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    Posted 2019-10-08 10:20:26 by Admin
    •   Recently unearthed document revealing female eye-witness to the revolt
    •   Offers new interpretation of events at the Tower of London on 14 June 1381
    •   Shows longer term legacy of the revolt

    Margery Tawney, widow, was an eyewitness to the chaotic scenes in London at the height of the revolt on 14 June. Margery herself was not a rebel, but she became caught up in events that day because of a proclamation she heard being read aloud throughout the city, advising anyone with a grievance to take their evidence directly to the king at the Tower of London, where they would receive justice (SC 8/76/3794). Margery and her eldest son, John Thorp duly set off for the Tower, battling through the crowds in an attempt to put their claim before the monarch.

    Their grievance centred on unpaid debts they had been owed since the death of Margery’s husband, Thomas Tawney, in 1379 (CPR 1377-81, p. 354). Thomas had been one of the Poor Knights of St George’s College in Windsor Castle. Margery claimed that on his death the Dean of the College, Walter Almaly, withheld the debts owed to her through her husband’s testament. It is possible that Tawney had fallen out of favour before his death; in the winter of 1378 Bishop Adam Houghton had visited St. George’s College and reproached Tawney and other knights saying that these ‘old knights much broken in the wars…keep their adulterate Dalilahs, to the great scandal of the college’ (J.N. Dalton, Statutes and Injunctions of St. George’s Chapel, p. 21).

    Margery’s petition suggests that there were chaotic scenes at the Tower on 14th June, as crowds of people responded to the proclamation and attempted to pursue their grievances before the king. Thwarted by the throng of petitioners, Margery failed to hand over her petition. Nevertheless she persisted and presented the document to the king’s Master of the Wardrobe the next day, before the infamous meeting between the king and the rebels at Smithfield (SC8/103/5111).

    Initially, Margery’s case met with a positive response: she was awarded repayment of the debts she claimed and Almaly, the Dean of St. George’s Chapel was arrested for obstructing her rights. However, Almaly then retaliated, accusing Margery and her son of being present at the murder of Simon Sudbury, the chancellor, who was dragged to Tower Hill and beheaded by the rebels on 14th June. Margery’s son, John Thorp, was arrested in Southwark by John Chirch, Sergeant of London, and beaten by Almaly ‘on his head and in other parts of his body’. Chirch then took Thorp to Newgate prison, where he died of his injuries. Margery, fearing that her life was in danger, then fled to sanctuary (SC 8/76/3794).  At this point Margery had two petitions drafted for her and sent to the king, asking him to order Almaly and Chirch to come before him and testify on oath, so that justice might be done.

    Margery’s petitions are particularly significant in the role they ascribe to the judicial aspect of the rising, with the king offering to open up the Tower to hear grievances and dispense justice. In Margery’s version a royal proclamation made on 13th June announced that  ‘anyone with an action, title or right to recover any debts or inheritances should come to the King at the Tower of London with their evidence, and justice would be done to them’. Margery claimed that this proclamation was enough to motivate her, and seemingly many others, to risk making the journey to the Tower of London. Her case also shows how perilous this was; her proximity to the group of rebels who beheaded Simon Sudbury left her and her son open to false accusations of involvement in the killing. 

    Margery’s insistence that petitioners were invited to the Tower contrasts with the version of events given by the chroniclers. The Anonimalle Chronicle has the king and counsellors desperately trying to disperse the rebels from outside the Tower and move them to Mile End, where a set piece meeting then took place between the king and Wat Tyler. It might well be that we need to reappraise the traditional narrative of events on 14 June in light of Margery’s account.

    Margery’s petitions highlight the part that women played in the Revolt (until recently an underappreciated facet of the rising).  According to her petitions she saw her opportunity to accuse her opponents of misconduct and she was prepared to set out for the Tower despite the danger posed by the insurgents. In the preceding days the commons had laid siege to buildings around the Temple, destroyed the houses of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, set fire to buildings in Westminster and Holborn, destroyed the Savoy, opened the Fleet prison and beheaded ‘traitors’ to the king. Margery might not have been aware of the true scale of the devastation in London, but she must surely have had some sense of the risk she took in setting out for the Tower. Margery’s subsequent petitions accentuated her vulnerability; the mention of her status as widow and her dash to sanctuary in fear of her life, but these were carefully crafted documents, intended to elicit sympathy from the men who judged her case.

    The outcome of Margery’s case is unknown, but her younger son continued to pursue the two men connected with his brother’s death: in December 1383 Walter Almaly and Richard Metford were named in a trespass case taken out against them by the younger Thorp brother (CCR 1381-85, p. 416).

    You can watch a short video discussion of Margery's story by Dr Helen Lacey here:

    Further Reading:
    A. Prescott, ‘‘Great and Horrible Rumour’’: Shaping the English Revolt of 1381’, The Routledge History Handbook of Medieval Revolt, ed. J. Firnhaber-Baker and D. Schoenaers (2016), p. 84.
    E.C. Roger, St George’s College, Windsor Castle, in the Late Fifteenth and Early-Sixteenth Centuries, unpublished PhD (University of London, 2015), p. 276.
    S. Federico, ‘The Imaginary Society: Women in 1381’, Journal of British Studies, vol. 40, no. 2 (2001), pp. 159-183.