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- A March on London - 20/56 -
place. Gradually making their way forward the two friends reached the other end. Here there was a group of citizens on horseback. Among them was the lord mayor, William Walworth, and many of the aldermen, Robert Gaiton among them. The mob were shouting, "Open the gates!" The uproar was great, but on the mayor holding up his hand there was silence.
"Fellow-citizens," he said, "know ye not what has been done by these men at Southwark? Not content with plundering and ill-treating the inhabitants, breaking open the cellars and besotting themselves with liquor, they have opened the doors of the prisons, and have been joined by the malefactors held there. Assuredly if they enter the city they will behave in like manner here; therefore the gates cannot be opened."
A man stepped forward from the mob and replied:
"It has always been the custom for the gates to be opened, and for the citizens to go out to the fields to enjoy themselves on a holiday, and we will have it so now whether you like it or not."
Then the uproar was renewed, swords and staves were raised menacingly, and cries raised of "Death to the lord mayor!" "Death to all who would interfere with our liberties!" The mayor took counsel with those around him. It was manifestly impossible that some twenty or thirty men could successfully oppose an infuriated mob, and it was certain that they would all lose their lives were they to do so, and that without avail. Accordingly the mayor again held up his hand for silence, and said:
"We cannot oppose your will, seeing that you are many and that we are few; therefore, if you wish it, we must open the gates, but many of you will regret ere many days have passed the part that you have taken in this matter."
So saying, he and those with him drew aside. With a shout of triumph the mob rushed to the gates, removed the bars and opened them, and then poured out, shouting and cheering, into Southwark.
While the dispute had been going on the two friends had quietly made their way almost to the front line.
"What had we best do, Edgar?"
"We had best keep quiet," the latter said; "this is but a street broil, against which your father charged us to take no part. It would not be a fight, but a massacre. Had these gentlemen been in armour, they might have sold their lives dearly, and perchance have fought their way through, but seeing that they have but on their civic gowns they can make no effectual resistance."
As soon as the gates were open they stood back in a doorway until the first rush of the crowd had ceased; then they followed the horsemen across the bridge again, and took their stand at the end of Gracechurch Street to see what would follow. In a short time they saw the holiday-makers come pouring back over the bridge in evident terror, and close on their heels were a great mob. At their head, on horseback, rode Wat Tyler and three or four other leaders. Behind them followed a disorderly crowd, brandishing their weapons. Many of these were drunk, their clothes being stained deeply by the wine from the casks they had broached. Among them were many of the men who had been released from prison.
As they poured over the bridge, some broke off from the column and began to harangue the citizens, saying that these had as much to complain of as they had, seeing how they were taxed for the extravagancies of the Court and the expense of foreign wars, and that now was the time for all honest men to rise against their oppressors. Many of the lower class joined their ranks. None ventured to enter into dispute with them. Some of the mob were dressed in ecclesiastical robes which they had taken from the churches. These as they went shouted blasphemous parodies on the mass. The leaders evidently had a fixed purpose in their minds, for upon reaching Cheapside they turned west.
"It is sad to think that these fellows should disgrace the cause for which they took up arms," Edgar said to his companion. "They had grounds for complaint when they first rose. I then felt some sympathy for them, but now they are intoxicated with their success. Look at Wat the Tyler. I believed he was an honest workman, and, as all said, a clever one. I do not blame him that in his wrath he slew the man who had insulted his daughter; but look at him now--he rides as if he were a king. He is puffed up with his own importance, and looks round upon the citizens as if he were their lord and master. He has stolen some armour on his way, and deems that he cuts a knightly figure. Let us go by the quiet streets and see what is their object."
The whole of the rioters moved down Cheapside by St. Paul's, and then to the Temple. So far they offered no wrong to anyone. They sallied out through the gates and continued on their way until they reached the Savoy, the splendid palace of the Duke of Lancaster, which was said to be the fairest and most richly furnished of any in the kingdom. With shouts of triumph they broke into it and scattered through the rooms, smashing the furniture and destroying everything they could lay hands upon. Some made for the cellars, where they speedily intoxicated themselves. Loud shouts were raised that nothing was to be taken. The silver vessels and jewels were smashed, and then carried down to the Thames and thrown into it.
In a short time flames burst out in several parts of the palace. One man was noticed by another as he thrust a silver cup into his dress. He was at once denounced and seized, and was without further ado hurled into the flames.
The fire spread rapidly. The crowd surrounded the palace, shouting, yelling, and dancing in their triumph over the destruction that they had wrought. Upwards of thirty of the drunkards were unable to escape, and were imprisoned in the cellars. Their shouts for help were heard for seven days, but none came to their assistance, for the ruins of the house had fallen over them, and they all perished. Thence the crowd went to the Temple, where they burnt all the houses occupied by lawyers, with all their books and documents, and then proceeded to the house of the Knights of St. John, a splendid building but lately erected. This also they fired, and so great was its extent that it burned for seven days.
The next morning twenty thousand of them marched to Highbury, the great manor-house of which belonged to the Order of St. John, and this and the buildings around it were all destroyed by fire.
After seeing the destruction of the Temple, Edgar and Albert went back to Cheapside. The streets were almost deserted. The better class of citizens had all shut themselves up in their houses and every door was closed. On knocking at the door of the mercer the two friends were admitted. The alderman had just returned from a gathering of the city authorities. They told him what they had witnessed.
"It passes all bounds," he said, "and yet there is naught that we can do to put a stop to it. For myself I have counselled that proclamation shall be made that all honest citizens shall gather, with arms in their hands, at the Guildhall, and that we should beg the king to give us some assistance in men-at-arms and archers, and that we should then give battle to the rabble. But I found few of my opinion. All were thinking of the safety of their families and goods, and said that were we defeated, as we well might be, seeing how great are their numbers, they would pillage and slay as they chose. Whereas, if we give them no pretence for molesting us, it might be that they would do no harm to private persons, but would content themselves with carrying out their original designs of obtaining a charter from the king.
"In faith it is cowardly counsel, and yet, as with the forces from the north and south there must be fully two hundred thousand rebels, I own that there is some reason in such advice. If the king with his knights and nobles and his garrison at the Tower would but sally out and set us an example, be sure that he would be joined by the law-abiding citizens, but as he doeth naught in this strait, I see not that peaceful citizens are called upon to take the whole brunt of it upon their own shoulders. However, I have little hope that the rioters will content themselves with destroying palaces and attacking lawyers. What you tell me of the execution of one of their number, who stole a silver cup, shows that the bulk of them are at present really desirous only of redress of grievances, but they will soon pass beyond this. The jail-birds will set an example of plunder and murder, and unless help comes before long, all London will be sacked. My men and apprentices are already engaged in carrying down to the cellars all my richest wares. The approach is by a trap-door, with a great stone over it in the yard, and it will, I hope, escape their search.
"Of one thing you may be sure, that as soon as the king shows himself, and it is seen that he is in danger, there will be no hanging back, but we shall join him with what force we can. I think not that he can have aid from without, for we hear that the country people have everywhere risen, and that from Winchester in the south, to Scarborough in the north, they have taken up arms, and that the nobles are everywhere shut up in their castles, so they, being cut off from each other, are in no position to gather a force that could bring aid to the king. You can tell your good father what I say, and that all depends upon the attitude of the king. If he comes to us with his knights and men we will join him; if he comes not, and we learn that he is in danger, we will do what we can, but that must depend much upon how the rebels comport themselves."
The two lads went to the Tower, but the gates were closed and the drawbridge pulled up, and they therefore returned to their lodging, where they passed the night. On the following day they returned into the city; there the rioters had already began their work. Thirty Flemings, who had taken refuge in the churches, were dragged from the altar and were beheaded, thirty-two others were seized in the vintry and also slain. Then parties broke into all the houses where the Flemings lived, and such as had not fled in disguise were killed, and their houses pillaged. All through the day the streets were in an uproar. Every man the rebels met was seized and questioned.
"Who are you for?" Such as answered "The king and commons" were allowed to go unmolested, others were killed. The two friends had several narrow escapes. Fortunately Edgar had learned the watchword at Dartford and readily replied, and they were allowed to pass on. They were traversing Bread Street when they heard a scream behind them, and a girl came flying along, pursued by a large number of the rioters, headed by a man in the dress of a clerk. She reached the door of a handsome house close to them, but before she could open it the leader of the party ran up and roughly seized her. Edgar struck him a buffet on the face which sent him reeling backwards.
With shouts of fury the crowd rushed up just as the door opened. Edgar and Albert stepped back into the doorway, while the girl ran upstairs.
"How, now, my masters," Edgar said as he drew his sword, "is this the way to secure your rights and liberties, by attacking women in the streets? Shame on you! Do you call yourselves Englishmen?"
"They are Flemings!" the man whom Edgar had struck shouted out.
"Well, sir, I should say that you were a Fleming yourself, by your speech," Edgar said.
"I am but a clerk," the man said. "He who lives here is one of the Flemings who bought the taxes, and has been grinding down the people, of whom I am one."
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