MEDLEVAL POPULAR MOVEMENTS.*
HOWEVER it may be with plants and animals, there can be no doubt that all our social and political growth and progress have been obtained through the hard struggle for existence of each successive variation from the previous types of thought and conduct, and by the final survival of the fittest. The results remain known to all and possessed by all, and we have records of the greater and more prominent forms of transition, such as the Norman Conquest, the Reformation, the Commonwealth. But the details of the long processes which have led up to these critical changes remain for the most part in obscurity, even when the history of them has not absolutely perished ; and be does a valuable service who will be at the pains carefully to recover the scattered notices and indications of such processes in some special period of history, as Mr. Maurice has done in the volume before us. Generation after generation, the body politic of the English people has become more widely and more highly organised. The more or less inorganic and outlying masses have been gradually brought within the Constitution and admitted to share as citizens in its benefits, while those benefits—our whole civilisation—have been them- selves indefinitely developed and augmented. And what Mr. Maurice proposes is to trace the first struggles into life of what we now call the Working-class in England, and these he connects with the names of Tyler, Ball, and Oldcastle, who helped to give articulate utterance to the wants of the dumb multitudes who, in the fourteenth century, rose against the oppressions of the kings, nobles, and clergy, and who, though apparently crushed, did in fact win some real ground and footing for themselves, or at least for those who were to come after them, and to make new advances from their humble and hardly recognised beginnings.
Mr. Maurice's summary of his introductory chapters, in which he sketches the "Condition of the Poorer Classes in England," from the coming of Augustine in 597 to the insurrection of Tyler and Ball in 1381, is as follows :—
" The insurrection of Tyler and Ball is an important landmark in history. Even considered merely as an episode in the general demo- cratic movement of the fourteenth century, as one of those splendid outbursts which, in Flanders, Rome, France, and above all, in Switzer- land, mark the first struggles into life of new and only partly organised classes of society, the insurrection of 1381 holds no insignificant position. But we can only estimate its due importance if we consider it as colouring, and being coloured by, that religious movement which was so essentially English in its character, and through which England was most powerfully to affect the life of the Continent.
" In order, therefore, to understand the real meaning cf this insur- rection, it will be necessary to trace from the earliest times the con- dition of the classes who specially took part in it; and to see what their relations were with the earlier religious movements of their country ; in what respects the leaders of those movements had a claim to be considered as the champions of the poor ; what they did to repel those whom they professed to protect ; what other roads to freedom seemed to lead the serfs and the poorer freemen away from their ecclesiastical patrons, or even into antagonism to them.
"It will be necessary also to see how the serfs were taught to rely upon themselves, and how, as their patrons sometimes changed into oppressors, and openings to freedom seemed suddenly closed, the oppressed classes grew in strength, by acquiring that vigour which could only come from self-reliance and voluntary combination, until at last the assertors of a higher life and morality in the country were able to find in the serfs and poorer freemen no longer their protcrges, but their allies.
"Thus we shall see the hard-worked serfs of early England gaining some slight protection from the law, under the influence of St. Augus- tine and the other missionaries from Rome ; gaining new hopes of free- dom as English institutions developed; helped forward by the reforming hand of Dunstan; thrown back with the rest of their countrymen by the incursions of the Danes. We shall see the half-free churl thrust down into equality with the theow by the equalising tyranny of the Norman Conquest, and stereotyped in his position by the influence of Roman law under Henry II.
" We shall see how the poorer classes wore affected for good and for evil by the struggles between the towns and monasteries, between the merchants and workmen ; how far they were touched by the English constitutional movements of the thirteenth century, and how the grow- ing antagonism between class and class forced them into the independent and aggressive position which they assumed in the fourteenth century, and which naturally found its logical result in the insurrection of Tyler and Ball."
Though the condition of the slave—a thing and not a person, a chattel and not a man—must have been miserable enough at best,
• Lives of English Popular Leaders in the Middle Ages,—Tyler, Ball, and Oldcastle. By 0. Edmund Maurice. London 1 Henry S. Bing and Co. 1875. it was not, as Mr. Maurice points out, so bad in early England as in ancient Athens or modern America, because there was not the same hopeless separation of occupation or of race between master and slave in the first case as in the others. In England, there was always an intermediate, half-free class, the ceorl or agricul- tural serf, with many inchoate rights which were gradually ex- panding to the successful assertion of the complete liberties of citizenship. There was not that state of luxurious civilisation and culture which makes so great a gulf between master and ser- vant, even where the servant is free. Though Christians were not more logical or consistent with their professions then than now, yet the belief that-bond and free were alike children of one Father, and therefore all brethren, had some real influence on their practical relations, softening the harshness of slavery where it existed, and recognising as a Christian virtue the eman- cipation of slaves,—as in the fourteenth of the ecclesiastical canons of King Eadgar, which " begins by insisting on the duty of every one to build churches, bridges, &c., ' and readily to help poor men, widows, step-children, and foreigners,' adding, as a climax, that each man should ' free his own slaves, and redeem to freedom their slaves from other men.' " The ceorl or farm-serf, like every other class of Englishmen, felt the hard grasp of the Norman lord in a stricter bondage than before ; yet (as we pointed out in our notice of Mr. Elton's book on copyholds), the villein, as he was now called, did, with dogged resolution, make such resistance to his lord's will that he was able by slow degrees to convert his mere 'Ctenancy in villeinage " into a copy- hold, with customs which gave him rights almost equal to those of a legal freeholder. But the process was a long one, and for a considerable time, as Mr. Maurice shows, the condition of the villein became more hopeless and degraded after the Conquest, of which, perhaps, the strongest proof is that he could no longer purchase his freedom as before, since the law now held that the very money which he would pay was already the property of his master. But here the rise of the towns came to his aid,— " those institutions which gradually weakened the hold of the lord over the serf, both by affording a refuge to the oppressed and by raising up a force in the State which could counterbalance the power of the oppressor;" and we may add, by compelling the lords, through their own interests, to grant their dependents such increasingly liberal treatment as might be needed to induce them to remain as cultivators of the land, which withou their ser- vicis would be worthless to its owners. Many of the towns grew up, through their earlier stages at least, under the intelligent pro- tection of the monasteries, and a wise Abbot would be prompted alike by Christian charity and enlightened regard for the interests of his abbey to guard by the strong arm of the Church the villeins who had fled to him, and who desired to exchange the degradation of their condition as rural serfs for the comparative independence of municipal life. But decay succeeds to vigour, and death to life, in institutions as in men ; the ecclesiastical liberators of one generation became themselves the selfish lords of the next ; and the children had to contend with the successors of their fathers' patrons in order to keep, and still more to enlarge, the rights which had formerly been granted them. The immediate victory was sometimes to one party and sometimes to the other, depending, as it often did, on the personal character and intelligence of the opponents. A wise abbot like Samson (known to us all in Mr. Carlyle's pages, if not in the original chronicle) might retain much while conceding much ; a Prior of Dunstable, though his excommunications were con- firmed by the Bishop of London, might be told by the towns- men that, though they were excommunicated, they "would rather go to hell" than submit to pay taxes they deemed unjust, and the Prior might have to yield to a very moderate compromise. And then, again, there would be a strong reaction in favour of the great lords, temporal or spiritual. Sometimes the king, sometimes the nobles, sometimes the rich merchants and citizens, sometimes the bishops, and first one and then another of the various orders of clergy, secular and regular, would be on the side of the liberties and rights of the poor, and then each in turn is found contending on the other side. But still, with all this ebb and flow, the main wave of progress was constantly ad- vancing till, in the fourteenth century, a new condition of things was introduced by the occurrence of the great plagues whicl. devastated the country during the reign of Edward III., and first of which broke out in the summer of 1340, and the second —" one account describes it as destroying one man in every ten " —in 1348. Sheep were attacked as well as men, and the rising value of labour as the supply diminished was accompanied by a like rise in the price of meat. The demoralising effect of wide-spread pestilence was felt as it was in the days of Thucydides, and often since then. The old bonds of social use and wont were relaxed by a general selfishness ; those who seemed to have nothing to lose were ready for revolutionary violence which might win them something; while those who were threatened with the loss of what they had, resorted to a resistance really not less revolutionary because it could be effected under the forms of law :- " From this time [of the second plague, in 1348) to the end of the reign of Edward III., the Rolls of Parliament are filled with the efforts of the landlords and nobles, who were specially urged on by the small gentry, to maintain their positions, first, against the labourers who were taking advantage of the small supply of labour to demand a rise of wages ; and, secondly, against the bondsmen who were trying to struggle into the position of freeholders, and to throw off the customary duties demanded of them The House of Commons, who were on the side of tho small gentry, succeeded in exciting the King's sympathy for their cause, by showing him that the change of the lands from the bands of the bondsmen to those of free tenants was diminishing his authority. The smaller gentry, as I said, wore specially active in demanding and enforcing the Statutes of Labourers,—statutes which may be said to hold the same relation to the English democratic move- ment of the fourteenth century which the anathemas of Innocent III. held towards the constitutional movement of the thirteenth. The demand for a rise of wages which followed the plague seems to have began chiefly among the agricultural labourers, especially the reapers and shepherds; but it soon spread through all classes of manual work- men. The first bitterness of this struggle was seen in 1347. Wages had been, apparently, up to that time fixed by a rule laid down by the King; and in the fierceness of their discovery that the labourers were breaking through this rule, the Commons demanded that the labourers refusing the fixed rate of wages should pay fines and suffer corporal punishment. At the same time, greater checks were placed on the transference to free tenants of lands held in villeinage, and on the opportunities offered by the law courts to the villeins of escaping from their lords, or of rising to the freer position which the state of the country had seemed for a time to offer to them. But the labourers were not likely to yield without a straggle. Many of them fled from their lords, and took refuge in woods. Others openly refused submission to the Acts of Parliament. The abbots, too, found greater difficulty in enforcing their power over their villeins.
The central law courts. indeed, seam to have strained their influence in favour of the workmen A bond was growing up
between the workmen from their common opposition to their em- ployers. From Devonshire there came complaints that the privileges hitherto confined to certain workmen were being extended to others ; while in the towns the workmen began to form guilds, from which they carefully excluded all those who would rise to the rank of mayor or bailiff. There seemed, indeed, little hope except in such a union. The King was considered personally the worst employer in the king- dom; for he himself complained that the workmen were leaving his service because they could earn higher wages elsewhere The bishops, like the other employers, became alarmed, and combined their influence with that of the lay employers to keep down wages."
Mr. Maurice goes on to illustrate the social state of the country at this time from the contemporary " Vision of Piers Plowman," in which "the union of strong moral feeling and indignation at the corruptions of the time, with an exaltation of labour into an object of almost religious reverence, naturally gave it a great attraction for the excited minds of the peasantry and the work- men ; and the phrases of the poem became watchwords in the coming times." Then, too, came the preaching of Wyclif and the " simple priests " whom he sent out, " clothed in long, russet cloaks, with bare feet," to proclaim his doctrines of reformation in the Church, and, not less important, his translation of the Bible, of which the weighty, practical effect is shown by the way
in which it is denounced by Knighton :— " He translated," says Knighton, "the Scriptures from Latin into the English, not the angelic, tongue, whence it becomes by his means com- mon, and more open to laymen and to women who know how to read than it is to tolerably learned and very intelligent clergymen, and thus the Gospel pearl is scattered and trampled upon by swine, And thus what was wont to be dear to clergy and laity is now, as it were, turned into a common laughing-stock to both ; and the jewel of the clergy is turned into a mockery of the laity, so that that for the future is become common to the laity which before had been a talent entrusted from above to the clergy and doctors of the Church " Now appeared John Ball, who, " even more than Tyler, was the moving spirit in the insurrection of 1381." He was of the class of "parochial chaplains, a class which seems to have cor- responded among Churchmen to the ordinary artisan class among the laity." Coming originally from York, he preached chiefly in Essex, upholding marriage, denouncing tithes, and advising his hearers to appeal to the King for justice. The censures and excom- munication of the Bishop of Norwich and the Archbishop of Canter- bury did not restrain him till, by order of Edward III., he was ar- rested and imprisoned by the Sheriff of Essex ; and when released he returned to preaching, and now avowedly as a follower of Wyclif, till he was once more thrown ,into prison at Maidstone. Thence he was rescued by the men of Dartford and Gravesend, when they rose against the last outrage of the poll-tax and the infamous atrocities of the Commissioners who farmed it, and—under the leadership of Wet Tyler, of Maidstone—began the great insur-
rection of 1381, known to us all through even the shortest history of England. We have all heard of Wat Tyler, nor has Mr. Maurice, with all his diligent research, been able to add much of concrete fact to the popular story ; but, as we have been endeav- ouring to show, he has, nevertheless, thrown much general and strong light upon the facts by his investigation of the whole social condition of the people of England, which had been preparing the way for this final result. Ball, being free, wrote letters to the men of Essex, Norfolk, and Suffolk, which are still extant, in which he tells them that the time of God'a justice is come, that they are to gather under one head, to stand together in God's name, and God and the truth shall keep them. And not only from those counties, but also from Kent, Sussex, Hertford, Cambridge, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, War- wickshire, Staffordshire, and even from Somersetahire and from Winchester, men came flocking to London to join the standard of Tyler. They first assembled at Blackheath, and. after some preliminary messages the King went by water to Rotherhithe to meet a body of ten thousand men who had come there from Blackheath to lay their complaints before him. But his lords, with mingled timidity and insolence, would not allow him to land and hear the clamorous crowd, and told them they were not properly dressed, nor in a fit condition for the King to talk to them. They returned to Blackheath, to hear a sermon from John Ball, on the text,-
" Whan Adam dalf and Eve span,
Wo was thanne a gentilman ?"
and thence marched to Southwark and encamped there. In vain the Mayor and Aldermen endeavoured to keep the City gates shut, for the poorer Londoners insisted on the admission of the insur- gents, and the King and his nobles fled to the Tower. The Savoy Palace of John of Gaunt—" the one man who was then the most widely bated by the Commons throughout the country" —was burnt. Sir Robert Hales the Treasurer and Arch- bishop Sudbury the Chancellor—who were either surrendered by the King or taken by force—John Leg and his two fellow- commissioners and farmers of the poll-tax, and two of the friends of John of Gaunt, were executed. Other acts of less justifiable violence seem to have preceded as well as followed these, yet no plunder was permitted by the leaders under pain of death,—a penalty actually inflicted on one of those who were at the burning of the Savoy, his companions exclaiming that they were " zealots for truth and justice, not thieves and robbers." Nor were their demands when theKingpresented himself to them at Mile End unreasonable. They were the abolition of slavery, liberty to buy and sell in market towns without toll or custom, a fixed rent of fourpence the acre for land instead of the service of villeinage, and a general pardon. To these the King agreed ; and some other matters were about to be discussed next day, at a con- ference between Richard and Wat Tyler, when mutual sus- picions of treachery led to a scuffle in which Tyler was killed, and the multitude speedily dispersed to their own homes. With Tyler's death ended, too, the hopes of various local risings which had taken place at the same time. King Richard speedily re- tracted all his promises and the charters with which he had con- firmed them, having obtained the unanimous approval of Parlia- ment to his so doing. John Ball and about fifteen hundred others were executed, and the White Terror showed itself to be at least as cruel as the Red.
Yet all was not lost. "Though nominally refused, the demands of the villeins were silently but effectually accorded" from that time onwards ; the tyrannies of the King's favourites and officials —the direct cause of the insurrections—were more strictly con- trolled by the Parliament ; and the demand for the moral and religious reforms of Wyclif, which Ball had preached and died for, soon showed itself more resolutely than ever. For an ac- count of the growing importance of Lollardry during the next two reigns we must refer our readers to Mr. Maurice's volume, in which its progress at Oxford, in London, and throughout the country is traced. And it is as the representative of Lollardry, after its early patrons the Lancastrian Princes had abandoned it for the cause of the powerful clergy, that Sir John Oldcaatle is taken by Mr. Maurice as one of our English Popular Leaders.
Our space does not allow of our here following Mr. Maurice's sketch of Oldeastle's life and death, but we give his concluding view of the results of his career :-
" The importance of Oldcastle's career is of a very different kind from that of Langton, Tyler, or Ball ; he cannot be said to have inaugurated m a constitutional movement, or to have awakened a class to new life; nor was his effect on the Reformation as marked as that of BalL That great movement does not receive any new character in the latter part of the reign of Henry V., nor, so far as we can gather, do its principles be- come more acceptable at that time to any large body of men who had previously opposed it.
" Yet Oldcastlo's life was far from unimportant. He is one of those men whose effect is produced rather by their character than by their work. He stands out in the fifteenth century as Sir Philip Sydney does in the latter part of the sixteenth century. rather as an embodiment of the noblest life and effort of the time, than as the chief actor in any of the definite work of the time. And thus he made the cause of the Refor- mation in the fifteenth century dear to the Englishmen of the sixteenth and seventeenth, just as Sydney has made the Elizabethan period so precious to later generations. "In a time when there was much talk of chivalry by those who were oppressing the weak, Oldcastle comes before us as the Christian knight, protecting an oppressed sect against the powers that be ; sympathising, as few knights dared to do, with tailors and carpenters, defying the prejudices of his order against learning, and deliberately throwing up the favour of a king to risk persecution and death. Thus it is that, far less important as the work he achieved was than that accomplished by Ball, Oldoastle's character is to writers of the .sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the most continual subject of debate, the battle-ground of opposing principles. While those on the one side try as far as possible to exaggerate the rebellious aspect of his career, others feel that the cause of the Reformation is concerned in suppressing everything which tends to lessen the effect of the picture of Oldcastle as a suffering Christian martyr."