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Born in Blood - Secrets of FreeMasonry part III - Whether Justly our Out of Hate


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Jun 10, 2023
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Chapter III


“The time came for the King to punish the delinquents,” wrote the monk Henry Knighton. “Lord Robert Tresilian, justice, [who had been appointed to replace the murdered chief justice, Sir John Cavendish] was therefore sent by the King’s command to investigate and punish those who had risen against the peace. He was active everywhere, and spared no one, causing a great slaughter. And because the malefactors had attacked and put to death all the justices they could find, including John de Cavendish, and had spared the lives of none of the lawyers of the realm whom they could apprehend, so Tresilian now spared no one but repaid like for like. For whoever was accused before him on the grounds of the rebellion, whether justly or out of hate, immediately suffered the sentence of death. He condemned (according to their crimes) some to beheading, some to hanging, some to drawing through the cities and then hanging in four parts of the cities and some to disemboweling, followed by the burning of their entrails before them while the victims were still alive, and then their execution and the division of their corpses into quarters to be hanged in four parts of the cities.”

The priest John Ball was captured in Coventry and brought to St. Albans on July 12 to be tried before Chief Justice Tresilian. The trial took place the next day. Ball made no attempt to recant, expressed no regrets, and admitted to authorship of the letters that had gone out over his name. Tresilian drew upon the whole catalog of execution techniques and sentenced Ball to be hanged, drawn, disemboweled, beheaded, and quartered.

William Grindcobbe, the principal rebel leader at St. Albans, was released on bail with the provision that he used his influence to calm the people. He did the opposite. One speech attributed to him was, “Friends, who after so long an age of repression have at last won yourselves a short breath of freedom, hold firm while you can, and have no thought of me or what I may suffer, for if I die for the cause of the liberty we have won, I shall think myself happy to end my life as a martyr.” Which is exactly what he did, as he was summarily recaptured and executed.

Men of St. Albans whose bodies had been lifted intact, including Grindcobbe, were taken down from the gallows and buried by their friends. A couple of weeks later an angry order came from the king’s court, demanding that the bodies be dug up and hanged on public display until they rotted apart.

Off in Norwich, the rebel leader Geoffrey Litster learned of the death of Wat Tyler and the collapse of the revolt in London. In response, he decided to send a delegation to the king, requesting a charter of manumission and pardon for all Norfolk. The mission was ostensibly headed by two hostage knights, Sir William de Morley and Sir John de Brewe, but with them went three of Litster’s closest followers, to make certain that the two knights followed Litster’s orders. As an extra incentive for the king to look with favor upon their requests, the mission leaders took with them as a royal gift all of the money that they had collected as fines on the citizens of Norwich. On the way, near the town of Newmarket, the delegation had the great misfortune to cross the path of the warlike Lord Henry le Despenser, bishop of Norwich. The young Bishop le Despenser had been at his manor of Burleigh, near Stamford, when he got word of the uprisings in Norfolk. He decided to return to his diocese of Norwich, taking with him eight mounted knights and a small company of archers. As evidence of some military background, he wore a metal helmet, a hauberk, and a fighting sword. He recruited from the local gentry, adding to his force as he advanced. At Peterborough the rebels had demanded charters and writs of manumission and were just starting to ransack the monastery when le Despenser hit them with a surprise attack. He ordered a number of rebels killed on the spot and the rest imprisoned. At Ramsey in Huntingdonshire, the bishop’s force easily defeated a small group of rebels at the monastery. They were taken prisoner and turned over to the abbot as the bishop pressed on to Cambridge. By now his group had grown to a small army, including many experienced military men, and the Cambridge rebels were quickly brought under control. Unlike the secular reprisals by law, the bishop acted as accuser, judge, and jury. He designated the rebels to be executed and those to be imprisoned.

Leaving Cambridge, le Despenser continued toward his own diocese at Norwich. It was on that leg of his journey that he met the mission to the king that had been dispatched by the rebel leader Geoffrey Litster. The two hostage knights told him of their forced mission under the control of the three rebel leaders, two of whom were in the camp, while the third had gone off to forage for their supper. The bishop ordered the immediate beheading of the two rebel leaders present and sent a detachment to find the third. Once the three heads were mounted on the pillory in nearby Newmarket, le Despenser moved on, his army steadily increasing in size as it was joined by now-eager recruits.

At Norwich the bishop found that Litster had flown at his approach. Le Despenser went after him and Litster’s band made a stand near North Walsham. They were easily overwhelmed by the bishop’s army, and among the prisoners taken was Geoffrey Litster himself. The bishop immediately ordered that he will be executed by hanging, drawing, and beheading, then personally heard Litster’s confession and granted absolution. The bishop then gained the accolades of his fellow ecclesiastics for his mercy and piety as he walked beside the prisoner being dragged by his feet to the fallows, holding up the rebel leader’s head so that it wouldn’t hit the rocks in the road. (Litster himself, in view of what was about to be done to him, might have considered it more merciful to be allowed to be knocked unconscious by the rocks.)

The rebellion in Norfolk had been put down swiftly and totally, albeit ruthlessly, by the efforts of one angry man, a service that would seem to merit the gratitude of the king’s court even though the law of the land had been ignored for a few days. To the contrary, someone (because the king was still not of age) arranged that Bishop le Despenser be impeached two years later, in 1383, for his conduct in putting down the rebellion in Norfolk in contravention of the law.

On July 16 writs went out calling for a parliament to convene on September 16, but the meeting was postponed until November 4, 1381. If the Parliament of 1376 deserves to be remembered as the “Good Parliament”, the 1381 session could well be memorized as the “I-Told-You-So Parliament.”

The 1376 Parliament had cited corruption in the king’s court, bribery, diversion of tax monies, and inept management. The members had warned the royal council that these things must be corrected. They had impeached the London merchant and financier Richard Lyons on a variety of charges of corruption, only to have the sentence of life imprisonment set aside. All of their fears, advice, and actions had been ignored, but now the rebellion had proven their points.

It can only have been with a deep feeling of smug satisfaction that the members of the November 1381 Parliament listened to the charge given to them by the king and the council, as read to them by the speaker, Sir Hugh Seagrave:

“Our lord the King, here present, whom God save, has commanded me to make the following declaration to you. First our lord the King, desiring above all that the liberty of the Holy Church should be entirely preserved without blemish, and that the estate, peace and good government of his kingdom should be maintained and preserved as best it was in the time of any of his noble progenitors, the kings of England, wills that if any default can be found anywhere, this should be amended by the advice of the prelates and lords in this parliament.” (We can hear a slouched back-bencher muttering under his breath, “If you’d kept your bloody ear-holes open give years ago, you’d know the answers already.”)

The parliamentary roll leaves no doubt as to where that parliament laid the blame for the revolt (the word commons refers to the common people, not to a House of Parliament that did not yet exist):

“Our lord the King, here present, whom God save, has commanded me to make the following declaration to you. First our lord the King, desiring above all that the liberty of the Holy Church should be entirely preserved without blemish, and that the estate, peace and good government of his kingdom should be maintained and preserved as best it was in the time of any of his noble progenitors, the kings of England, wills that if any default can be found anywhere, this should be amended by the advice of the prelates and lords in this parliament.” (We can hear a slouched back-bencher muttering under his breath, “If you’d kept your bloody ear-holes open give years ago, you’d know the answers already.”)

The parliamentary roll leaves no doubt as to where that parliament laid the blame for the revolt (the word commons refers to the common people, not to a House of Parliament that did not yet exist):

“If the government of the realm was not shortly to be amended, the very kingdom itself would be completely lost and destroyed for all time and, as a result, the lor our King and all the lords and commons, which God, in his mercy, forfend. For it is true that there are many faults in said government, about the King’s person, and in his household and because of the outrageous number of servants in the latter, as well as in the King’s courts, that is to say in the Chancery, King’s Bench, Common Bench and the Exchequer. And there are grievous oppressions throughout the country because of the outrageous multitude of embracers of quarrels and maintainers, who act like kings in the country, so that justice and law are scarce administered to anybody. And the poor commons are from time to time despoiled and destroyed in these ways, both by the purveyors of the said royal household and others who pay nothing to the commons for the victuals and carriage taken from them, and by the subsidies and tallages [literally, “cuts,” taxes] levied upon them to their great distress, and by other grievous and outrageous oppressions done to them by various servants of our lord the King and other lords of the realm – and especially by the said maintainers. For these reasons the said commons are brought to great wretchedness and misery, more than they ever were before.”

Having had its say on the subject of burdensome taxes and of corruption in the royal court and the legal system, Parliament next turned to the national defense, a major reason given for that taxation:

“One might add that although great treasure is continually granted and levied from the commons for the defense of the realm, they are nevertheless no better defended and succored against the King’s enemies, as far as they know. For, from year to year, the said enemies burn, rob and pillage by land and sea with their barges, galleys and other vessels; for which no remedy has been, nor is yet, provided. Which mischiefs the said poor commons, who once used to live in all honor and prosperity, can no longer endure in any way.”

All of which, in the self-serving opinion of Parliament, was the clear-cut cause of the rebellion: “And to speak the truth, the said outrages as well as others which have lately been done to the poor commons, more generally than ever before, made the said poor commons feel so hardly oppressed that they caused the said mean commons to rise and commit the mischief they did in the said riot.” Then a warning to the king and his council: “And greater mischiefs are to be feared if good and proper remedy is not provided in time for the above mentioned outrageous oppression and mischiefs.”

Parliament had a suggested solution, of course, which reflected its principal objective over the past years: a stronger voice in the central government and greater influence on the selection of men to serve in that government:

“It suggested that the commons can be restored to quiet and peace by removing whenever they are known evil officers and counsellors and putting better and more virtuous and more sufficient ones in their place, as well as removing all the evil circumstances which the late disturbance and the other mischiefs befell the realm, as said above. Otherwise, all men think that this realm cannot survive for long without greater mischief than has ever befallen it before, which God forbid.”

This time Parliament was listened to, and changes were made in key positions. The poll tax was abandoned, and there were no more attempts to create ingenious new taxes. We can find no record of an attack on the person or property of a rank-and-file member of Parliament; thus it would appear that to that group, at least, the rebellion was a rip-roaring success. It got what it had wanted. In fact, it is difficult to dismiss the temptation to conclude that the shadowy Great Society inciting and directing facets of the revolt included members of Parliament.

Its own goals furthered by the revolt, Parliament did not act to satisfy the desires of others. When asked by the king’s council if it wanted to abolish villeinage and serfdom, the answer weas a vehement no. The same negative response went to William Courtenay, the new archbishop of Canterbury, who asked Parliament for stronger laws for the definition and punishment of heresy.

What the Parliament did do for the rebels in general was to recommend amnesty for all, except for those on a special list and the citizens of the towns of Canterbury, Bury St. Edmunds, Bridgewater, Cambridge, Beverly, and Scarborough. This exclusion of towns was soon reduced to Bury St. Edmunds alone, whose citizens took five years to pay the fine of two thousand marks levied against them. As to individuals, there was a general exclusion from amnesty of those directly involved in the deaths of the archbishop of Canterbury, the prior of the Hospitallers, and Chief Justice Cavendish. A more interesting exclusion was of all those who had escaped prison, none of whom is recorded as being recaptured. The list of names of specific rebels not included in the general pardon totaled 287, of whom 151 were citizens of London. Those not already in prison simply disappeared.

The general amnesty put a stop to the judicial vengeance, so that even with the “bloody assizes” of Chief Justice Tresilian, fewer than 120 rebels were actually executed – fewer than those beheaded by the rebels in London alone on a single day. Except for a few rebels who were summarily executed by avenging swords, such as that of Bishop le Despenser, all were accorded some sort of trial and defense.

Rebel leaders taken now, or already in prison, did not automatically go to the block or the gallows if they had friends to intercede for them. Litster’s chief deputy, Sir Roger Bacon, was on the list of those excluded from amnesty but won a pardon, some say at the request of Richard’s future queen, Anne of Bohemia. Thomas Sampson, rebel leader at Ipswich, was held in prison for eighteen months, then pardoned. The Somerset leader, Thomas Engilby, was taken and put in chains, only to be pardoned a few months later. Thomas Farndon, whose guilt was unquestioned, had acted as a leader and guide to the rebels in London and had directed them out to the Hospitaller manor at Highbury. Although on the list, Farndon was pardoned in March 1382.

One of the most interesting cases was that of John Awedyn of Essex. He was indicted and found guilty of being “one of the rebels against the lord King in the City of London” and “a captain of the said rebellious malefactors.” He, too, was on the list of those who excluded from the general amnesty, but on March 16, 1383, he received a full pardon from the king at the request of the earl of Oxford. How much it would help our understanding of the rebellion and the organization behind it if someone had recorded just a bit about who was pressing the buttons of influence, and why.

While Parliament was in session, inquiries and inquisitions were going forward simultaneously. The London sheriff’s inquisitions of November 4 and November 20, 1381, speak strongly to the point of view that the rebels didn’t march on London in some sort of instinctive lemming-march to the capital but were incited, encouraged, and invited to come by residents of London. The records of the inquisition of November 4 state: “Item, the jurors declare under their oath that a certain Adam Atte Welle, then a butcher … and now a provider of victuals to the lord duke of Lancaster, travelled into Essex fourteen days before the arrival of the rebels from that county in the city of London: there Adam incited and encouraged the rebels of Essex to come to London, and promised them many things if they did so.”

The same inquisitions make charges against a London alderman, John Horn, fishmonger. Horn was one of a three-man delegation sent out by the mayor of London to meet with the leaders of the Kentish rebels, both to ascertain their strength and to try to dissuade them from approaching the city. Horn did the opposite. He met privately with the Kentish leaders, apparently to advise them to come ahead. It was after this meeting that the Kentish rebels moved to Southwark at the south end of London Bridge and broke open the Marshalsea prison. Horn also gave the rebels a royal standard he had taken from the guildhall. Somehow he got three of the rebel leaders into London in advance of the mob and entertained them all night in his house, presumably to discuss plans and objectives for the next few days.

Another London alderman, and fishmonger, Walter Sybyle, was indicted as Horn’s co-conspirator. Sybyle’s ward included London Bridge. He was accused of countermanding the mayor’s orders to close the gates and raise the drawbridge, as well as dispersing a crowd that had gathered at the north end of the bridge to prevent the rebels from crossing into the city.

A third alderman, William Tonge, was accused of opening the gate at Aldgate to permit the entry of the Essex rebels. In the indictment, the jurors do admit that they “do not at present know whether William Tonge had Aldgate opened because of his own malice, because he was in league with John Horn and Walter Sybyle, or because he was frightened by the threats of the malefactors of Kent who were already in the city.”

Historians have warned us that we should be skeptical of the London inquisitions because they may have been politically motivated. That is a sensible precaution, because every chronicle of the rebellion was politically motivated, if only to the extent of currying favor with the king or the church. The rebels had no diarist or historian to memorialize their side of the story.

Other aspects of the inquisitions, however – not involving highly placed persons like aldermen, and so perhaps less prone to political distortion – are equally revealing. Some indictments speak of craftsmen of London going back from London to the towns of their birth to incite their friends and relatives to rebellion. Other men were accused of, and confessed to, being agents or messengers of a Great Society and giving orders in the name of that society. Unfortunately, there is no recorded indication that the inquisitioners, sheriffs, or justices expressed any desire for additional information about this Great Society, which has led some historians to conclude that such a society never existed. Many more historians assert that there certainly was organization behind the rebellion of 1381, but conclude that we shall probably never know the nature of that organization. There are just too many unsolved mysteries. A closer look at some of those mysteries, however, led to the conclusion that the organization behind the rebellion need not remain a total mystery forever.

Al Jilwah: Chapter IV

"It is my desire that all my followers unite in a bond of unity, lest those who are without prevail against them." - Satan