The Poll Tax Riots and the Peasant's Revolt
A pardon has been found dated 1382AD for Lord Robert Dore of Wadsley (Loxley) otherwise known as Robin Hode. Although we do not know if he was involved in the Poll Tax riots or the Peasant’s Revolt here is the background to those events. From the dates it would appear Robin Hode may have been active when William Langland was writing Piers Plowman. If he was then he became a legend in his own lifetime.
During this time of the “Peasant’s Revolt” and the “Poll Tax Riots” the leaders used code-names to protect their identity. John Ball was "Johon Schep" or "Jak Chep"; Wat Tyler was known simply as “Tyler”; Jack Straw was “Rakstrawe” or “Hob Carter”; there was also Erle of the Plo, "Per Plowman," and more.
John Ball told the leaders in London to permit Piers Plowman to do his work which was to chastise well "Hobbe the Robbere" i.e. the King or his Chancellor the Archbishop of Canterbury. The chancellor Richard Scrope imposed the unpopular tax levy in 1377AD and two years later followed it up with a graduated tax. He was replaced by Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury and within a few months of becoming chancellor the Archbishop imposed a tax of three groats (one shilling) on every man and woman over the age of the fifteen. This was three times higher than previously and taxed rich and poor at the same rate. It was very unpopular with the peasantry.
When news reached York of the peasant’s Revolt in Nottingham, Huntingdonshire, London, and Lynn the situation in York which was already boiling over became even more inflamed. There was unrest surrounding St. Leonard’s and the Dominican and Franciscan friaries who had special "liberties" within the city and which were home not only to monks but also to laymen who had trade privileges without the accompanying civic or gild obligations making the brethren of the hospital unpopular. The resentment that was felt by the citizens inevitably boiled over and the Mayor's followers launched an attack on these establishments from outside the city on Bootham Bar which was the major entrance into the city from the north. Such were the disturbance that the king had to intervene, obliging both sides to keep the peace and forcing the city to pay a large fine for a pardon.
Not only were the general populace unhappy with the Poll Tax and the privileges enjoyed by St. Leonard’s and the Dominican and Franciscan friaries they were also unhappy about the way the mayor was appointed along with the increasing power and financial rewards that came with his office. In 1365 the office of sergeant was created whose duty it was to carry the mayor’s mace of office and then later a second office was created to bear the ceremonial sword that Richard II had allowed to the mayor. In an attempt to curb the power of the mayor, reforms were passed prohibiting re-election to the office until a period of eight years had passed, and forbidding the mayor to be given any financial reward beyond his annual salary. These reforms were ineffective and further attempts were made aimed at curbing the growing mayoral salary and preventing the re-election of the mayor until all the aldermen each had their term of office as mayor.
This resulted in a power-struggle between factions led by John Langton and John Gisburne. The former had been mayor every year between 1350 and 1363 and had blocked the latter's nomination as bailiff in 1357. In 1371 the two men were in direct and heated competition for the mayoralty – so much so that the king had to intervene to prohibit debates and unlawful assemblies and to forbid either man from becoming mayor. Despite that, Gisburne was chosen as mayor, and was re-elected in 1372.
Gisburne was again elected to the mayoralty in 1380, but scandals during his term of office led to dissatisfaction that culminated in a riot, and he had to flee the city. His opponents forced Simon Quixley to accept the mayoralty and again, the king was obliged to intervene to restore Gisburne to office and punish the rioters. When Quixley was elected mayor by legitimate methods the following year, he proceeded to arrest or fine Gisburne supporters.
The same struggle in York that had centred on St. Leonard’s and the church for at least ten months prior to the issue of the king`s charter, was also being fought out in Beverly and Scarborough where two opposing factions waged unrelenting legal and violent battle. The aim of these rebellious urban communities was to wrest power away from ecclesiastical overlords and judging from the accusations brought by the reformers, the alleged oppressive and extortionate government of the keepers had been arousing resentment since at least 1363, through unwarranted tolls on retail and craft activities, excessive levies, embezzlement, and perversions of justice.
Eventually the people won the day and twelve men took over the administration of the gild and its alderman, acting in the interest of the community. A few decades later they became known as keepers and later still as governors and in the absence of information on those events, we can only imagine that it was not done quietly. The transfer of power to an aldermanic government seems to have been effected on Election Day (25 April) of 1381 and in November 1381 a general pardon was issued for 2,870 people in jail by Richard II after numerous executions. The conditions of the pardon include a 20 shilling fine against each man in compensation for disloyalty towards the King.
The Corpus Christi plays which included the Pater-Noster in Piers Plowman can be dated back to 1377AD in Beverly. Whether it is coincidence or not is uncertain but John Gisburne was the corrupt mayor of York and the question has to be asked if these events sparked of the stories that we have today of Robin Hood, Guy of Gisborn, the dislike of the church and a band of so called merrie men? The twelve men all wore a common livery, colour unknown. The “Rhymes of Robin Hood” date from 1500AD and the rhymes of Guy of Gisbourn from 1475AD. ("Merry men" means "famous or gallant soldiers" and a chief called his followers "his merry men".)
This is the only pardon ever found that bears the name Robin Hood and although the circumstances surrounding him are new to us, the events outlined here may explain his dislike of the church, his dislike of those in authority, and his affinity with the ploughman and the general populace. As we know he told his men not to harm the husbandman that tilleth with his plough, nor the good yeoman that walketh by the greenwood, nor the knight, nor the squire that will be a good fellow. But be warned he said, “These bishops and these archbishops, ye shall them beat and bind; the high sheriff of Nottingham, him hold ye in your mind” and although this may be what we call "faction" which is fiction based on fact it does bear a striking resemblance to the thoughts expressed in Piers Plowman and the Geste that tell us about the plotting of the corrupt churchmen in York to rob the impoverished knight of his lands. More needs to be found out about Lord Robert Dore of Wadsley and the site will be updated as and when more information becomes available. Thanks.