Thursday, June 13, 2013

John Mend-All's Rebellion

Yesterday, SOYMB blog commemorated the Peasants Revolt. This was no isolated rebellion of the poor but just one in a series.

Jack Cade's Rebellion

Jack Cade's rebellion of 1450 was one of the important popular uprisings to take place in England during the Middle Ages. It began as an orchestrated demonstration of political protest by the inhabitants of south-eastern England against Henry VI's government. When no assurance of any remedy came from the king, the protests took to a rising and violence.  The majority of the participants were peasants and small landowners from Kent, who objected to forced labour, corrupt courts, the seizure of land by nobles, the loss of royal lands in France, and heavy taxation. For 150 years following the onset of the Black Death in 1348-9, England's population, agricultural production, prices, and credit available for trade all declined. This phenomenon reached its apex between 1440-1480, in a downturn known as the Great Slump. Economic activity associated with the wool trade was especially affected, and Kent, Sussex and Wiltshire all suffered during the slump. This situation was aggravated by the final conflicts of the Hundred Years' War, which devastated regions of France critical to English trade, resulted in economic blockades, and caused some to blame Henry VI for their economic hardship.

 Jack Cade was probably an Irishman by birth, but the details of his early life are very scanty. He seems to have resided for a time in Sussex, to have fled from the country after committing a murder, and to have served in the French wars.  Returning to England, he settled in Kent under the name of Aylmer and married a lady of good position. The revolt arose from local grievances linked to the weakness and corruption of the king's regime. The never-ending struggle with France that we know as the Hundred Years War had depleted the English treasury and left the royal coffers constantly in need of replenishment. Heavy taxation was the result, but added to the burden of this taxation was the greed of royal officials, who lined their own pockets at the expense of proper administration of the tax system.

Although  characterised as a peasant uprising (similar to the Peasant's Revolt of 1381), such is not really the case. Cade's Rebellion certainly attracted numbers of peasants, but the leaders were men of property who objected to the political climate of the times. Even churchmen joined the rebels, including the rector of Mayfield and the Prior of St Pancras in Lewes.

Although they did call for some social change, notably to the Statute of Labourers, which made peasants subject to compulsory labour, social change was not the rebel's root concern. Instead, most of these minor gentry wanted an end to bad government. They did not call for sweeping social change, but for the removal of certain councillors, the return of royal estates that had been granted out, and improved methods of taxation.

Because Cade was the man organizing the common people’s complaints and trying to induce the King to fix the problems, he acquired the nickname “John Mend-all” or “John Amend-all,” Cade's power-base was Kent, from which he led an army of as many as 5,000 against London, causing the King to flee to Warwickshire. They killed the Archbishop of Canterbury and Henry's treasurer, Sir James Fiennes, as well as the Sheriff of Kent. These first two had their heads cut off and placed on placed on poles kissing each other.

 Many of London’s  populace was doubtless favourable to the rebels, but they lost sympathy   when Cade and his men began to plunder.  Cade and his followers were forced to  retire to Southwark, and after a fierce struggle on London Bridge, the citizens prevented them from re-entering the city. Cade, however, retained some of his men, and at this time, or a day or two earlier, broke open the prisons in Southwark and released the prisoners, many of whom joined his band. Having collected some booty, he went to Rochester, made a futile attempt to capture Queenborough castle, and then quarrelled with his followers over some plunder.

Archbishop John Kemp the Lord Chancellor persuaded Cade to call off his followers by issuing official pardons, and promising to fulfill the demands in Cade's manifesto.The King revoked the pardons and the king’s proclamation charged Cade with deceiving the people of England to assemble with him in his rebellion and stated that none of the King’s subjects should join Cade or help him in any way. A sum of 1,000 marks was promised for the body of Cade, dead or alive.  He was captured at Heathfield on the 12th. During the scuffle he had been severely wounded, and on the day of his capture he died in the cart which was conveying him to London. The body was afterwards beheaded and quartered.

Other  participants in the rebellion were sought out and searches for Cade’s rebels occurred in and around the area of the revolt: Blackheath, Canterbury — which was on the road leading to London.  In Canterbury  eight followers were quickly found and hanged.

The Jack Cade Rebellion inspired ideas of revolt in many other counties in England besides Kent. Many of Cade’s followers from the county of Sussex, such as the yeomen brothers John and William Merfold, organized their own rebellion against King Henry VI. Unlike Jack Cade’s revolt, however, the men in Sussex took Cade’s ideas a step further by making much more radical and aggressive demands of reform.Their animosity could have arisen from the King's reneging on his proclamation of pardon for Jack Cade.

The suspicion that the King wanted all followers of Cade dead was one factor inspiring rebels to take a more drastic view of the reformation of English rule. An indictment following the rebellion stated that the men of Sussex planned to kill the king and all his nobles, replacing them with twelve of the rioters’ own men. These revolts, organized by the young Sussex men, rallied smaller numbers of followers than that of the Cade rebellion. But they demonstrated longstanding class animosity among both labourers and artisans, and perhaps gave some an excuse to loot for their own personal gain.

The Merfold Rebellion

John and William Merfold were yeomen brothers in Sussex in the mid 15th-century. Both were indicted in 1451 after publicly inciting the killing of the nobility, clergy, and the deposing  King Henry VI. They also advocated rule by common people. Minor uprisings spread throughout Sussex until authorities intervened and four yeomen were hanged.

For artisans or labourers who had previously known greater prosperity during the Great Slump, even small fines became intolerable. Articles of impeachment from 1449-50 against William, the Duke of Suffolk, suggest that he and other noblemen used their privileged access to the courts and regime to oppress their subjects and advance themselves personally. These injustices and "systematic abuse of power in the king's name" were as egregious in Kent and Sussex as anywhere in England, and led to a series of insurrections. January of 1450 saw an uprising by labourer Thomas Cheyne, who called himself "the hermit bluebeard," in Kent. Uprisings followed in February and March. In June, these culminated in a major and unsuccessful rebellion, in Kent, led by Jack Cade, whose forces were able to take London before his defeat.

The uprising was deeply unsettling to the nobility. Without peace and prosperity, complained the Commons, 1450 saw many "murders, manslaughters, rapes, robberies, riots, affrays and other inconveniences greater than before." But the aftermath of the uprising in no way satisfied England's poor.

Residents of Sussex who had followed Jack Cade and received pardons were hunted by royal forces and either imprisoned or killed. Around about  the 26 July 1450 John and William Merfold, who were small scale victuallers from Salehurst, stated in a public market that the king was a natural fool and should be deposed:

“They said the kyng was a natell fool, and wold ofte tymes holde a staff in his hands with a brid on the ende playing therewith as a fool, and that anoder kyng must be oreyned to rule the land, saying that the kind was no person able to rule the land.” according to the court charges of  John and William Merfold,  (Henry VI, would lapse into madness only three years later)

That August a gentleman named William Howell of Sutton encouraged men from the towns of Chichester, Bramber and Steyning to join him in rebellion, and asked that constables and their men join him after "Seynt Bartolomew's day," the 27 August. In September 40 men "armed for war" came to Eastbourne. In October, John Merfold declared in a public alehouse that the people would rise and "wolde leve no gentilman alive but such as thyme list to have." Throughout October and November, men armed with clubs, bows and arrows congregated near Horsham, Robertsbridge and throughout Wealden.

While roving throughout Sussex these bands beat and pillaged from noblemen and clergy, motivated either by class hostility or engaged in petty criminality. At Robertsbridge they objected to dues collected by the local clergy, and at Eastbourne, to high land rents. Rebels at Hastings declared their desire for a new king, and criticised the Kent  rebels for capitulation following Jack Cade's rebellion.

During Easter week  of 1451 men gathered at Rotherfield, Mayfield, and Burwash within Sussex, and in some settlements within Kent. Most were young, and their number included artisans such as carpenters, skinners, masons, thatchers, dyers, tailors, smiths, cobblers, weavers, shingelers, tanners, butchers and shoemakers. Indictments show that only few were agricultural laborers or husbandmen, and fewer still were landless. The rebels demanded that  Henry VI  be deposed, all lords and higher clergy be killed, and that 12 of their own number be appointed to rule the land. According to indictments prepared at the time,

“The rebels wished as lollards and heretics, to hold everything in common.”declared the Prosecution at the  Indictment. Royal authorities responded swiftly by arresting suspected rebels. Four Sussex men were hanged, and resistance broken.

Most peasant rebellions, including the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, expressed some faith in existing social harmony and the King's willingness to support their cause. One manifesto produced by the Kentish rebellion led by Jack Cade declared, "“we blame not all the lordys… ne all gentyllmen, ne yowmen, ne all men of law, ne all bysshops, ne all prestys, but all such as may be fownde gylty by just and trew enquiry and by the law.” The Sussex revolts of 1450-51 incited by the Merfolds had no such faith in the established social order, and threatened to specifically target lords, bishops, priests, and even in the king.

Historian David Rollison has argued that the socially and politically radical statements by John and William Merfold support the hypothesis that the uprisings were motivated by longstanding class antagonisms. Rollison follows contentions by historian Andy Wood and the 15th-Century English jurist Sir John Fortescue, who have argued that the economic recession of the mid-15th century only magnified routine class antagonisms between village communities and the gentry. The idea that even kings could be disciplined or deposed by popular will was a major aspect of English politics in the centuries following the Magna Carta.

Those in Sussex responding to the Merfolds' declarations were likely motivated by economic and social concerns. These included seigneurial exactions, weeding, reaping and collection duties, all of which were ignored or denounced by yeomen and labourers during the uprisings. Court rolls from Sussex during the period often mention tenant poverty, inability to pay fines or taxes, and abandonment or land or livestock.

Rebels might also have been influenced by Lollard preachers, five of whom were executed in Tenterden, Kent in 1438.

Kett's Rebellion

Kett was the descendant of an ancient Norman family, and both he and his brother William, although described respectively as a “tanner” and “butcher,” were landowners and men of position in Norfolk. His espousal of the cause of the people is thus doubly interesting. His chief demand was that “all bondmen be made free.” The character of the man is shown in his answer to an offer of pardon from the king if he would surrender himself and disband his followers: “Kings were wont to pardon wicked persons, not innocent and just men.”

See here for a Socialist Party member, Peter Newell’s pamphlet on the Ketts Rebellion

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