Centre for Kent History and Heritage

MEMS Lib and Canterbury rebels


MEMS Lib and Canterbury rebels

This week I thought I would start with a collaboration between the Centre and MEMS at Kent as part of their new online initiative. Led by the Kent team comprising a Taught MA student and four PhD students (one has just completed), this new website will provide information about freely available online resources arranged thematically in the fields of medieval and early modern studies; with a forum so that researchers can raise questions, seek assistance or notify others about newly discovered resources. This exciting development ‘Unchaining the library’ was launched this week and is already receiving rave reviews. If you want to check it out, please go to: https://www.memslib.co.uk/

So you might say where does CKHH fit into this? Well Dr David Rundle (University of Kent) who is a guest editor and lecturer in MEMS has asked us to provide a thematic section on Canterbury and Kent resources for the medieval and Tudor periods. Material for the 17th and 18th centuries will be added later. Thus wearing two hats (I also teach at Kent on the MEMS taught MA), Dr Diane Heath (CKHH at CCCU) and I started yesterday to collate relevant sources and because of several other commitments that we both have, including a PhD I am examining online this Friday, we intend to deliver the ‘Canterbury and Kent’ section to David and the postgraduate team next week.

Where to start …

Among the funded projects that have taken place in the last five years which will hopefully soon offer exciting material for researchers working on Kent is one on the people who were involved in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, and another that is looking at the inventories of felons’ goods to offer ideas about living standards and material culture in English medieval rural households.

The reason we can find out about these people who were well below the elite in medieval English society is that they come up in official government documents, and court records have long been known as one of the few places ‘ordinary’ people become visible before the increasing use (and survival) of wills, and later still probate inventories.

1381 not 1471 but still rebels: The Peasants’ Revolt from Froissart’s Chronicles (Bibliotheque nationale de France)

However, in some countries records for what 16th-century society called the ‘middling sort’ do survive from an earlier date. In a book on 12th and 13th-century hospitals in the county of Champagne that I was reviewing last weekend, the author has used a wealth of documentary sources, including records of emancipation from guardianship that had details about the family’s furniture, lands and property, which sound absolutely amazing. Indeed, the richness of his sources generally was staggeringly good, down to the giving of serfs by certain noble benefactors to specific hospitals.

Now I cannot match that for Kent, although some peasant charters from the same period are definitely interesting and offer ideas about landholding and the role of women as property holders. Consequently, I’m just briefly going to return to the idea of who were rebels, and the uprising I’m going to look at took place in Kent in 1471. We do know the names of some who were involved in the Fauconberg Rising from the Cinque Ports, but I shall keep to Canterbury and rather than going over the grisly demise of the mayor Nicholas Faunt, I shall turn to his followers. What I want to explore is what we can find out about at least some of them and does this give us any ideas why such men got involved. For, like the demonstrators this week, they may have firmly believed in the righteousness of the Lancastrian cause, or perhaps more likely it was loyalty to the earl of Warwick, but equally other factors may have played a part.

The Bullstake where Nicholas Faunt met his death

A surviving document in Canterbury Cathedral Archives contains lists of over 200 names of those from the city committed for high treason and of these more than half were said to have done so willingly, the rest under duress. However, those who were apparently forced to join were also fined by Edward IV, which rather suggests he was keen to make his point that no such action would be tolerated, preferring money to ‘a feast of heads’, although as one contemporary chronicler remarked “And so the king had out of Kent much good & little luff.”

So what do we know about Faunt’s followers? If we look at the crafts they were involved in, of the senior crafts excluding victualling, building, cloth and clothing, there were two goldsmiths and two mercers, as well as five sergeants or clerks. Whether the fact that Faunt was engaged in victualling, he is at times listed as a brewer or a grocer, helped to bring in support is unclear because there are nine grocers and five brewers listed, as well as five butchers and one baker. However, where he had apparently been able to secure considerable support was among the innkeepers, taverners and similar trades because there are 19 in the list.

Rebels, even if 90 years earlier: Froissart’s Chronicles (BL: Royal MS 18 E.1, f. 165v)

It is also possible to look at the other industries in Canterbury, but equally interesting are matters relating to the city’s social structure by exploring who were civic officers, freemen and intrants (annually licenced resident craftsmen and traders). For in addition to the mayor there were three jurats, as well as the city’s two chamberlains. There were also several more minor office holders among the rebels, such as four ward collectors, including Clement Hamon and Christopher Elcock, and the Burgate constable Thomas Folvyle. All of these men were freemen, as were at least another 56 although the actual number may be considerably higher, but what is interesting is that over half of the known freemen had taken up the freedom in the 1460s, most by redemption. For example, Robert Hunte tailor had seemingly only lived in Canterbury since the house of York came to power. He arrived in Worthgate ward in 1463 where he set up business as a tailor, and two years later paid 10s to become a freeman.

Neighbourhood may have been a contributory factor in that Faunt may have been more successful recruiting men from those wards that had suburban, poorer sectors, such as Worthgate, Newingate, and to a lesser extent Burgate. Similarly, links through marriage may have drawn men in. For example, John Chevenyng was a mercer who married Joan the daughter of Roger Mulwode in 1469, thereby joining the city’s freemen. Mulwode was also a mercer and both men were with Faunt, although it is possible that the older man was drawn into the revolt reluctantly by his son-in-law in that he of the two was listed as having been there under duress.  

Yet, even though the fines may have caused considerable hardship for individual rebels, several were apparently able to ride out this period relatively unscathed. Among these was John Carpenter, smith, who was in Northgate ward the year of the revolt before moving his business to Newingate the following year and becoming a freeman in 1472/3.

Killing the rebels’ leader is a common feature (BL: Royal MS 18 E.i-ii, f. 175)

Taking all the evidence together, it is therefore feasible to get a clearer picture of who marched with Faunt. What comes through is the diversity across the city’s townsmen, as well as the significance of neighbourhood, kinship, occupation and perhaps friendship, although the latter is more difficult to tie down from the available records. Moreover, the relatively broad range of artisans and traders who were numbered among the Canterbury rebels is striking, although interestingly the leather trades are underrepresented compared to those in that industry in the city, nor was Faunt seemingly able to recruit large numbers from his own craft(s). Equally interesting is the diversity across society – from labourers to gentlemen, and even if there was only one pauper listed, it does highlight the depth in status from the highest to the lowest. This is, I believe, important because at a time when factionalism was the hallmark of English urban society, the common cause felt by the rebels might suggest less a polarised society solely based on status, but instead one where shared concerns were sufficient to unite at least a section of the city’s diverse community.

Finally, next week the Kent History Postgraduate Group will be meeting again, and I’ll let you know about our contribution to MEMS Lib.

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