such as the Grocers’, Fishmongers’, and Goldsmiths’, had many fewer practising members, and, owing to the high cost of admission, became “little more than gentleman’s clubs”.

Most guilds were composed of men from a mixture of social backgrounds. Apprentices were almost invariably young and came from both relatively poor and wealthy homes. Journeymen, craftsmen who had finished their apprenticeship but had not set up an independent business, were relatively poorly paid. Master craftsmen ran anything from a small one-man workshop to a thriving business with several apprentices, journeymen, and partners in other trades. By the eighteenth century most guilds did not include women, though sometimes widows who took over their husbands’ businesses became members by default, and took over the training of their husbands’ apprentices. Even in this instance, women were excluded from participation in company business.

Guilds were normally governed by a master, two wardens, and a Court of Assistants, which set policies, oversaw the administration of company properties, and governed the distribution of charitable funds.

But the Medieval guilds, while designed to unite trades vertically, were themselves inevitably split by class struggle. The interests of the masters and more prosperous employers diverged from those of the journeymen who worked for them, and the apprentices who were learning the job.

Journeymen’s resentment at working conditions, poor pay and lack on control over their work sparked attempts to get together, organise, demand change… this was met by guild hierarchies and the masters, to repress this organisation by the ‘servants’ of the guild.

Against this background the lower orders or ‘yeomanry’ of City companies like the founders, tailors, curriers, bakers and clothworkers fought running battles with the livery over elections to guild positions and the posts of aldermen in London’s council, over control of charitable funds for the poor and use of the right of search.

The Merchant Tailors Guild was notable among these struggles. For centuries one of crafts where organisation among the lower orders was most active.

Tailors were often seen as radical, politically, by tradition… it has been suggested that radical politics often flourished among tailors partly due to their working in quiet conditions, often one or two in a house or workshop, with time to think, discuss ideas… But economics also probably played a large part – in a trade where piece work was the norm, work was very subject to ups and downs of general prosperity, seasons, trade depressions, the imports of cloth…

The early fifteenth century saw legal moves by master tailors to shut down autonomy and ‘combinations’ among journeymen and apprentices. On 19 April 1415, masters challenged in court the right of their servants’ to live in their own dwellings, assemble and meet together freely, and to belong to their own separate fraternity. These yeomen possibly lived in “3 Shears Court,” described by Stowe in his Survey as lying adjacent to the church of St. James’, Garlick Hill.

The masters complained that the journeymen tailors were living in their own dwellings “by themselves alone in companies,” against the licence or will of the Master, and “without head or government.” Woo. Dangerous.

Not only that, but they had ‘behaved in an unruly manner, and that allowing them their own fraternity or gatherings ‘would lead to disturbances, as similar assemblies of the same mistery had done before’.

Two of the offenders were summoned to appear before the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, who adjudged “that the servants of the foresaid trade shall be hereafter under government and rule of the Master and Wardens of the aforesaid trade, as other servants of other trades in the said City are, and are bound by law to be, and that they shall not use henceforth livery or dress, meetings or conventicles, or other unlawful things of this kind.”

The masters thus won the case; ‘yoman taillours’ were subsequently only permitted to gather within the church of St John in the presence of their masters. Clearly there was already a dissident faction among the journeymen and apprentices, and they had been agitating prior to this court case…

The court case didn’t end the tailors’ struggles. Two years later in August 1417, the journeymen “as a Brotherhood of Yeoman Tailors,” approached the Lord Mayor for permission to assemble “on the Feast of the Decollation of St. John the Baptist next following and so henceforth yearly, in the church of St. John of Jerusalem, near Smythfield, there to offer for the deceased brothers and sisters of the said brotherhood, and to do other things which they have been accustomed to do there”. However, this proposal, while sounding innocuous, must have implied dangerous and rebellious tendencies – the masters objected, and the Court thought fit to “order and consider that in future times no servant or apprentice of the said trade shall presume by themselves to make or enter assemblies or conventicles at the foresaid church of St. John or elsewhere, unless with and in presence of the Masters of the said trade, etc., on pain of imprisonment and fine.”

Any gathering not overseen by the guild hierarchy was basically suspect.

In the 1440s the struggle between the lower orders of the tailors and their masters was to erupt into serious revolt. The wealthy masters were attempting to strengthen their rights to examine journeymen’s work, and prosecute those ‘guilty of defective work, while the ‘yeomen’ clamoured to be able to elect their own representatives to the ranks of the City Aldermen. Alliances were made between the journeymen across guild lines, and in 1443 a conspiracy was supposedly quashed, in which 2000 armed artisans were planning to riot in support of a demand to be admitted to the process of electing aldermen and the mayor. However, the masters were better organised, and not was this plot defused, but journeymen tailors and their allies in other guilds in fact faced defeat, with previously held rights lost, a situation that lasted decades for centuries. But the journey men tailors would maintain a stubborn resistance to their betters, organising in secret, evolving fraternities and clubs to agitate for better wages and conditions… So formidable that this network would be labeled the ‘tailor’s republic’ in the 18th century…

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Today in London rebel history: William FitzOsbert, or Longbeard, executed,1196, after popular disturbances.

‘Around this time I noticed that there was bad feeling and conflict in the city of London between the rich and the poor’. (Ralph Diceto)

‘And in the same yere an heretyke called with the longe berd was drawen and hanged for heresye and cursed doctrine that he had taught.’  Chronicle of London, 1196

‘He (King Richard) used England as a bank on which to draw and overdraw in order to finance his ambitious exploits abroad.’ A. L. Poole in the Oxford History of England

In the early 1190s, taxation was provoking serious tensions between the rich and poor people of the city of London. King Richard I, bafflingly nicknamed the Lionheart (read either ‘pschopathic warmonger’ or ‘little bloke who wants to kick off in the playground but gets battered’) by centuries of groveling muppets, urgently ‘needed’ vast wodges of cash to fund his pointless dynastic wars to defend the parts of his lands he really cared about, in France, and his inept attempts to go down in history as a valiant defender of the holy faith by re-conquering a few slivers of territory in Palestine. Being the king, he felt it was his right to extort this from the population of England (though he only every spent two very brief periods in England in his whole life, amounting in total to less than six months.) In the process he would nearly bankrupt the country, increase poverty and desperation, and spark dissent among even his own family.

This would also contribute to a little-known incident in London history, a brief flash of anger and rebellion, the true significance of which is shrouded and will likely never be known: the ‘revolt’ of William Longbeard.

The late 1180s and early 1190s saw a succession of taxes imposed to fund the crusades, wars, and later the ransom for king Richard when he lion-heartedly managed to get himself kidnapped by a rival prince. London, being the largest and most important city, had to bear the largest share, including for the massive ransom demanded when the king was captured on his way home. A levy for the aid of Jerusalem, known as the ‘Saladin Tithe’, in 1188, a tax to contribute to the king’s ransom in 1193, and another tax in 1194, were all on top of the regular sums extracted from the city of London, such as the farm, which was paid once a year. The crown’s exceptional demands on the city brought taxation to the forefront of the civic political agenda.

Like most taxes, in theory the better-off pay more, as in the same percentage of earnings of property means more if you earn or possess more. As usual, however, the rich and powerful of London tried, (and often succeeded) in passing on the main burden of the taxes onto the ‘poorer sort’, commonly evading or getting out of their duty to pay. How things have changed eh? You wouldn’t see the authorities allowing that sort of behaviour these days.

The poor of London in the 1190s complained that they were far more heavily taxed than the rich.

In 1196 a brief and abortive rebellion sparked in London against the heavy taxes, led by one William Fitz Osbert, nick-named Longbeard, because, he and his kinsmen had ‘adhered to this ancient English fashion of being bearded as a testimony of their hatred against their Norman masters’. (Matthew Paris). Apparently long beards then were viewed as symbols of pilgrims, and of learning, but also had the implication of ‘resistance to authority’… The hippies would like that (though as to hipsters…? Hmmm) His striking beard which ‘made him more conspicuous in meetings and assemblies’.

It is thought William was a Londoner, the son of ‘Osbert the Clerk’. The family wasn’t rich but was certainly well-to-do, thus William had been able to study law at university, supported partly by his brother Richard. Later he went on crusade to the Holy Land, returning about 1192-3, when he became involved in the internal civic politics of London. He was said to have been endowed with ‘a sharp mind’, was ‘moderately educated but unusually eloquent’.

The chronicler Gervase of Canterbury, who was one of FitzOsbert’s most hostile critics, adds that ‘he was most eloquent’. Even allowing for the chroniclers’ exaggeration of FitzOsbert’s charisma, which was intended to explain why he secured a following among the masses, it seems clear that he must have been an articulate and sophisticated man, with a forceful personality.

At this time the collection of taxes and levies was ‘left to Londoners themselves’. The aldermen of each city ward met at the ‘wardmoot’, an institution that went back to Anglo-Saxon times. Consent needed to be obtained and then each citizen was meant to contribute according to his wealth, although normally wealthier citizens were expected to pay at a higher rate than poorer people. If anyone possessed a ‘stone house’ they were deemed to be wealthy and ‘singled out and required to contribute at a higher rate’.

This Anglo-Saxon custom was being increasingly bypassed and ignored by the wealthier citizens of London, many of whom were the French-speaking descendants of the Norman conquerors; the poor being mostly the English.

“Great and frequent were the talliages imposed upon the City of London, for Richard’s ransom: and the burthen, according to the popular opinion, was increased, by the inequality of its apportionment or repartition. London at this period, contained two distinct orders of citizens: the Aldermen, the “Majores” or “Nobiles”, as they are termed in the ancient Year Books of the City, the Patricians or higher order, constituting (as they asserted) the municipal Communia, and constantly exercising the powers of government. To these, were opposed the lower order, who — perhaps being subdivided amongst themselves into two tribes of plebeians — maintained that they were the true Communia, to which, as of right, the municipal authority ought to belong. And in these conflicting ranks, an historical theorist may suppose that he discovers the vestiges of the remote period, when London was inhabited by distinct races or nations, each dwelling in their own peculiar town — the Ealdormannabyrigy still known as the Aldermanbury — inhabited by the nobles or conquering caste: whilst the rest of the city was peopled by the tributary or subject community. All contemporary chroniclers tell the same story: there was massive discontent because the wealthy and powerful were trying to avoid their share of the levy being raised to pay the king’s ransom. (Sir Francis Palgrave)

By 1194 King Richard’s ransom had been collected from the citizens of London and from the rest of the country, and early that year Richard returned to England for a brief visit. At this time, William Fitz Osbert, who might have known the king, them being together on crusade, denounced his own brother, Richard Fitz Osbert, and two other rich Londoners to the king. He claimed they were not only avoiding paying their fair share of the taxes that were still being raising for Richard’s campaign plans in France, but that they had traitorous discussions against the king as well.

“A document preserved in the rolls of the curia regis confirms that in a November session of the court in the sixth year of the reign of Richard I (1194), Richard FitzOsbert, Robert Brand, and Jordan Tanner were accused by William FitzOsbert of having held a meeting in Richard FitzOsbert’s stone house at which treasonous statements were made. Richard was accused of resenting the obligation to pay royal taxes. Jordan Tanner was held to have expressed a desire that the king never return home, and Robert Brand was charged with declaring that London would never have any other king except the mayor.”

The thrust of the accusation may have been family jealousy or an attempt to win favour with the king; in any case the accusation ended in either no action being taken against the three, or it being dismissed. Hostile chroniclers took it as evidence that FitzOsbert was really motivated by a desire to acquire his brother’s possessions or personal animosity.

However, it marks the beginning of FitzOsbert’s rise to prominence as a critic of the rich as tax avoiders and, briefly, a popular agitator.

From personal accusations against people he knew, FitzOsbert moved onto a more general campaign of disruption and propaganda. He is reported by the chroniclers who tell the story as alleging that ‘on the occasion of every royal edict the rich spared their own fortunes and because of their power placed the whole weight on the poor and defrauded the royal treasury of a large sum’.

All the chroniclers suggest that FitzOsbert was organising a popular movement, under his leadership. There is no record of FitzOsbert ever serving in any recognized or elected post, as a sheriff or alderman: he seems to have gained influence without holding office. Prominent and established Londoners dominated the ranks of the mayors, sheriffs and aldermen. Aldermen at this time probably inherited or bought their position, without being directly elected; it is possible that Fitz Osbert achieved prominence by speaking out at the wardmoots or the folkmoot, effectively public meetings usually used for agreeing and ratifying local decisions.

The Folkmoots, assemblies of male citizens held at St Pauls, and wardmoots, local meetings in each ward, served as venues of London community self-government, on the level of local decision-making, but could also inevitably be opportunities for popular discontent and agitation, especially in times of particular grievance or pressure.

A charismatic speaker, such as William FitzOsbert is said to have been, might well become popular by being a loud voice of dissent and criticism at such meetings. According to Newburgh, Fitz Osbert disrupted public meetings, and Diceto, the dean of St Paul’s, suggests that he “bound the people to himself with oaths and that his rhetoric was responsible for a riot in St Paul’s.” (Note that the folkmoot was held next to St Pauls, so perhaps a riot that began at a folkmoot?)

Disrupting official meetings, and binding the citizens with oaths, represented a threat to the established political order. FitzOsbert was also prepared to appeal to the king, according to Newburgh FitzOsbert ‘deemed it necessary to go overseas to complain to the prince that he suffered the enmity… of the powerful’. Again, the budding popular leader may have been trading on personal contact with the king developed in the crusades, and made a point of public support of the king while challenging the immediate authorities in he city. Howden asserts that FitzOsbert ‘obtained [the king’s] peace for himself and the people’. If so, it was a temporary peace…

Although, the chroniclers use a variety of terms to describe FitzOsbert’s supporters, including paupers, plebs, and cives Lundoniarum, this may not mean all of FitzOsbert’s support came from the very poor. At a time when the idea of the poor having a voice in the city’s politics, or wider political decision-making, was not considered at all, or would have been seen by the elite to be a joke, an impossibility, or represented a threat of chaos and disorder, this emphasis may be deliberately aimed discrediting the movement. FitzOsbert’s supporters could in fact have included many people from the ‘middling sort’ and had wealth worth taxing – certainly people who had something to lose to the extra tax regimes, not people who had nothing. Proof is impossible to come by on this, though when Hubert Walter, archbishop of Canterbury and Justiciar of England, was drawn into the troubles, and pressurised London’s citizens to hand over FitzOsbert, he ordered the arrest of London merchants visiting fairs in the surrounding counties. It’s not clear whether the merchant classes were known as supporters of Fitz Osbert, or merely being used as hostages.

In antagonising Hubert Walter, responsible in the king’s absence for keeping order in the realm, Fitz Osbert over-reached himself. Walter ‘convoked the common people, spoke to them squarely . . . and admonished them to give hostages for being loyal to the king’… but FitzOsbert, ‘supported by the crowd proceeded with a show of pomp and organized public meetings on his own authority’.

Hubert Walter saw the threat of disorder would be reduced by removing the figure at the movement’s head, and used both persuasion and threat to try to convince Londoners, including ordering the arrest of any Londoners caught outside the city (‘at Stamford Fair [March 31] some merchants… were arrested’.) But by April 1196, Walter resorted to force, after his men sent to bring FitzOsbert to trial were intimidated by the latter’s supporters. Walter sent armed men, supported by ‘noble citizens’, to arrest FitzOsbert; the latter and some of his followers fought them off, by all accounts, FitzOsbert personally killed one of the officers.

Realisation might have set in then that the forces arrayed against him might outweigh the 1000s he was supposed to by then command, or at least influence. FitzOsbert and a few supporters legged it to St Mary le Bow church, and took sanctuary refuge in the church tower, relying on the inviolability of sanctuary. But Hubert Walter decided to violate the sanctity of the church (very controversial at the time) and the steeple was burned to force FitzOsbert out, while more soldiers were sent into the city to overawe the common people.

FitzOsbert surrendered when the church was ‘besieged with fire and smoke’. Once captured, William FitzOsbert was taken to the Tower, tried, and then on April 6th, 1196, brought to Smithfield for execution, dragged “through the centre of the city to the elms, his flesh was demolished and spread all over the pavement and, fettered with a chain, he was hanged that same day on the elms with his associates and died”. This was unusual for the time, as “the public execution of a prominent public figure was clearly not part of the normal political process.”

His execution, and the occupation of the city by archbishop Walter’s soldiers, squashed the immediate threat of class disorder in London, though it did also, for a while, turn FitzOsbert into a martyr.

“Gervase of Canterbury relates that ‘a sudden rumour spread through the city that William was a new martyr and shone through miracles’. People started seeking out his place of execution. Newburgh notes that the gibbet was stolen and ‘the earth underneath, as if it were consecrated by the blood of the hanged man… was scraped away by the fools in small bits until a considerable ditch was formed’.

Even in death FitzOsbert was a threat to order, and Newburgh remarks that the ‘multitude continually kept watch’ at the execution site ‘and this very vain error became so strong that it could have misled even the wise’. The intensity of the spiritual focus on him after death does suggest the strength and depth of his support within the population at large, and could have sparked further imitation of his methods – or so the authorities though. Again, they resorted to violence. Gervase of Canterbury records that ‘an ambush was laid and those who came at night-time to pray were whipped’.” (John McEwan)

The budding cult of William Longbeard was suppressed.

It remains unclear, and is unlikely to ever be clarified, at this distance of time, how much William Longbeard FitzOsbert was the head of a genuine popular movement, how large the discontent spread, and how much of a threat to the London authorities it was. It seems to have dissipated quickly under the repression led by Walter and the London notables. And how much was Longbeard seeking to exploit anger for his own ends – power in the city? Impossible to tell.

Its clear that the events caused no immediate change in the power structures in London; “the civic leadership was disconnected from the population”, and it remained so afterwards. But the incident shows that popular pressure could have an impact, and that there the civic authorities could not necessarily expect unquestioning deference, and that there was a preparedness, at least from some elements in the lower and middling strata, to protest the unequal financial economic burden of taxation.

“The chroniclers maintain that the lower orders were willing to express their opinions, and indeed that they believed that their interests should play an important role in determining the policy of the community. The chroniclers also make clear that there were recognised mechanisms whereby public opinion could be made manifest. Public meetings provided a vehicle for the expression of sentiments of dissatisfaction, and indeed it was possible for a man such as William FitzOsbert, who was not in the first rank of London merchants, to acquire influence by articulating the critical opinions of an angry section of the population. Furthermore, even though poor and middling men did not serve as mayors or sheriffs, their opinions ultimately mattered in civic politics, because they were not easily coerced. When a restive section of the population opposed their methods of organising taxation, the authorities could not implement a policy.” (John McEwan)

William Longbeard’s posthumous reputation in written sources was initially dim, as the main chroniclers of London at this time generally took pains to portray him in negative terms, while acknowledging the anger the unequal burden of tax had aroused. But this was to change in the years following the events. To some extent the memory of Longbeard chimed with the tales of outlaws like Robin Hood: the good rebel, supporter and friend of the good absent king, who is being betrayed by evil counselors or rapacious sheriffs, who are oppressing the loyal people.

Less than a century after his savage death, in the hands of Matthew Paris, FitzOsbert was transformed from a villain into a hero. “Paris presents a stridently sympathetic portrait of FitzOsbert, describing him as the leader of a movement which resisted the unreasonable impositions made upon the poor by the mayor and aldermen. He calls the attack on St. Mary le Bow church a ‘sacrilege’ … Paris’s account, in addition to providing a perspective which contrasts with those of the earlier chroniclers, provides evidence that FitzOsbert lived on in the popular imagination. In part, this was because of the dramatic nature of his death, but it was also because taxation and conflict between the rich and the underprivileged continued to be relevant issues that excited passions and sparked debate.”

Alot of this was nicked John McEwan, William FitzOsbert and the Crisis of 1196 in London

https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/flor/article/viewFile/14454/15526

 

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

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Today in London’s radical history: crowd prevent the burning of the North Briton, 1763

“Well! but we have had a prodigious riot: are not you impatient to know the particulars? It was so prodigious a tumult, that I verily thought half the administration would have run away to Harrowgate.
The North Briton was ordered to be burned by the hangman at Cheapside, on Saturday last.”

The North Briton was a radical newspaper published in 18th century London. It was written anonymously (as were many other similar earlier newspapers which opposed, questioned or satirised the government – largely because the authorities would prosecute writers, printers and editors for sedition on a regular basis); but The North Briton is closely associated with John Wilkes, demagogue, rakish hellraiser, sometime reformer (and eventual pillar of the establishment). The Briton became most famous and infamous for issue number 45, which sparked prosecution, seizure, arrest and exile for Wilkes, and forty or so court cases.

“45” became a popular slogan of liberty in the latter part of the 18th century, chalked as graffiti everywhere.

The North Briton was begun as a counter-blast to The Briton, a pro-government paper started by Tobias Smollett. Only eight days after that newspaper began publication, the first issue of The North Briton came out. It then came out weekly until the resignation of the Bute government.

Issue number 45 (23 April 1763) criticised a royal speech in which King George III praised the Treaty of Paris ending the Seven Years’ War. As a result Wilkes was charged with libel, in effect, accusing the King of lying, which got him locked up in the Tower of London for a while. However, Wilkes challenged the warrant for his arrest and the seizure of the paper, and won the case. His courtroom speeches kick-started the cry of “Wilkes and Liberty!”, which became a popular slogan for freedom of speech and resistance to the establishment. It merged with a powerful and growing movement working for political reform, but it was an uneasy alliance, temporarily thrusting middle class and aristocratic reformers and opportunists, elements of the powerful and volatile London mob, together. At its head Wilkes always had his own advancement and reputation as his primary focus…

Later in 1763, Wilkes reprinted the issue, which was again seized by the government. They ordered that copies should be burned publicly in Cheapside, the City of London’s main drag, by the official hangman. Given that the City was a stronghold of the reform movement, its politicians often Wiles’ allies, this was a provocation to Wilkes supporters. However, before the papers could be burned, the assembled crowd rescued the text, assaulting the hangman.

“The mob rose; the greatest mob, says Mr Sheriff Blunt, that he has known in forty years. They were armed with that most bloody instrument, the mud out of the kennels: they hissed in the most murderous manner; broke Mr Sheriff Harley’s coach glass in the most frangent manner; scratched his forehead, so that he is forced to wear a little patch in the most becoming manner; and obliged the hangman to burn the paper with a link, though faggots were prepared to execute it in a more solemn manner. Numbers of gentlemen, from windows and balconies, encouraged the mob, who, in about an hour and half, were so undutiful to the ministry, as to retire without doing any mischief…”

The ensuing uproar caused Wilkes to be flee across the English Channel to France; he was tried and found guilty in absentia of obscene libel and seditious libel, and was declared an outlaw on 19 January 1764.

He would return to England, be imprisoned again, stand for election as an MP for Middlesex, several times, and be barred, repeatedly, while mobs fought for him and the government fought to keep him – and them – out… Throughout his career he also had powerful allies among the rich merchant classes and City politicians, and eventually he would rise to command soldiers repressing the 1780 Gordon Rioters, and become Lord Mayor of London.

Nonetheless, by the time Wilkes was released from prison in 1770, “45” was still a popular icon not only of Wilkes, but of freedom of speech in general.

You can read the North Briton no 45 here.

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

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.

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

Today in London’s rebel history: ‘Incoherent insurrection’ in the City, 1263.

The later years of the thirteenth century reign of king Henry III were dominated by a constitutional crisis, which degenerated into civil war. Opposing the king’s attempts to raise more money, incensed by his methods of government, were a coterie of leading barons, led by Henry’s own brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort. Fearing Henry was attempting to centralize power in his own hands, reversing some of the powers and freedoms the baronial rebellions against his father king John had won.

The baronial discontent tuned in with a general rumble of anger in the country, caused by widespread famine and hunger in the 1250s and ‘60s. As a result the barons were able to recruit sections of the populace to their cause.

In 1258, initiating the move toward reform, seven leading barons forced Henry to agree to the Provisions of Oxford, which effectively abolished the absolutist Anglo-Norman monarchy, giving power to a council of twenty-four barons to deal with the business of government and providing for a great council in the form of a parliament every three years, to monitor their performance.

However, the king soon reneged on this agreement, precipitating a struggle with de Montfort over control of the royal council and state policy.

London was of course divided, but there was a groundswell of popular support for de Montfort and the reformers. Although many of the aldermen and leading merchants were firmly behind the king, de Montfort and his allies learned to circumvent them by appealing to the popular opinion of London.

In London popular politics was often expressed through the folkmoot, an open assembly of citizens, held in what would later be the northeast corner of St. Paul’s churchyard (more extensive than it is now), close to the food markets of Cornmarket and Cheapside, which was then the effective nucleus of the city,

Earlier in the struggle the king had used the folkmoot against his opponents – harnessing the popular voice against the power of the City faction resisting the king, and using the authority it conferred to replace them with his own supporters. De Montfort now reversed this process, arousing popular support to push for his demand for a reform of royal government. The folkmoot was susceptible to pressure and manipulation by interested parties – the fact that its support was utterly reversed in the course of a few years may indicate a swing in opinion, or that the relevant meetings were packed.

But beyond the directed, considered alliance of leading citizens with the barons, there was a rage and rebelliousness, which has often characterized London politics, and which these respectable rebels would often flirt with, tap for allies, but fear at the same time. The uncontrollable violence of the London mob, sometimes progressive, sometimes reactionary and xenophobic – often, outbreaks had elements of both. Hatred of the royal family broke out in 1263 as de Montfort marshalled opposition to king Henry.

Henry refused to give in to de Montfort’s demand for the 1258 Provisions to be restored – sparking an uprising across half the country. In London, the king and queen locked themselves in the Tower as panic swept the capital. His attempt to raise a loan in the City to pay for troops was rejected, and his son, Edward, raided the New Temple on June 26th 1263 for cash. Order collapsed, and people poured into the streets, armed, as the aldermen tried to persuade the king to surrender.

Throughout late June and early July armed bands hunted down royalists, attacked their houses, and daily demonstrations thronged the streets. Leaders emerged from the crowds (their enemies, temporarily impotent, marked down 50 names of those they considered leaders of the popular movement). The uprising of the lower orders pushed the London authorities to make an alliance with de Montfort; the king, who had been besieged in the Tower, announced his surrender to their terms on July 16th. The husting and aldermannic government were set aside and the populace, led by a revolutionary mayor, governed through the folkmoot and reasserted control of the mayoral election. The ‘whole commune’ of London professed their support for the baronial reforms.

But the struggle was to continue, with the balance of power see-sawing between the parties, and erupt into pitched battles between the king’s party and de Montfort’s. In December 1263 the Londoners broke down the gate at London Bridge to allow Montfort and his army escape being trapped by the king’s forces outside of the city walls.

By March 1264, bands of Londoners led by Hugh Despenser were attacking exchequer and royal officers in London, as well as ravaging the lands of not just royalists but even members of the royal family in the home counties. And in May that year, many hundreds of Londoners lined up with their baronial allies on the battlefield at Lewes in Sussex, where king henry was defeated by de Montfort’s forces.

Though de Montfort then took over the government, calling the first real representative Parliament, he was killed in 1265 by royal troops. Revenge on Londoners who were known to have been prominent in support of the reform party was swift – hundreds of Londoners were rounded up, 60 leading citizens were taken as hostages, the property of several was seized by the royal party. A number of Londoners (and some non-Londoners who had happened to be in the capital during the revolt), most seemingly totally unconnected with the wars, were arrested, robbed and imprisoned in various parts of the country, in an orgy of retribution.

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

Today in London’s radical past: Tax riot in the City, 1648

On 13th January 1648, there was a tax riot in London; after an attempt to levy a special tax on salt in the City, to pay for arrears of pay for ‘army supernumeraries’, there were disturbances in protest. A soldier was beaten by a crowd, and sheriffs trying to restore order were driven off with shouts of “the king and no plunder!” Anger at the high cost of the war effort, hardship and hunger, and such random financing of the army in this way, was merging with a resurgent royalism against the parliamentary regime… or the royalists were using the crowds for their own agenda…

In response the House of Commons asked General Fairfax to send troops to occupy Whitehall and the Mews for the protection of Parliament and indirectly to coerce the House of Lords. This had the added beneficial effect of subduing conservative opponents, of the more radical House of Commons, who were making trouble in the House of Lords… The power of the army as a separate (and politically radical) force in its own right was making its mark in London as it never had so far in the Civil War. So maybe there was a bit of a set-up here?

Source: History of the great civil war, 1642-1649 / by Samuel … v.4. Gardiner, Samuel Rawson, 1829-1902. Online at: http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hwk1xd;view=1up;seq=75

NB: I’m not sure if this ‘riot’ is what the following Report in Parliament on January 14th 1648 refers to:

‘Sir J. Stowell an Judge Jenkins to be tried this Term.; Lord Mayor and Justices to procecute Reports in Fleet street.

That the Lord mayor and Justices be required to prosecute at this Sessions in the Old Bailey effectually, the late Rioters in Fleetstreet, and other Parts in the City of London, that so the Offenders may be brought to speedy Punishment, according to the Law.’

But the order to quarter troops near to the Houses of Parliament is mentioned just afterwards:

“The General to Quarter Soldiers in whitehall and Mewse.

It was likewise this Day, upon further Debate, Ordered, That the General do take Course for the Safety and Security of the Parliament; and that he send some Number of Horse and Foot to be quartered within the Liberties of Westminster; and to prevent the Quartering of them upon the Inhabitants of Westminster, they ordered the Foot should be quartered in Whitehall, where they will be the least Trouble and the greatest Ease to the Inhabitants, and the Horse in the Mewse, near Charing Cross; and all Accomodation of Bedding, and otherwise, was ordered to be provided for them.”

Proceedings in Parliament from January 3. till January 29. 1647.

An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out:
http://www.alphabetthreat.co.uk/pasttense/calendar.html

Today in London’s rebel past: barricades in the City of London, 1642

On the night of January 5-6th, 1642, barricades were built in parts of the City of London, most notably in Cheapside…

… in preparation for a rumoured royalist massacre of Londoners, as tensions mounted between the king and his supporters, and parliamentarian opponents, who had overwhelming backing from both the City aldermen and the general London populace. These tensions were shortly to break out into the English Civil War.

King Charles had, the previous day, tried and failed to arrest five MPs in Parliament, among the most prominent leaders in the movement to restrict his influence and push forward a reforming agenda both politically and in terms of religion. The MPs had fled to the City, hiding out in Coleman Street near Moorgate, then a hotbed of political radicalism and religious dissidence…

Londoners feared the king would send soldiers to march on the City from Westminster to put down his enemies. “Amid uproar and wild rumours of civil war, the London trained bands (voluntary City militia) were mobilised in support of Parliament.” Local women were also boiling scalding water to pour on the heads of the cavaliers from the upstairs of the narrow-packed City houses.

The attack never came. The king realised he had very likely lost this round, and was soon to flee London and mobilise support further afield… The Civil War was now inevitable. Throughout the conflict London would be a stronghold of parliamentarian support; in deed, as the war pushed on, the City population became more radical, and support for independent religious sects and democratic, even proto-communist, ideas, would take strong root there…

[Interestingly, 5th January saw later barricades, in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1968: after the Royal Ulster Constabulary raided the Bogside area of the city damaging property and beating residents. In response, residents erect barricades and establish Free Derry.]