Sunday, 12 October 2014

Writing - Richard II - champion of the people

When you write there is a tendency to allow that art to take over your life. It's rather like music. My singing coach always used to say that he had never known anyone involved in music who wasn't very busy all of the time. I would replace 'music' with creativity. However, the other aspect of writing is reading and we shouldn't neglect the value of reading to writing.
This historical story below is as much an interpretation of facts as a piece of fiction but has links to present day life.

Richard II (1376 - 1400)

Edward III's son, the Black Prince, died in 1376. The king's grandson, Richard II, succeeded to the throne aged 10, on Edward's death. 
The boy king was supported by a royal council but in 1381 at the age of 14 proved that he was not simply a child. It must be remembered that at this time the country was in the hands of the landed gentry who jealously guarded their property, wealth and serfs. Ordinary people were not free and local areas and towns were often managed to the benefit of the landowner by corrupt officials who ensured that once you were a serf always a serf. They even ensured that the surplus grown by the serfs could only be sold in the squires own markets. 
In 1381 matters became volatile and peasants and serfs from Kent and Essex came up to London to protest at their lot. The royal councillors were so worried about the size of the protest that they arranged a meeting between the young king and the leaders of the protest at Rotherhithe. Richard II was boarded on a river boat and proceeded along the river Thames, but as the entourage approached the protesters the size and noise of the crowd made the councillors nervous and they turned the boat and returned to the Tower of London.

Tower of London

The retreat had the effect of incensing the crowd and they marched into the city, burning and pillaging en route. When the crowd arrived at the Tower a stand off occurred with the crowd demanding to see and speak to the young king. Eventually Richard agreed to meet the leaders of the peasants at Mile End and during that meeting agreed to many of the peasants demands. The main concession being the abolishment of serfdom, both personal and tenorial. Henceforth every man, woman and child would be free to live, travel and work where they chose and own what they earned or acquired outright without being subject to their lords' dues and demands.
Richard II's councillors were furious because of course they were part of the 'system' directly affected by the new freedoms given to the people. The meeting had taken place on Friday 14th June 1381. As the king was as yet a minor the council had the last say and eventually repealed the freedoms given to the people.

At this point it is important that time scales are considered. If the council had their own way they would have waited until the peasants had gone home and rescinded what the young king had agreed. However, it was 18 days later that the king's actions were overturned which suggests that the boy argued against his actions being changed. In the interim period the king's clerks began issuing new charters sealed with the Great Seal and for almost three weeks the changes were put into effect. When the changes were repealed those who had imprisoned corrupt local officials and sequestered their ill-gotten gains were branded as traitors and there were many trials and executions. 
If the council had intended to deny the king his changes the time to have done it would have been the day after they'd been made as it would have saved lives and considerable embarrassment. The fact that Richard's concessions would have transformed the very structures upon which medieval English society was built was probably its undoing. The establishment then as it is now was an entrenched pattern of behaviours accepted by almost everyone - some things never change.

Peasant's Revolt 1381

God Bless