Tag Archives: Richard II

Geoffrey Chaucer (1342?-1400)

Chaucer depicted as a pilgrim in the Ellesmere Manuscript

The  courtier, diplomat, bureaucrat, poet and author Geoffrey Chaucer died on this day in 1400.  In life, he had been  variously employed as Chaucer was variously employed as a  “Varlet de Chambre” by Edward III,  between 1367-74; as the “Comptroller of the Customs and Subside of Wools, Skins and Tanned Hides” by  Edward III and Richard II, between  1374-86; and as “Clerk of the King’s Works” by Richard II, between  1389-91 (he is also thought  to have studied Law at the Inner Temple, in c. 1366).  In the course of his employment, in 1373, he is thought to have come into contact with Petrarch and Bocaccio, and to have been introduced to Italian poetry, in Italy.  Between 1374-86, he would undoubtedly have met travellers from all over the country and continent at his then place of work at the Custom House on the river-front in Billingsgate, including those making the pilgrimage to the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, some of them perhaps providing inspiration for the colourful characters he wrote about in the “Canterbury Tales”.  He would appear to have written “The House of Fame”, “The Legend of Good Women”, “Parlement of Foules”, and “Troilus and Criseyde”, and also at least to have begun to write  “The Canterbury Tales”, at this time, at his lodgings in Aldgate.  Earlier, in 1369, he had written   “The Book of the Duchess” in honour of his mentor John of Gaunt’s wife Blanche of Lancaster (who died of the plague that year).

Summer of Blood (1381)

The death of Wat Tyler

On this day in 1381, the so-called Peasants’ Revolt came to an end when one of its leaders  was killed at West Smithfield (*).

According to the French chronicler Jean  Froissart (c.1337-c.1405), writing in the second of his “Chroniques”, completed in 1388:

“This day all the rabble … assembled under Wat Tyler, John [Jack] Straw and John Ball, at a place called Smithfield … . There were present about 20,000, … breakfasting, and drinking Rhenish wine and Malmsey Madeira … without paying for anything … . [W]hen the King [Richard II], attended by sixty horses, … arrived before the Abbey of St Bartholomew, … and saw the crowd of people, he stopped, saying that he would …  endeavour to appease them. Wat Tyler … was only desirous of a riot … .   … The Mayor of London [William Walworth], with about twelve men, rode forward, armed under their robes, …  seeing Tyler’s manner of behaving, … .  [T]he Mayor, … supported by the King, … then drew a kind of scimitar, and struck Tyler such a blow on the head as felled him to his horse’s feet.  As soon as the rebel was down, he was surrounded on all sides, in order that his own men might not see him; and one of the King’s squires, by name John Standwich, immediately leaped from his horse, and drawing his sword, thrust it into his belly, so that he died.  When the rebels found that their leader was dead, they drew up in a sort of battle array, each man having his bow bent before him.  The King at this time … hazarded much, though it turned out most fortunately for him; for … he left his attendants, giving orders that no one should follow him, and riding up to the rebels, … said ‘Gentlemen,   … I am your King, remain peaceable’.  The greater part, on hearing these words, were quite ashamed, and those among them who were inclined for peace began to slip away …  ”.

Recently-erected memorial

(*) On preceding days,  the  mob had attacked  a number of Establishment buildings in and around the City, including the Tower of London and John of Gaunt’s Savoy Palace, and killed many  of their occupants.  Among  the dead were Robert Hales, the Lord High Treasurer, who had introduced the Poll Tax that had triggered the rebellion; and Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Westminster Hall

1 - Exterior of Westminster Hall

2 - Interior of Westminster Hall.JPG

On this day in 1265, Simon de Montfort convened what is widely regarded as England’s first representative Parliament at Westminster Hall (before 1265, Parliament, or its precursor, had met in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey, and after 1548, it met in the then-secularised Royal Chapel of St Stephen in the Palace of Westminster).

3 - Trial of Charles I in Westminster Hall (1649)

Also, on this day in 1649, the trial for treason of Charles I began here.

Westminster Hall was originally built as a royal residence cum banqueting house by William II, Rufus,  in 1097-99; and rebuilt, with a spectacular hammerbeam roof, by Hugh Herland and Henry Yevele, for Richard II, in 1394-1401.  It once formed part of the Old Palace of Westminster, work on which is believed to have begun, under Cnut, as long ago as 1016.  Together  with the adjacent Jewel Tower, it is essentially the only part of the old palace to have survived the terrible fires of 1512 and 1834 (the present, new palace was built, in the Victorian Gothic style, between 1837-70).  It was itself damaged by fire during the Blitz of the Second World War, and has since been further damaged by Death Watch Beetle, the infestation thought to have taken hold in  timbers that had become soaked during the war-time fire-fighting.