From the accession of Richard II. to the beginning of the civil wars between the
Houses of York and Lancaster.
Edward III. was a prince of great abilities, and making due allowance
for the unsettled maxims of government in that turbulent age, his long
reign and prudent administration was very favourable to the advancement of
commerce. Perhaps much more is effected by the extension of trade among
those who have not been accustomed to it, than may be evident at first view.
By promoting a friendly intercourse and mutual supply of each others wants
among a rude people, their dispositions are humanized, and their manners
softened; their understandings are enlarged, and the conveniencies of life are
multiplied by their united labours. It is thus a people are civilized, and though
the progress may be silent and slow, and it may be checked by many unfavourable interruptions, yet traffic will surmount them all. For when each man's
attention is exerted in supplying the necessities of his neighbours, every barbarous principle must give way to a plan of such extensive utility, which converts
the intercourse among mankind to a general and constant barter of good offices.
The death of Edward III. and of his gallant son, were very unpropitious to
the national tranquillity, and soon exposed the kingdom to internal convulsions.
The crown now rested on the head of Richard II. son of the Black Prince, a
minor of eleven years old, who was proclaimed June 21, 1377: the administration thus devolved on others for the present, with the uncertainty what the
king himself might prove when arrived at maturity.
Though the city had failed in obtaining a parliamentary confirmation of the
late king's charter, relating to merchant strangers, the House of Commons now
joined in application to the throne for that purpose: the suit was granted, and
they obtained the charter in the Appendix, N° XXX. which ordered that no
foreigner should either buy of, or sell to, another foreigner, within the city
liberties. Soon after the widows of citizens were by the king's mandate
declared exempted from all tallages or contributions to government.
The quarrel between the king's uncle, the duke of Lancaster, and the city,
remained still uncompromised; but the king and some of his council being
engaged to interpose their good offices, a deputation of principal citizens were
sent with the city's submission of the matters in dispute to the king's award.
The duke, not to be behind hand with the citizens in their pacific intentions,
freely disclaimed all animosity, and begged of the king to discharge those
citizens who were in confinement on his complaints. As a further proof of his
sincere reconciliation, he embraced all the citizens in presence of the king.
This troublesome affair being ended to the great joy of the city, the king made
a public entry into London, and the utmost cordiality took place between the
royal family, the court, and the city.
The affairs of the English navy must have been greatly neglected at this time,
when it was left to a private citizen, John Philpot, to fit out a fleet manned
with a thousand men, to suppress a Scots pirate who then infested the English
coast, and had even taken every ship in the port of Scarborough. The king's
council felt the disgrace reflected on government, by the universal applause
bestowed on so gallant an enterprize; and summoned Philpot to answer for his
not having obtained permission before he undertook an affair of such moment.
But public utility pleaded so much in his favour, that he soon obtained his
In a subsidy granted this year, 1378, in which every man was rated according
to his station in life, we discover the ranks attributed to the lord mayor and
aldermen of London; the former being assessed as an earl, at four pounds, and
the latter as barons, at two pounds each. Tradesmen, with their wives and
children, being of the age of fourteen years and above, were taxed at four pence
per head; which occasioned great murmurings among the commonalty, and
proved the foundation of an insurrection, as will presently appear.
John Philpot, being advanced to the mayoralty in 1379, contributed very
largely toward fitting out a fleet to be sent to the assistance of the duke of Brittany against the king of France. He caused the city ditch to be cleansed by a
rate of five pence charged upon each housekeeper, and by his influence in parliament, threw out a bill very prejudicial to the city privileges: he and alderman Walworth were joint treasurers of the supplies granted that session.
The next year, 1380, William Walworth was lord mayor, in which year the
old city seal was broke, and a new one made. This year was rendered remarkable for a rebellion of a singular nature, which deserves particular notice.
The civil discords that had hitherto agitated the nation, arose between the
barons, who were the immediate sovereigns over the vassals in their respective
baronies or districts; and the king, who was little more than the captain or general over these turbulent chiefs. But the nation now grew more settled, the feudal
ties over the people began to relax from the frequent shifting of landed property,
and an attention to traffic. They began to feel that they were men as well
as their haughty lords, and to entertain some crude notions of the natural equality of mankind: but these ideas not being well understood as yet, led the
populace to extreams, and stimulated them to overturn all government and
The poll tax already mentioned was to be levied on all persons who had
arrived at the age of puberty. The officers in collecting this duty went into a
blacksmith's shop at Dartford in Kent; where, on demanding payment for his
daughter, the father insisted she was not of the legal age. One of the collectors,
with the insolence of subaltern authority, attempted to obtain an indecent satisfaction as to that point; which so irritated the smith, that he knocked out the
fellow's brains with a hammer. The neighbourhood all justified him and flew
to arms, the insurrection spread, and was farther inflamed by one John Ball,
a priest. This man assumed the character of chaplain to the insurgents, and at
Maidstone preached a sermon to them from an old proverb, which he took for
When Adam delv'd, and Eve span,
Who was then a gentleman?
From these words he argued that all men were equal by nature, as children
of Adam; that, if God had appointed any man to slavery, he would have
declared who should be lords, and who servants; and that servitude which is
acquired by an unjust power, is confirmed by as unjust laws: he therefore
advised them to go to the king, and require liberty, which if they could not
obtain by fair means, to recover the same with their swords. The multitude
thus animated, formed themselves under leaders who assumed the names of
Wat Tyler, Jack Straw, Hob Carter, and Tom Miller, as glorying in their low
occupations, which suited the levelling scheme they undertook to establish.
They then marched to Blackheath, where they were joined by an infinite mob
from Essex and other parts, to the number of 100,000 men. Their pretences
were for liberty, and the abolishing of evil laws and customs; especially that
of villainage, and likewise the intolerable exactions and corruptions of lawyers;
which Ball, their chaplain, told them could not be so effectually done as by
destroying all the nobility and lawyers: accordingly they beheaded all they
could find, and it was capital for a man to have even pen and ink in his
From Blackheath they pursued their rout to London; entered Southwark on
the 10th of June; broke open the King's Bench and Marshalsea prisons; released
the prisoners, who immediately joined them; and having discovered the houses
of lawyers, jurors, and questmongers, they instantly levelled them with the
ground. Then the body of Essex rebels were sent to Lambeth, where they
madly burnt the archiepiscopal palace, with all its rich furniture, books, registers, and writings.
On Corpus Christi day they entered London by the favour of the populace,
who joining them, they ran to the duke of Lancaster's palace at the Savoy,
which they burned. Here to shew their disinterested conduct, they proclaimed
that none should presume to appropriate any thing belonging to the palace to his
own use, upon pain of death; and flung one of their people into the fire, for
having reserved a curious piece of plate. But it seems they were not so scrupulous in respect of liquor; for two and thirty of them having got into the duke's
cellar, they caroused in jollity, forgetful where they were, till the house fell
down upon them! They were heard for seven days incessantly calling for help,
but in vain; for they were all suffered to perish without pity. From the Savoy
they ran to the Temple, (then belonging to the lord high treasurer) which they
likewise destroyed by fire, together with all the records of Chancery, and books
and papers belonging to the students of the law. All the other inns of court
they served in the same manner.
Now dividing themselves into three bodies, one party hurried to the rich
priory of St. John of Jerusalem (at Clerkenwell) near Smithfield, which they
also burned, together with the stately manor house at Highbury, through hatred
to Sir Robert Hales, the high treasurer, prior of the one, and proprietor of the
other. The second division encamped on Tower Hill; whilst the third, which
were the Essex party, did the like at Mile End. This latter body summoned
the king to attend them unarmed, and without any force; which as the Tower
was weakly garrisoned and ill supplied, he was forced to yield to. The Tower
gates being opened on this occasion, the rebels on the hill burst in, and murdered Simon Sudbury, the primate, Sir Robert Hales, the treasurer, with other
persons of distinction they found there and in the city.
Violent as these excesses were, when the king arrived at Mile End, their
demands were more reasonable than the means they employed to extort the grant
of them: but, as Mr. Hume justly observes, the times were not as yet sufficiently prepared for the admission of such equitable principles. They required
a fixed rent for land, instead of the services due by villainage; freedom of commerce in all towns, without toll or impost; the abolition of slavery; and a
general pardon. Upon an assurance of all these privileges, this body dispersed.
In the mean time Wat Tyler, with his band, were committing the greatest
outrages in the city; particularly against foreigners. Being required to pronounce bread and cheese, the poor Flemings, who could only say brot and cause,
were thus discovered and sure to be murdered.
Upon the king's return to London, it was resolved to offer Wat Tyler the same
terms that had satisfied his companions at Mile End. Wat entered into a treaty,
but, as it appeared, only to gain time. At last a conference was agreed to in
Smithfield; where the king met him on horseback. As his deportment was
very rude, so were his demands exorbitant; for beside the general manumission granted by the king to the bondmen, he imperiously insisted upon all the
lawyers being beheaded, and the abolition of all the antient laws of the kingdom; that all forests, parks, and warrens should be made free and common to
all; so that the poor, as well as the rich, might have the liberty to hunt,
fish and fowl in all places; with several other extravagant demands. While
Richard was deliberating upon these absurd terms, Tyler behaved himself with
such a brutish insolence, that those about the king, advised him to get him
arrested, which Richard approving of, with some reluctance, commanded William Walworth, the mayor of London, to seize him as being within his jurisdiction. This Walworth effectually performed, by giving Tyler a severe
blow upon the head with his sword, which struck him from his horse; and
being seconded by others, he was soon dispatched.
His men observing him fall, furiously cried out, Our captain is murdered,
let us revenge his death; and to that end immediately bent their bows: on
which the king, with a prudence and boldness far superior to the age of fifteen,
rode bravely up to the rebels, and with a noble resolution said, What, my
friends, will you kill your king ? Be not troubled for the loss of your leader; I
will be your captain, and grant what you desire. These words had so happy
an effect upon them, that they soon changed their resolution, and marched
under his conduct to St. George's-fields; while Walworth and Philpot
hastened to the city, where with amazing celerity they raised a thousand citizens completely armed.
This little band being sent to the king's assistance, the rebels, though near
thirty thousand in number, yet having lost their ring-leader, were so amazingly
struck with a panic, that they threw down their arms, and begged for mercy.
Thus ended this rebellion, the most dangerous that ever happened in England,
or perhaps in any other kingdom: Jack Straw was condemned and executed
soon after; and the parliament cancelled the charters which had been extorted
from the king at Mile-End (fn. 1) .
The king, in reward of this ever-memorable national deliverance, conferred
the honour of knighthood upon William Walworth the mayor, John Philpot,
Nicholas Brembre, and Robert Laund, aldermen of this city; and granted to
the first, a fee-farm of one hundred pounds per annum; and to the other three,
forty pounds per annum, each of the same tenure. The addition of the dagger to the city arms, which is no otherwise satisfactorily accounted for, is generally attributed to a commemoration of the valour of Walworth the mayor.
The populace of London having shewn a dangerous propensity to licentiousness in joining this insurrection, John Northampton, who succeeded Walworth
in the mayoralty, set about correcting the manners of the citizens. The punishments he inflicted on vice, drew on him the censure of the clergy for
usurping their jurisdiction, though themselves neglected the exercise of it.
This inconsistency was so notorious and ridiculous, that the mayor carried on
the work of moral reformation, regardless of their menaces. He also procured
an act of parliament, that no victualler should exercise any judicial office in
London, or any other city, borough, town, or sea-port in the kingdom; unless where no other sufficient person could be found qualified for such offices:
in which case, every such person was to abstain from the exercise of such
trade, during the time of his office (fn. 2) .
In the sixth year of Richard II. the constable of the Tower of London, then
Sir Thomas Murrieux, obtained from the king a grant of certain tolls in kind,
from vessels bringing wine, shell-fish, and rushes, up the river to London,
as also forfeits of whatever floated loose passing the Tower wharf: to which
were added, privileges of a like nature around the Tower by land. This
grant the citizens justly esteemed injurious to their own immunities, and caused
them; through the mediation of the next parliament, to solicit a fresh confirmation of their chartered rights, which appeared to be forgotten. This was obtained, and in its seventy-third article sets forth, That "the constable of the
"Tower of London should make no prizes by land, nor by water, of victual,
or other thing whatsoever, of the men of the said city, nor of any other
coming towards the said city, or going thence, or cause to be arrested the
"ships or boats bringing victuals, or other such-like goods, to or from the
said city." Yet, by a strange inconsistency, the aforesaid grant to the constable of the Tower, was confirmed by parliament the following year. But the
proceedings of the legislative power had not as yet attained the accuracy of
more regular and improved times. This contradiction gave rise to many contests between the corporation of London, and the constable of the Tower.
Were the charter grants of the king and parliamentary authority understood
then to have a permanent validity, we should not so soon as the next year
find the commons petitioning the king for another confirmation of the city
liberties. Accordingly, in the parliament, 7 R. II. was passed a charter,
reciting by inspeximus the several charters of confirmation, and others passed
in the preceding reigns, as also that charter of confirmation of the city liberties, passed by himself in parliament in the first year of his reign.
This important acquisition produced a proclamation, by the joint authority
of the king and the lord-mayor, then Sir Nicholas Brembre, which contained
an exposition of the generally understood sense of the above-mentioned parliamentary charter. This proclamation is carefully preserved in the city records,
Lib. H. fol. 169. a and b, a translation from the original Latin of which
is printed in our Appendix, No. XXXI.
Though affairs were slowly tending to the establishment of peace and good
order, yet no regular plan of police could have yet taken place, or been duly
enforced. The city appears now to have been convulsed by party dissensions;
and John Northampton, the late mayor, and reformer of manners, by a strange
turn of events, had quarrelled with the company of Fishmongers, and was now
stigmatized as a factious, riotous person. So far removed as we now are by
time, and change of manners, it is impossible to form a judgment other than
the facts handed down will guide us; and we find that Northampton was sentenced to a perpetual imprisonment, and forfeiture of goods. His former conduct in his mayoralty appears, however, in a favourable light; and we find legal proceedings to have been strangely irregular, much later than this time.
At a great meeting of the commons, or a common hall, this 7th of Richard
II. petitions were presented to the mayor, setting forth, that, for want of sufficient persons chosen, divers things were passed in common council more by
clamour than reason. It was therefore ordained, that the aldermen should cause
to be chosen four of each ward for common-councilmen: which choice of common-councilmen appears by the liber albus to have been aforetime in certain
mysteries or crafts; some of which chose six, others four, and others only two.
By the means also of Sir Nicholas Brembre, then mayor, most, if not all the aldermen of the city, were turned out by the common-council, and new ones chosen
in their room for the respective wards: the first return whereof begins thus:
Bread-street—Dominus Nicholas Brembre, miles, electus est in alderman. wardæ
prædictæ per probos bomines ejusdem wardæ; i. e. "Bread-street—Sir Nicho"las Brembre, knt. was chosen alderman of the said ward, by the discreet
"men of the said ward." These proceedings and elections were confirmed by
a warrant from the king; and in the eighth of Richard II. in a commoncouncil it was ordained, That the members of that court should be chosen by
the wards fifteen days after St. Gregory, and that they should assemble at least
once in a quarter. In the ninth of Richard II. it was settled, that the wards
should choose four, six, or eight, according to their size.
In the year 1386, when the nation was threatened with a French invasion,
the king directed a writ to the mayor, ordering the citizens to repair the city
wall, and to cleanse the ditch, then sadly neglected. He, for this purpose,
impowered the mayor and citizens to take a toll of all merchandise and provisions brought to the city, for the term of ten years.
A king who suffers idle amusements to draw his attention away from business, will always find persons about him, ready to indulge him with the one,
and ease him of the other. This was now the case with young Richard; and
he resigned the national affairs to the guidance of two favourites, Robert de Vere
earl of Oxford, whom he created duke of Ireland, and Michael de la Pole, who
obtained the earldom of Suffolk, with the office of chancellor. These men
undertook to free the king from the influence which his uncles, the dukes of
Lancaster and Gloucester, maintained over him; and, by their insolent conduct,
not only disgusted the princes of the blood and nobility, but the whole nation.
This juncture was thought favourable by the French for an invasion of England; and though the armament was ruined by a storm, and many of the ships
were taken by the English, the increase of domestic feuds was far from affording future security.
The duke of Lancaster was abroad, asserting his title to the crown of Castile,
when these favourites, the more effectually to engross the royal favour and the
power of the kingdom, concerted a scheme with Brembre, the mayor of the
preceding year, to get Gloucester assassinated, when on a visit in the city. This
scheme however failed; and being disclosed to the duke, spirited him up to
destroy this faction, which owed its strength to the weakness of the sovereign:
the citizens of London concurred; and, by a deputation, desired him
to take upon himself the administration of a kingdom so oppressively governed.
Gloucester, though he did not choose at once to go desperate lengths,
yet advised them to engage the other cities and towns of the kingdom severally to address the king upon account of their grievances, and that he would
be sure to attend the king on St. George's day following, when they should find
him and his brother ready to assist them.
At the time prefixed, a deputation of about sixty principal citizens attended
the king at Windsor, accompanied by deputies from divers other towns and
cities. Here Sir Simon Sudbury, in behalf of the rest, acquainted his majesty with their grievances, and humbly intreated, that a parliament might be
speedily summoned, for calling to an account all such as had misbehaved in
the administration of public affairs, and to substitute in their stead men of
worth and probity. But the king evaded a proper reply, saying, That his sub
jects should not be his masters by prescribing to him; for he never perceived
that either himself, or those about him, had ever intended any thing else but
right and justice. On this, one of the zealous deputies boldly replied, "That,
"with humble submission, justice was never less practised in England than at
present; and that, by the subtle management of certain persons, it was impossible for him to come at the truth of things, seeing his ministers found
it their interest to conceal from him the management of his affairs as much
as possible; in consideration of which, they did not think it consistent with
their interest, nor that of the kingdom, to wait the meeting of the parliament, as a speedier remedy might be applied, by calling to an account
those plunderers, who had embezzled the publick treasure; and to enquire
how those immense sums, raised for nine years past, had been applied; and
that all those who could not discharge themselves honourably, should stand
to the judgment of parliament."
Surprized at this bold and unparalleled speech, the king turned to his uncles, his brother the duke of York, and the nobility present, who all declared,
"they could not see any thing unreasonable in this demand of the commonalty
of his realm." Whereupon the parliament was appointed to meet at Westminster on the third day of May following, to enquire into the state of the
nation. On this occasion we may perceive how the commons acquired an influence in government: for in the quarrels the nobles had with each other,
or with their kings, either party occasionally availed themselves of the assistance
of the people, to strengthen their opposition; and thus the people gained new
strength by these disputes, the vicissitudes in which continually loosened the
feudal ties of subordination on all sides.
Neither party waited quietly for the meeting of parliament; the duke of Ireland, countenanced by the king, raised forces in Wales, and the duke of Gloucester collected an army, chiefly of Londoners, to withstand him. Gloucester
was victorious in an action at Oxford, and drove his antagonist out of the
kingdom, while the king shut himself up in the Tower of London; from
whence he issued a proclamation, rendering it penal to afford any supplies to
the army under the duke of Gloucester. The confederate barons on the other
hand, brought their army to London, and published a manifesto addressed to
the city magistrates, signed by the duke of Gloucester, with the earls of Arundel and Warwick. The keys of the city were immediately carried by Nicholas Exton, the mayor, to the duke of Gloucester, whose army also was
plentifully supplied with necessaries.
A parliament meeting under the influence of so formidable an opposition,
was not likely to prove favourable either to the king or his ministers. The
archbishop of York, the duke of Ireland, the earl of Suffolk, Sir Robert Tresilian, chief justice of the king's bench, and Sir Nicholas Brembre, were impeached as evil counsellors: and, as forms of justice were not then very strict,
those who did not appear, were, without examining a fact, declared guilty of
high treason (fn. 3) , and Brembre, who was in court, had a very summary trial.
Tresilian was taken, and was, together with Brembre, already in custody, executed at Tyburn. Shortly after, in 1389, Richard, then twenty-three years
of age, declared himself in council to be of full age to assume the powers of
royalty: his claim was admitted, and the nation once more restored to internal
On this occasion, king Richard appointed a great tournament to be held at
Smithfield, on the Sunday after Michaelmas, 1390; and sent heralds to proclaim it in all the principal courts of Europe. Divers princes and noblemen
came over to participate of the solemnity; which began on Sunday afternoon,
from the Tower of London, with a pompous cavalcade of sixty ladies, magnificently dressed, and mounted, each leading an armed knight by a chain of silver, attended by their esquires of honour. The justs continued four days, with
a great variety of noble entertainments, in the presence of the king, who justed
himself on the second day, the queen, and the whole court, beside an infinite
number of spectators of all conditions.
The streets of London were so obstructed with filth at this time, that a
proclamation was published by order of parliament, prohibiting the casting any
dung, garbage, or offal, into any street, ditch, &c. on penalty of 20 l. By
act of parliament also, in 1391, the staple was removed from Calais to England (fn. 4) ; which proved such a check to the exportation of wool, that the price
was reduced to twenty-pence the stone.
This year is distinguished by the first notice of the Orphan's fund; for the
price of wheat being risen to sixteen shillings and eight-pence per quarter,
2000 marks were taken out of this fund in the chamber of London, by Adam
Bamme the mayor, to which the aldermen contributed 20 l. each, for the
importation of corn from abroad.
The king, who is represented as attached to expensive pleasures, and to
have kept 6000 persons in his palace, beside his queen's houshold (fn. 5) , found
himself soon reduced to apply to the city of London to borrow money;
which his credit was not only too bad to obtain, but a Lombard merchant
was cruelly abused and beaten, for offering to advance the money. The citizens who appear to be still riotously disposed, soon furnished an occasion for
the king to revenge this indignity, by a fray which happened in Fleet-street,
in which one of the bishop of Salisbury's domestics was ill used, and his palace threatened to be fired by the mob. This produced a severe inquisition
into the conduct of the city magistrates, which ended in the king's imprisoning them and seizing their charter, withdrawing from London, with all his nobility, and removing the courts of justice to York.
Seizing the city charter was then a never-failing expedient to extort money
from the corporation, when the members of it ventured to withstand the royal
pleasure. Richard relented again, with so much prudence, as to make two
good bargains for the return of his favour; for, on payment of a fine of 3000
marks, the city liberties were restored, with a reserve however of the right
of choosing the mayor. He came back to the city, where he was received with
a pomp, which sufficiently shewed what a value the citizens had put upon his
gracious condescension. The next day the magistrates waited on the king with
many rich presents, to obtain a full reconciliation: they presented him with
two silver gilt basons, each containing a thousand nobles of gold, together with
a curious picture of the Trinity, valued at 800 l. With these they gave a silver gilt tablet for an altar, worth 1000 marks, with other gifts of value, all
which he received, but insisted on 10,000 l. more, before he would allow them
to appoint their mayor. This was usage the citizens could not forget; and
they remembered it at a time when the affections of the citizens of London
would have been of more service to him, than all the money in their pockets.
The parliament held at Winchester, enacted, That all the filth of a certain
lay-stall upon the bank of the river Thames be forthwith removed; and, for
preventing the like for the future, the butchers of London were, before the ensuing Easter, to erect a house or houses, in a proper place, for the reception of
all the ordure, thence to be carried in boats into the middle of the said river,
and there to be thrown in at the turn of the tide at high water; and that no
person whatsoever should presume to throw any muck, rubbish, laystage, or
other ordure, in at the sides of the Thames, or lay any filth or nastiness on
the banks of the same, between the palace of Westminster, and the Tower of
London, upon the penalty of 10 l.
For the better preserving the city liberties against all future attempts of the
prince, the parliament enacted, "That it is not the king's meaning or intent,
"nor the meaning of the statute made in the 28th of Edward III. that the mayor,
aldermen, and sheriffs of London, that have been, now are, or hereafter
shall be, should incur the penalty contained in the said statute, for any erroneous judgment given, or to be given, in the said city." But they were
to be answerable for all other misdemeanors (fn. 6) .
It was likewise by the said parliament enacted, That from henceforth the
aldermen of the city shall not be annually elected, but shall remain in their
offices during their good behaviour (fn. 7) . The great ward of Farringdon was divided into the out and in-wards; with a right for each to choose its aldermen:
by which a five-and-twentieth ward was constituted. Their proportions were
also settled toward the assessment of a fifteenth (fn. 8) .
A statute was farther passed, which empowered the mayor of London to
search all malt brought to the city, to prevent the frauds of the country
malsters; so that the purchaser might have full measure of clean malt (fn. 9) .
About this time the present great and noble hall at Westminster was built
by Richard (fn. 10) .
The magistrates of London were so cautious of injuring their own immunities, that, on presenting the sheriffs to the barons of the Exchequer for admission, they had several times in this reign refused their being sworn there
or any where out of the city. But they now yielded up their point, as they
found the sheriffs could not otherwise be qualified to act.
In 1396, when the king married Isabella of France, then but seven years of
age, and brought his little queen over, the lord-mayor, aldermen, and a select
body of citizens, handsomely mounted, received them at Blackheath, and waited
on them to Kennington, and from thence to the Tower of London. This alliance was very unpopular, and gave the duke of Gloucester fresh opportunity
to foment the public discontent, and enter into cabals against his government.
The king got him arrested and conveyed over to Calais, where he died a suspicious death; and, being apprehensive of new troubles, he mustered and reviewed the citizens of London upon Blackheath, where their appearance gave
him much satisfaction.
It was in the year 1397, that the mayor and commonalty of London
purchased the house named Blackwell-Hall, and converted it into a markethouse for the sale of woollen cloth; for which purpose it has served ever since (fn. 11) .
The citizens gave great umbrage to the court, by petitioning for relief
against the heavy taxes imposed for the French war; and, as a connexion was now
formed with that kingdom, that no treaty might take place for the restitution
of Calais. Money, as usual, was on this occasion extorted from the principal
citizens, who had been the most active in promoting this petition. These
and other tyrannical measures of the king, afforded Henry, son of the late
duke of Lancaster, then in exile, opportunity to come over and raise forces
to redress his own private injuries; next, to undertake the reformation of government; and lastly, on finding himself master of the kingdom, to seat himself on the throne, out of which he had thrust Richard. The unhappy Richard
ended his life in Pomfret-castle, like most other deposed princes, by a violent
Henry, the fourth of that name, having abruptly declared himself king, in
the parliament, and procured his claim to be as quickly admitted on the same
day, the last of September, 1399, was crowned on the 13th of October following; the lord-mayor of London officiating as chief butler, assisted by the
aldermen in their formalities. The ensuing parliament passed some good laws
in favour of the city of London. The statute 28 Edward III. c. 10. by
which the mayor, aldermen, and sheriffs of London, in default of good government, were to be tried by foreign jurors, was repealed (fn. 12) . It was enacted,
that the merchants of London should have the same liberty of packing their
cloths as foreign merchants have within the city (fn. 13) : and all foreign fishermen,
in amity with the king, as well as domestic, were allowed the privilege of
retailing their fish in the city, to all persons whatsoever, exclusive of fishmongers.
Henry shewed great good sense in thus securing the affections of so considerable a body of his subjects as the citizens of London: for though he arrived
at the sovereign power by irregular steps, yet the Londoners had been so illtreated by Richard, that it was natural for them to incline to one who mani
fested a better disposition toward them. They soon had opportunity to render
him important service, on occasion of a conspiracy formed by some disgusted
noblemen against his life. Henry, having intimation of the plot, hastily came
from Windsor to London, by which the scheme was disconcerted; he ordered
the mayor to raise the citizens, and was quickly supplied with 6000 Londoners
completely armed. These, with other forces, amounting in the whole to
20,000 men, so intimidated his enemies, that they dispersed: the heads of the
conspiracy were soon seized, and put to death, without the ceremony of
To cultivate the good understanding thus commenced with the city, the
king now granted them a charter, dated the twenty-fifth of May, in the first
year of his reign; wherein is contained the following clause:
"And moreover, of our ample grace, we have granted for us and our heirs,
as much as in us is, to the same citizens, their heirs and successors, as aforesaid, that they shall have the custody, as well of the gates of Newgate
and Ludgate, as all other the gates and posterns of the same city; and also
the office of gathering of the tolls and customs in Cheap and Billingsgate
and Smithfield, there rightfully to be taken and accustomed; and also the
tronage, that is to say, the weighing of lead, wax, pepper, allom, madder,
and other like wares, within the said city for ever; as by the said charters,
amongst other things, more plainly may appear."
Before Henry came to the throne, he was thought to be inclined to the
doctrines of Wickcliffe, as well as his father; but all principles give way to
reasons of state: and, circumstanced as he was, the good-will of the clergy
was of no small consequence to obtain. No law had rendered it dangerous
to think, while few were guilty of offending that way; but when people
began to question the dictates of the church, the sanguinary spirit of ecclesiastics
made them eagerly wish to check so dangerous a disposition. Henry gratified
them, and the parliament passed an act (fn. 14) , by which all heretics, who refused
to abjure their opinions, or who relapsed, were to be delivered over to the
civil magistrate, and committed to the flames! Had the king been more securely settled in the sovereignty, he would not, perhaps, have armed the hands
of churchmen with such dangerous power; but if we may suppose he had one
thought beyond the present security of their friendship, the best excuse that
can be made for him will be, that he supposed opinions would yield to severity,
and not brave the dreadful penalties decreed against them. Be this as it may,
the instant this power was obtained, a writ de baretico comburendo was issued
for the burning of William Sautrè, rector of St. Osythe in London: and this
cruel vengeance taken on a false brother, was a terrible example of what others
might expect on impeaching the wisdom of those who claimed a divine right
over the consciences of their fellow-creatures.
The prison called the Tun in Cornhill was, in 1401, converted into a cistern
or conduit for Tyburn water; on one side of which was erected a cage, with
a pair of stocks over it, for the punishment of night-walkers; together with
a pillory, for the punishment of offending bakers and millers.
By a law now passed, all woollen cloths made in London were directed to
have a leaden seal fixed to them, to prevent deceits in the sale of them (fn. 15) . But
the prices of provisions continuing to advance in proportion to the increase of
trade, the clothiers gradually removed the manufacture to distant counties (fn. 16) .
The nation still felt the balance of foreign trade to continue against it, which
the parliament thought to remedy by enacting, that all merchant strangers, who
brought merchandize into the realm, and sold the same for English money,
should not carry that money or bullion abroad, but lay it out in merchandize to
be exported (fn. 17) . This might obstruct the carrying specie abroad, but could not
alter the nature of things, while the English required more goods of foreigners
than they could pay for with their own commodities.
The Lombard merchants in England, by which we are to understand those
of the four Italian republics, Genoa, Lucca, Florence, and Venice, were
esteemed very rich; they advanced money to the king, which they had the
customs and duties arising from their trade made over to them for the repayment of (fn. 18) . They also obtained a repeal of the law which obliged them to
lodge as directed by the mayor and aldermen, and were allowed to take lodgings
for themselves (fn. 19) . The said merchants also obtained, that in all actions of debt,
accompts, or trespasses, they should be tried before the king's council, mayor,
or aldermen of London, according to the laws of merchants, and not by inquest. Beside this, country chapmen being debarred for some time from
selling their goods in London to foreign merchants, they, regarding this as an
unjustifiable imposition, had recourse also to parliament for redress; by which
they had their ancient privileges restored.
The lord-mayor, by restraining the abuses of fishermen, and removing
wears, which he caused to be destroyed, from Staines to the Medway (fn. 20) , gave
great umbrage to the archbishop of Canterbury, and others, who brought their
actions for property in the river; but the cause was adjudged in favour of the
city, and the conservancy confirmed.
The English company of Merchant-adventurers, then known by the name of
the Brotherhood of St. Thomas a Becket, obtained a charter from the king in
1406: this charter, however, gave them no exclusive powers, but merely
authority for the regulation of their own concerns, and to choose a governor (fn. 21) .
The following year a destructive plague carried off 30,000 inhabitants, and
reduced the price of corn to three shillings and four-pence a quarter. This
year, the famous Sir Richard Whittington, late lord-mayor of London,
of whom tradition hands down some improbable stories, was so opulent, as
to contribute a thousand pounds toward a loan negotiated by the king for the
maintenance of the garrison of Calais. He also rebuilt the gaol of Newgate,
the library of the Grey Friars, part of St. Bartholomew's hospital, and a college
of priests in the street still named College-hill (fn. 22) .
In the year 1409 we read, that the company of parish-clerks of this city
acted, with great applause, for eight days successively, at Skinners-well, near
Clerkenwell, a play concerning the creation of the world; at which were present most of the nobility and gentry; who from thence went to Smithfield,
where solemn justs were held between the Marshal of Henault, and divers of
his countrymen, challengers, and the earl of Somerset, and the like number
of English gentlemen, defendants; in which engagement the last gained abundance of honour, and were knighted for their prowess. The next year the king
granted to his son, the prince of Wales, by a writ of privy seal, a magnificent
building in Thames-street, in the ward of Dowgate, called Cold-Herbergh,
(that is, Cold Inn) probably so denominated from its vicinity to the river.
The place is at present called Cold-harbour-lane.
In the month of March, this year, the clergy gratified their vindictive spirit
with the blood of another sincere votary to heterodox opinions, John Bradby, a
taylor, who was burnt in a pipe or cask in Smithfield. Henry prince of Wales
was very desirous of saving him; and offered him a pardon, if he would recant,
before the fire was kindled. He refused, and the prince was so greatly affected
with his outcries, that he immediately commanded him to be taken out of the
fire, earnestly exhorting him to renounce his errors, and as the fire had already
lamed him, Henry offered him a pension of three-pence per day during life:
but this offer being resolutely rejected, he was resigned to his fate.
The market-house called the Stocks, near the church of St. Mary Woolchurch, was this year begun to be built; and many inconveniences arising
from the want of room in the Guildhall in Aldermanbury, the city set about
erecting the present Guildhall; which is well calculated for transacting all
public affairs belonging to the corporation.
Henry died March 20, 1412; and the people had conceived a disadvantageous
opinion of the prince of Wales, whose disorderly srolics are preserved to remembrance by Shakespeare's pen. But he no sooner found himself invested
with sovereign authority, than he became sensible of the dignity of his office,
and resolved to practise those virtues he expected in his subjects. He dismissed
his former licentious companions; but his bad character afforded pretences to
the enemies of his family to stir up trouble in the beginning of his reign. Being
informed of a conspiracy against his life, he commanded Sir Thomas Falconer,
mayor of London, to apprehend all suspicious persons. Falconer caused a
strong guard to be kept by every alderman in his ward; and, about midnight
following, went to the Axe without Bishopsgate, and apprehended eight suspected
persons, who confessed the design they had entered into. To prevent the city
being surprized in this time of danger, he also, with the utmost expedition,
caused the city ditch to be cleansed, which was in many places choaked with
filth: he also enforced the laws against public nusances in the river Thames.
Moorgate was built this year.
The disciples of Wickcliffe, distinguished by the name of Lollards, had
become very formidable by their numbers; and the principal man of the party,
at present, was Sir John Oldcastle, lord Cobham, who had greatly distinguished
himself by his military abilities both in the last and present reign. The clergy,
who, in the former reign, had been gratified with a power over the lives of
all, who shewed more good sense than was consistent with ecclesiastical domination; by obtaining two victims, were familiarized to the shedding of human
blood in the most horrid manner. Their secret lust of power, prosecuted under a pretended zeal for the Christian faith, was suffered to choak up all interfering sentiments of humanity; and Arundel, archbishop of Canterbury, applied to the king, for his concurrence, in prosecuting lord Cobham for heresy.
Henry, unwilling to sacrifice a man of Cobham's distinction and merit, undertook himself to convince him of his errors, and attempt his conversion; but
Cobham, not yielding to arguments, was at length resigned to punishment. He
was sentenced to the flames by the primate, and three of his suffragans, the bishops of London, Winchester, and St. David's, but saved his life for the present, by escaping from the Tower. Menaced with so shocking a death, it was
no wonder that he should now have recourse to the strength of his party, and
endeavour to defend himself by arms; an expedient, which, however, only rendered his destruction more sure on failure. His scheme was to seize the king's
person, and retort the punishment of death on his persecutors. His party was
to rendezvous in St. Giles's fields; but the king disconcerted them by his vigilance: he shut the city gates to prevent the Lollards in London from joining
them, and then seized those who assembled. Of these some were executed;
but Cobham was not taken till four years after; when he was hanged for his
rebellion, and his body afterward burnt for his heresy (fn. 23) . This conspiracy
brought great disgrace on the reformers, and the parliament passed an act (fn. 24) ,
by which convicted Lollards, should, beside capital punishment, forfeit lands
and goods to the king; and officers of state, sheriffs, and other magistrates,
were to take an oath to suppress heresy to the utmost of their power.
Though the parliament was so far duped by a zeal for religion, as thus to
strengthen the dangerous power before granted to the church; yet when the
king solicited a supply of money, he was advised by the same parliament to
seize all the ecclesiastical revenues. The clergy satisfied Henry for the present,
by a compromise, the burthen of which fell upon abbies belonging to them in
Normandy; and, to divert his attention, Chichely, archbishop of Canterbury,
stimulated him, in the present distracted state of France, to assert his claim to
the crown of that kingdom (fn. 25) . The king's affairs in France occupied so much
of his time, and his absence producing no commotions at home, that nothing
occurs to our purpose, until his return after the memorable battle of Agincourt (fn. 26) . He was received by the magistrates of London, with the utmost manifestations of joy and triumph; which were renewed on the arrival of the emperor Sigismund, May 7, 1416, who came over with the good intention of
mediating a peace between England and France.
In the year 1417, the king taking notice, that the highway, named Holborn, in London, (alta via regia in Holbourne, Londoniæ) was so deep and
miry, that many obstructions happened to his carriages, as well as those of
his subjects; employed two vessels of twenty tons burden, to bring stones at
his own expence for paving it (fn. 27) . This so early improvement of that road, is
an evidence of the growing state of the metropolis, and extension of the suburbs, at that time.
The king afterward meditated another expedition to France, to prosecute his
former advantage; but the aid supplied him by parliament was so inadequate to the
expences of the enterprize, that he was forced to make up the deficiency by
pawning his crown and jewels: the former to the bishop of Winchester, for
20,000 marks, and the latter for 10,000, to the citizens of London.
In the year 1419, Sir Simon Eyre, who had served mayor of London, some
time before, built Leadenhall, at his proper expence, at it now appears, to
be employed as a publick granary for laying up corn against a time of
scarcity. How the original destination failed does not appear; but at present,
it is converted into warehouses, and the area into a market, for leather and
provisions of all kinds.
Henry concluded a peace with France, at Troyes, by which he was acknowledged heir to that monarchy, and was entrusted with the present administration; and France and England were for ever to be united under one king.
Happily for this country, the parties to this treaty proved unable to carry it
into execution; so that it eventually only protracted a war which, when France
recovered its distracted state, put an end to the English pretensions. Henry,
however, married the princess Catherine of France, but died two years afterward, August 31, 1422, leaving an infant son and his kingdom exposed to the
uncertainties attending a minority.
Henry VI. then but eight months and odd days old, was advanced to the
throne under the guardianship of his uncles, the dukes of Gloucester and Bedford. On the 14th of November, he was carried on his mother's lap in an
open chair through the city in great state to the parliament, then sitting at
Westminster, who recognized his accession.
The gaol of Newgate was rebuilt in the year 1423, pursuant to the will of
Sir Richard Whittington, as mentioned above. Water conduits were also now
first erected at Billingsgate, Paul's Wharf, and St. Giles's Cripplegate, for supplying those neighbourhoods with water.
When every one thought that things tended to a peaceable establishment, the
nation, and London in particular, were disturbed by the ambitious projects of
the haughty bishop of Winchester. This prelate, uncle to the protector, and
great uncle to the young king, aspiring to the chief management of government, formed a scheme to surprize the city of London, in the night of the
lord-mayor's day, 1426, when the citizens were engaged in banqueting and
rejoicing in honour of their new magistrate. His intrigues were however
frustrated; for the protector, having intimation of the design, warned the mayor,
John Coventry, who, by his prudence, repulsed the bishop's faction, when
forcing their way from Southwark over the bridge. The duke of Bedford, regent of France, and brother to the protector, for the good of the public,
judged it necessary to come over to accommodate the controversy. At his
landing, he was met by a great number of the nobility, and by the mayor,
aldermen, and many of the citizens of London, on horseback. The day after,
the mayor and citizens presented him with 1000 marks of gold, in two gilt
silver basons; but met with a very cold reception, owing to the ill offices of
the disappointed bishop.
The stately palace of Baynard's-castle was, this year, destroyed by fire; but,
in a short time after, magnificently rebuilt by the said duke of Gloucester.
A letter sent in the king's name to the mayor and aldermen of London,
in the year 1428, inquiring after a custom of servants gaining the freedom of
the city; furnishes us, by the answer of the mayor, Henry Barton, with a curious article of information. It is said in this letter to the king, that from the
time of king Edward the Confessor, and before that beyond all remembrance,
"every servant, whosoever he were, that came to the city of London, and
tarried in it for a year and a day, without reclamation of his lord there,
afterward he may, ought, and hath accustomed through his whole life, so
freely and securely to tarry there, as it were in the house or chamber of
the king." This evinces the antient pre-eminence of the corporation, and
as a farther proof of the early distinction paid to trading bodies, it is added,
that by the laws of king William, the Conqueror, this privilege was extended
to all boroughs. The words are—"that if servants remain, without complaint, by a year and a day in a burgh compassed with a wall, or in castles,
or in the cities of the said king; whence the said city of London, to that
time, and from all time before, was one, and the more principal of the
whole kingdom, as is said before; from that day let them become freemen,
and let them be for ever free and quit from the yoke of their servitude."
Particular references are made to records for the proof of this privilege;
which, with others in favour of trading bodies, successively obtained, had a natural, though perhaps an unforeseen tendency, to sap the foundations of the
feudal institutions; by affording opportunities to the peasantry of escaping from
the bonds of villainage. That the obligations to military service, were now
much weakened, may be collected from the pecuniary difficulties the late king
was put to, in prosecuting his wars in France: and the decrease of vassals, might occasion this inquiry into the customs of London, for admitting
such as members of the corporation.
The slavish ties of feudal subordination began, however, manifestly to yield
to the influence of trade, and more liberal notions. By a late act, no person
who had not twenty shillings a year in land, was permitted to bind his son apprentice to a trade; and a penalty was imposed on those tradesmen who took
such unqualified children (fn. 28) . This act shewed with what a jealous eye the
landed interest regarded that springing from commerce. But this restriction
being deemed oppressive by the citizens, they now applied to parliament, and
procured it to be taken away (fn. 29) .
Though the English power in France was hastening swift toward extinction,
yet the duke of Bedford took the opportunity of conferring the transient honour on the young king, of having him crowned at Paris. On his return February 21, 1431, he was received by the magistrates of London, at Blackheath,
with particular pomp, and conducted to town. Two days after, they again attended him at Westminster, and insured their welcome by the present of a golden hamper, containing 1000 l. in nobles.
Water was at this time conveyed from Tyburn into the standard in Cheapside, by Sir John Wells, the late mayor, at his own charges. In 1434, a great
frost began on the 24th of November, and held till the 10th of February following: the Thames was so strongly frozen, that merchandize and provisions
brought into the mouth of the river were unladen, and brought by land to
the city. The great rains of the preceding autumn raised the price of corn
to one pound, six shillings and eight pence a quarter.
The duchess of Bedford was sister to Philip, duke of Burgundy, and
his speedy marriage after her death, so affronted the brother, that he renounced
his alliance with England, and returned to that of his lawful prince. This defection was a fatal stroke to the English interests in that kingdom; Burgundy
sent a herald to London, to apologize for his return to his allegiance; and the
English council, by way of insult, lodged him at a shoemaker's house. The
populace were so enraged, that, had not the duke of Gloucester granted him a
guard, this innocent messenger had been sacrificed for his master's conduct. But
the Flemings and Burgundians, subjects of Philip, were openly insulted in the
city, and some of them murdered; violences, which appeared to justify his future enmity to England. He undertook the siege of Calais; which so alarmed
the nation in general, that all the cities and towns of the kingdom were commanded to raise a certain number of men, for its relief. The citizens of London distinguished themselves in an extraordinary manner; for they not only
got their quota ready, but undertook to maintain them at their own expence.
On the arrival of this succour, the siege was immediately raised.
An accident that happened about this time, gave name to Rock-lock under
London bridge. Two arches at the south end, together with the Bridge-gate,
fell down; and the ruins being suffered to remain, have, by length of time,
so cemented with sand and mud, as to be immoveable, and to be mistaken
for a natural rock in the bed of the river. All late attempts to remove this obstruction have been ineffectual.
Conduits were erected in Fleet-street, Aldermanbury, and Cripplegate, in
1438, by Sir William Eastfield, knight of the Bath and lord-mayor, which
were supplied with water from Highbury-Barn, and Tyburn. The abbot of
Westminster also made a grant to the corporation of London, the next year,
of a head of water, with all its springs, in the manor of Paddington; on the
reserved rent of two pepper-corns annually. But the grant was to be void, if
the intended work of carrying it to London should draw the water from antient wells in the manor of Hida. This grant was confirmed by the king with
The burning of heretics becoming common occurrences, will afford no farther leisure to reflect on the nature of such enormities, but must pass as ordinary events. In 1440, Sir Richard Wick, vicar of Hermetsworth in Essex,
was burnt on Tower-Hill; and the vicar of Barking-church, who was probably
inclined himself to the new opinions, concerted a scheme to confer honour on
the unhappy victim, by a popish artifice. He secretly mixed powder of spices
with the ashes, and by publishing their miraculous fragrancy, excited the people to an idolatrous veneration for the sacred relics; and made a good market
of this pious manufacture. But holy ingenuity was not allowed to be so prostituted, and retorted upon the church; the fraud was therefore quickly exposed, and the contriver punished.
The following year, the cross which had been erected in Cheapside, in memory of queen Eleanor, by her husband Edward I. being decayed; John Hatherly, the mayor, applied for leave to re-edify this monument for the ornament of the city, and petitioned for aid toward repairing the city granary, the
conduits, and for other improvements. All which the king granted according
On occasion of a riot at the election of mayor, the king, in 1443, renewed
the ordinance formerly published by Edward II. to regulate such elections; and
to prohibit any persons from interfering, who were not summoned for that
purpose (fn. 30) .
A general disregard prevailing with regard to the sabbath-day, the court of
common-council made a severe law, for preventing all persons buying and selling, and artificers from working, on that day. A thousand marks were also
granted toward building a new conduit at the western end of Cheapside, near
St. Paul's gate, and for the repair of other conduits. The executors of Sir John
Wells, late mayor of London, obtained the king's authority for repairing that
part of the highway before the palace of the Savoy, in the Strand; which was
now paved for the extent of 500 feet.
The steeple of St. Paul's cathedral was, on the 1st of February, 1444, set
on fire by lightning, and being carelessly extinguished, the fire broke out again,
and consumed the greatest part of the frame work.
The method of determining causes by the judicial combat, was not yet totally
disused, notwithstanding the privilege of exemption heretofore granted to the
citizens (fn. 31) : and the absurdity of such appeals to Providence appears clearly by an
instance which occurred at this time. William Catur, an armourer, was accused of high treason, by his servant John David, who, for want of other proof,
offered to make good his charge by combat. The defendant's friends knowing
his timorous nature, fortified his spirits for the contest with plenty of wine.
Catur entering the lists intoxicated, was killed by his servant; who being afterward convicted of felony, confessed the falsehood of his charge against his
unhappy master. If this prejudice of ignorant and barbarous ages was yet credited, that strength and courage would always support the innocent, how could
this poor man's friends justify their indirect expedient for exalting his spirits!
Jurisprudence was as yet indeed but ill understood, and the turbulent ambition of the nobles occasioned the general principles of equity to be worse
practised; as will appear by the cruel fate of the worthy duke of Gloucester,
the king's uncle. The bishop of Winchester, now created a cardinal, continued still his inveterate enemy; and the duke of Gloucester had the mortification to see his duchess tried, condemned to public penance, and imprisonment for life, on an idle accusation of attempting to destroy the king by magical arts. The high esteem in which the duke continued, was his ruin; for
the cardinal procured him to be impeached in a parliament summoned at St.
Edmundsbury, in 1447; for London was too well affected to him to trust his
fate in that town. He was imprisoned, and soon after found dead in his bed;
a sure method of executing that vengeance, which it was apprehended the parliament would not authorize in a judicial manner.
The great neglect of the education of youth was now taken into consideration by four clergymen of London; who, with a laudable spirit of promoting
learning, petitioned the parliament, 25 Henry VI. for leave to establish grammar-schools in their four parishes of St. Andrew Holborn, St. Peter Cornhill,
Great Allhallows, and St. Mary Colechurch. This petition, which is now
among the Tower records, was deservedly granted.