Peasants' Revolt affected most of East Anglian towns

PUBLISHED: 13:56 17 May 2007 | UPDATED: 12:28 04 May 2010

THE Peasants Revolt was not only limited to London, uprisings took place over the whole country, including the majority of towns in East Anglia. Indeed, medieval historians claim that it was one of the most serious insurrections in English history. Th

THE Peasants' Revolt was not only limited to London, uprisings took place over the whole country, including the majority of towns in East Anglia.

Indeed, medieval historians claim that it was one of the most serious insurrections in English history. The mobs attacked church and government officials, though property appears to have been left intact.

In Bury St Edmunds the Prior of the Abbey tried to flee the mobs and was beheaded and a series of revolts took place in Norwich and Cambridge. These were many focused at the church establishments who were the main landowners in these towns and cities and therefore held manorial rights over the local people.

Ely was no exception where on June 15, 1381 resentments against the 'great society' reached boiling point and violence reached the streets of the city. It was a Saturday and Ely was full of people who had travelled from the neighbouring villages to the market.

Three Ely residents; Richard de Leycester of 'Bocheristowe' (Butchers Row), Robert Buk, a fishmonger, and Adam Clymme were the leading antagonists. Clymme started by talking to the gathered throng, he told the peasantry to refuse to do their customary labour services, as required by the manorial system and to behead lawyers. Leycester called for the death of traitors to the king and to the common people.

The speeches were obviously inspiring and rallied the crowd into action. Their anger was vented on three men, two were lucky to escape with their lives, the third, Edmund Galon, a lawyer in Ely, was killed.

The following day Richard de Leycester made further pleas from the cathedral pulpit to rise up 'on behalf of the king'. On the Monday, June 17 a crowd formed and attacked the Bishop's gaol.

Leycester and Buk stood by their own words and the same day captured a local justice of the peace, Sir Edmund Walsyngham, summarily executed him and paraded his head on the town pillory. Like the London mob, led by Watt Tyler, the men of Ely also destroyed court rolls and documents.

By June 18, the rioting moved further afield with the rebels stirring insurrection across much of the Isle of Ely. The crowds marched to Ramsey and eventually the rebellion was put down. The fate of the leaders was predictable, they were all hanged.

The interesting part is that we call it the Peasants Revolt. The leading instigators across the entire country where the rioting took place were hardly peasants. In the case of Ely this theory holds true. Richard de Leycester was a propertied man with two shops in Butcher's row and goods totalling 40 marks, Buk had landholdings at Castlepath, four shops and property, all in Walpole Lane (Silver Street today) and Clymme was recorded to be worth £10 19s 5d. These three men obviously had some power and standing amongst the people of Ely for the crowds to follow their speeches.

A book by the historian George Rude looks at the mentality of the mob during the French Revolution. The principals can be applied to the situation during these three days in Ely and similar situations, for example the Littleport Riots. Tension and anger was clearly bubbling beneath the surface at this point in history and with the push of Clymme, Buk, and Leycester these resentments led to short-term violence.

The outcome for the leaders of these localised disturbances was inevitable, but for a few days on June 1381 the world was turned upside down and the hierarchy of monarchy, church and government was attacked.

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