Wednesday, 6 January 2016

12th Night: The World Turned Upside Down

The post below might appear to be about mid-summer rather than mid-winter; but it has a message about 12th Night, wassailing, and medieval mummery.

Forget Magna Carta Day, It’s Wat Tyler Day

‘When Adam delved
And Eve span
Who was then the gentleman?’
(John Ball)

June 15th might have been the date on which Magna Carta was sealed in 1215, but June 15th also marks the anniversary of the stabbing of Wat Tyler, the leader of the Peasants’ Revolt, in 1381.

‘John Schep, sometime Saint Mary’s priest of York, and now of Colchester, greeteth well John Nameless, and John the Miller, and John Carter, and biddeth them that they beware of guile in borough, and stand together in God’s name. and biddeth Piers Plowman go to his work, and chastise well Hob the Robber, and take with you John Trueman, and all his fellows, and no more.’ (John Ball)

‘John the Miller hath ground small, small, small;
The King’s son in heaven shall pay for all.
Beware or ye be woe,
Know your friend from your foe,
Have enough, and say ho!
And do well, and better, and flee sin,
And seek peace and hold you therein,
And pray for John Trueman and all his fellows.’
(John Ball)

‘The king, for the sake of peace and because of the circumstances at that time, granted the commons at their petition, a charter under his great seal – declaring that all men in the realm of England should be free and of free condition; they and their heirs should be forever released from the yoke of servitude and villeinage.’ (Henry Knighton)

‘Richard, by the grace of God, king of England and France, and lord of Ireland, to all his bailiffs and faithful men to whom these present letters come, greetings. Know that by our special grace we have manumitted all our liegemen, subjects, and others … and we have freed and quitted each of them from bondage by the present letters.’ (Charter)

June 15th 1381, the meeting at Smithfield, when Wat Tyler ‘half bent his knee and took the king by the hand, shaking his hand fully and roughly, saying to him “Brother, be of good comfort and joyful, for you shall have, in the fortnight that is to come, forty thousand more commons than you have at present, and we shall be good companions.” And the king said, “Why will you not go back to your own country?” But the other answered with great oath that neither he nor his fellows would leave until they had got their charter as they wished to have it with the inclusion of certain points.’ (Thomas Walsingham)

‘The rebels petitioned the king that all preserves of water, parks, and woods should be made common to all: so that throughout the kingdom the poor as well as the rich should be free to take game in water, fish ponds, woods and forests as well as to hunt hares in the fields – and to do these and many other things without impediment.’ (Henry Knighton)

The Lord Mayor of London was William Walworth and it was he who killed Wat Tyler:
‘Walworth knocked him in the gutter with his baselard, stabbing him unawares. Ever since the dagger has been part of the City of London coat-of-arms or crest, the urban bourgeoisie coming to power on the backs of the Peasants’ Revolt … Wat Tyler was assassinated by William Walworth, Lord Mayor, who made his money from the Flemish sex workers in the Southwark brothels. London, the famed haunt of the international bourgeoisie, has its crested origin in a pander, an assassin, and sex-trafficker.’
(Ann Arbor, Wat Tyler Day: The Anglo Juneteenth, Chapter Ten in Stop, Thief, Peter Linebaugh Spectre 2014)

1.     That no one was to be put to death, save for some reason – (except the Common People).
2.     That everyone should be free - (except the Common People).
3.     That everything should be of the same weight and measure throughout the Realm - (except the Common People).
4.     That the Barons should not be tried except by a special group of other Barons who would understand.
Magna Charter was therefore the chief cause of Democracy in England, and thus a Good Thing for everyone (except the Common People).

1066 And All That ,Sellar and Yeatman, from their 1930 classic, on Magna Charter (‘on account of the Latin Magna (great) and Charter (a Charter)’).

So how should we commemorate and celebrate Wat Tyler Day? What acts of guerrilla memorialization can we carry out, to symbolize a land where rights are held in common?

Pasture and turbary,
Estovers and piscary;
Pannage and housebote,
Shack and ploughbote.

Perhaps you could beat the bounds of your parish, chanting this rhyme of common rights and pass leaflets to spectators with an explanation.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from off the goose.”

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