A March on London by G. A. Henty
Chapter VII. Death to the Flemings!
That morning Aline had gone early to the city at the invitation of Mistress Gaiton to spend the day with Ursula, under the escort of her brother and Edgar. They were to have fetched her before dusk, but early in the afternoon Richard Gaiton himself brought her back.
"I am sorry to bring your daughter back so early," he said to Dame Agatha, "but I had news that after the king turned back this morning, the leaders of the rebels have been haranguing them, telling them that it was clearly useless to put any trust in promises, or to hope that redress could be obtained from the king, who was surrounded by evil councillors, and that, since they would not allow him to trust himself among the people, the people must take the matter into their own hands. They had remained quiet long enough; now was the time that they should show their strength. The rabble shouted loudly, 'Let us to London! Death to the council! Death to the rich!' and having gathered under their leaders, they started to march for Southwark. As there is no saying what may come of the matter, methought that it were best to bring the young lady back again."
"I thank you," Dame Agatha said; "'tis indeed better that we should be together. This morning my lord was saying that if these knaves marched upon London, he had decided that we should move into the Tower."
"It were indeed best, madam. There is no saying what may happen when these fellows become inflamed with wine and begin to taste the sweets of plunder. We ourselves feel ashamed that we are not in a position to inarch out with the city force, and to maintain the law against this rabble; but it is clear to us that the majority are on the other side. They have taken into their heads that if these fellows gain rights and privileges for themselves, the city may also gain fresh rights. Many of the serving-men, the craftsmen, and even the apprentices have friends and relations among these people, for most of them belong to the counties round London.
"There are others better placed who not only sympathize, as I myself do, with the natural desire of the country people to be free from serfdom, but who favour the cause because they think that were all the people free to carry arms it would check the power both of the king and nobles. So it comes that the city is divided in itself; and in this strait, when all should show a front against rebellion, we are powerless to do aught. Even among those who talk the loudest against the rabble, there are many, I fear, who send them secret encouragement, and this not because they care aught for their grievances, but because the people are set against the Flemings, who are ill-liked by many of the merchants as being rivals in trade, and who have in their hands the greater portion of the dealings, both with Flanders and the Low Country; and indeed, though I see that in the long run we shall benefit greatly by this foreign trade, I quite perceive that the privileges that our king has given to the Flemings in order to win their good-will and assistance against France, do for the present cause disadvantage and harm to many of the traders of London."
"'Tis a troubled time," Dame Agatha said, "and 'tis hard to see what is for the best. However, in the Tower assuredly we shall be safe."
"I hope so," the merchant said, gravely.
"Surely you cannot doubt it, Master Gaiton?" Dame Agatha said in surprise.
"I hear that the rabble are openly saying that the men-at-arms and archers will not act against them. It maybe but empty boasting, but there may be something in it. The men are almost all enlisted from Kent, Sussex, Essex, and Hertford, and I have heard report that there is sore discontent among them because their pay is greatly in arrear, owing to the extravagance of the Court. It were well, perhaps, that you should mention this to Sir Ralph, and, above all, I pray you to remember, madam, that so long as my house stands, so long will it be a refuge to which you and yours may betake yourselves in case of danger here. I say not that it is safer than elsewhere, for there is no saying against whom the rage of the rabble may be directed."
Sir Ralph came home late in the afternoon. He was gloomy and depressed.
"Things are going but badly, wife," he said. "Verily, were it not for the duty I owe to the king, we would take horse and ride to Kingston, and there cross the river and journey round so as to avoid these fellows, and get to our home and wait there and see what comes of this, and should they attack us, fight to the end. It seems to me that all have lost their heads--one gives one counsel, and one gives another. Never did I see such faint hearts. The lord mayor has been with the king. He speaks bravely as far as he himself and the better class of citizens are concerned, but they are overborne by the commonalty, who favour the rabble partly because they hope to gain by the disorder, and partly because the leaders of the rabble declare that they will slay all the council, and, above all, the Duke of Lancaster, against whom many in the city, as well as in the country, have a deep grudge."
"What counsel did you give, husband?"
"I asked the king to give me the command of half the men-at-arms and archers, and that I would march them through the city across London Bridge, close the gates there, and defend them alike against the rabble on the farther side and that of the city until help could be gathered. The king himself was willing that this should be so, but the council said that were I to do this, the gatherings from Essex, Hertford, Suffolk, and Cambridge would march hither and be joined by the rabble of the city, and so attack the Tower, being all the more furious at what they would deem a breach of their privileges by my taking possession of the gates; and so nothing was done. Have you looked out of the windows across the river? If not, do so."
Lady Agatha crossed the room and gazed out. From several points in Southwark columns of smoke mingled with flames were ascending.
"What is it, Ralph?"
"It is the rabble, who are plundering Southwark, and, as I hear, have broke open the prisons of the Marshalsea and King's Bench. The malefactors there have joined them; and this has been done without a stroke being smitten in defence. Where are the boys?"
"They went into the city with Aline this morning, and have not returned. Ah! here they are coming through the gate."
"Well, Albert, what news have you?" Sir Ralph asked his son as they entered.
"The city is in an uproar, father; most of the shops have closed. There are gatherings in the streets, and though the lord mayor and Robert Gaiton and many of the better class have been haranguing them, they refuse to disperse to their homes. Robert Gaiton took us into the Guildhall, where many of the most worshipful citizens were assembled, discussing the matter and what is to be done, but they have no force at their command. The Flemings are in great fear. Some have betaken themselves to the churches, where they hope that their lives may be respected, but without, as it seems to me, any good warrant; for, as the rabble at Canterbury did not respect even the cathedral, it is not likely that they will hold churches here as sanctuary. Robert Gaiton advised us that if we entered the city to-morrow we should not show ourselves in our present apparel, for he says that if the rabble enter, they may fall foul of any whose dresses would show them to belong to the Court, and he has given us two sober citizen suits, in which he said we should be able to move about without fear of molestation."
"Things have come to a nice pass, indeed," Sir Ralph grumbled, "when the son of a knight cannot walk with safety in the streets of London. Still, Gaiton is doubtless right."
"You will not let the boys enter the city surely, Sir Ralph?" Dame Agatha said, anxiously.
"I do not say so, dame. The lads are going to be soldiers, and it were well that they became used to scenes of tumult. Moreover, they may bring us news of what is doing there that may help us. I have obtained the use of a chamber in the Tower for you and Aline. My place, of course, will be by the king's side; and maybe the reports that the boys will bring us of the doings in the city may be useful. Is it your wish, lads, to go into the city?"
"With your permission, sir, we would gladly do so. There will be much to see, and, it may be, to learn."
"That is so. Above all, take to heart the lesson that it is dangerous to grant aught to force; and that if the rabble be suffered to become, even for an hour, the masters, they will soon become as wild beasts. It was so in France, and it will be so wherever, by the weakness of the authorities, the mob is allowed to raise its head and to deem itself master of everything. All this evil has been brought about by the cowardice of the garrison of Rochester Castle. Had they done their duty they could have defended the place for weeks against those knaves, even if not strong enough to have sallied out and defeated them in the open, but the fellows seem to have inspired everyone with terror; and in faith, whatever befalls, it will be mainly the fault of those who should at the first outbreak have gathered themselves together to make a stand against this unarmed rabble, for it might at that time have been crushed by a single charge.
"I take blame to myself now, that instead of summoning you hither, I did not hasten home as soon as I heard of the doings at Dartford, gather a score of my neighbours with their retainers, and give battle to the mob. There were comparatively few at that time, and they had not gained confidence in themselves. And even if we had deemed them too strong to attack in the field, we might have thrown ourselves into Rochester and aided the garrison to hold the castle. I have seen troubles in Flanders, and have learnt how formidable the mob may become when it has once tasted blood; and it is well that you should both learn that, even when the commonalty have just grounds for complaint, they must not be allowed to threaten the security of the realm by armed rebellion.
"Would that the Black Prince were here instead of the Boy King, we should then have very different measures taken. Even if the king's mother had spirit and courage, the counsels of those men who surround the king would be overborne; but she was so alarmed, as she well might be, at her meeting with the rabble on Blackheath, that the spirit she once had seems to have quite departed, and she is all in favour of granting them what they will."
Later on Sir Ralph again went to the Tower and shortly returned. "Put on your cloaks and hoods at once," he said to his wife. "The Essex and Hertford men have arrived on the north side of the city and may be here in the morning, and it will be then too late to retire to the Tower. I will give you a quarter of an hour to pack up your belongings. The men will carry them for you. As to you, boys, you can safely remain here until daybreak, then put on your citizen dresses and make your way quietly into the city, as soon as the gates are open. Put them over your own clothes. I charge you to take no part in any street fray; but if the better class of citizens make a stand, throw off your citizen clothes and join them and strike for the king and country, for assuredly England would be ruined were the rabble to have their way."
In a quarter of an hour the ladies were ready; and their Court suits and those of Albert and Edgar had been packed. The men-at-arms took up the valises, and, followed by them, Sir Ralph, his wife, and daughter made for the Tower.
In the morning as soon as they knew that the gates would be open the two boys attired themselves in the citizen suits, and, buckling on their swords, left the house. As soon as they entered the city they found that the streets were already filled with people. It was Corpus Christi, at that time kept as a general holiday, and, regardless of the troubles, many were flocking out to enjoy a holiday in the country. The boys had debated whether they should first go to the merchant's, but they agreed not to do so, as he would probably be in consultation with the authorities, and would be fully occupied without having them to attend to.
As they advanced farther it was easy to see that there was another element besides that of the holiday-makers abroad. Bands of men carrying heavy staves, and many of them with swords at their belts, were hurrying in the direction of the bridge, and Edgar and Albert took the same direction. The bridge itself was crowded, partly with holiday-makers and partly with armed men, while the windows of the houses were occupied by spectators, who were looking down with evident apprehension at what was about to take place. Gradually making their way forward the two friends reached the other end. Here there was a group of citizens on horseback. Among them was the lord mayor, William Walworth, and many of the aldermen, Robert Gaiton among them. The mob were shouting, "Open the gates!" The uproar was great, but on the mayor holding up his hand there was silence.
"Fellow-citizens," he said, "know ye not what has been done by these men at Southwark? Not content with plundering and ill-treating the inhabitants, breaking open the cellars and besotting themselves with liquor, they have opened the doors of the prisons, and have been joined by the malefactors held there. Assuredly if they enter the city they will behave in like manner here; therefore the gates cannot be opened."
A man stepped forward from the mob and replied:
"It has always been the custom for the gates to be opened, and for the citizens to go out to the fields to enjoy themselves on a holiday, and we will have it so now whether you like it or not."
Then the uproar was renewed, swords and staves were raised menacingly, and cries raised of "Death to the lord mayor!" "Death to all who would interfere with our liberties!" The mayor took counsel with those around him. It was manifestly impossible that some twenty or thirty men could successfully oppose an infuriated mob, and it was certain that they would all lose their lives were they to do so, and that without avail. Accordingly the mayor again held up his hand for silence, and said:
"We cannot oppose your will, seeing that you are many and that we are few; therefore, if you wish it, we must open the gates, but many of you will regret ere many days have passed the part that you have taken in this matter."
So saying, he and those with him drew aside. With a shout of triumph the mob rushed to the gates, removed the bars and opened them, and then poured out, shouting and cheering, into Southwark.
While the dispute had been going on the two friends had quietly made their way almost to the front line.
"What had we best do, Edgar?"
"We had best keep quiet," the latter said; "this is but a street broil, against which your father charged us to take no part. It would not be a fight, but a massacre. Had these gentlemen been in armour, they might have sold their lives dearly, and perchance have fought their way through, but seeing that they have but on their civic gowns they can make no effectual resistance."
As soon as the gates were open they stood back in a doorway until the first rush of the crowd had ceased; then they followed the horsemen across the bridge again, and took their stand at the end of Gracechurch Street to see what would follow. In a short time they saw the holiday-makers come pouring back over the bridge in evident terror, and close on their heels were a great mob. At their head, on horseback, rode Wat Tyler and three or four other leaders. Behind them followed a disorderly crowd, brandishing their weapons. Many of these were drunk, their clothes being stained deeply by the wine from the casks they had broached. Among them were many of the men who had been released from prison.
As they poured over the bridge, some broke off from the column and began to harangue the citizens, saying that these had as much to complain of as they had, seeing how they were taxed for the extravagancies of the Court and the expense of foreign wars, and that now was the time for all honest men to rise against their oppressors. Many of the lower class joined their ranks. None ventured to enter into dispute with them. Some of the mob were dressed in ecclesiastical robes which they had taken from the churches. These as they went shouted blasphemous parodies on the mass. The leaders evidently had a fixed purpose in their minds, for upon reaching Cheapside they turned west.
"It is sad to think that these fellows should disgrace the cause for which they took up arms," Edgar said to his companion. "They had grounds for complaint when they first rose. I then felt some sympathy for them, but now they are intoxicated with their success. Look at Wat the Tyler. I believed he was an honest workman, and, as all said, a clever one. I do not blame him that in his wrath he slew the man who had insulted his daughter; but look at him now--he rides as if he were a king. He is puffed up with his own importance, and looks round upon the citizens as if he were their lord and master. He has stolen some armour on his way, and deems that he cuts a knightly figure. Let us go by the quiet streets and see what is their object."
The whole of the rioters moved down Cheapside by St. Paul's, and then to the Temple. So far they offered no wrong to anyone. They sallied out through the gates and continued on their way until they reached the Savoy, the splendid palace of the Duke of Lancaster, which was said to be the fairest and most richly furnished of any in the kingdom. With shouts of triumph they broke into it and scattered through the rooms, smashing the furniture and destroying everything they could lay hands upon. Some made for the cellars, where they speedily intoxicated themselves. Loud shouts were raised that nothing was to be taken. The silver vessels and jewels were smashed, and then carried down to the Thames and thrown into it.
In a short time flames burst out in several parts of the palace. One man was noticed by another as he thrust a silver cup into his dress. He was at once denounced and seized, and was without further ado hurled into the flames.
The fire spread rapidly. The crowd surrounded the palace, shouting, yelling, and dancing in their triumph over the destruction that they had wrought. Upwards of thirty of the drunkards were unable to escape, and were imprisoned in the cellars. Their shouts for help were heard for seven days, but none came to their assistance, for the ruins of the house had fallen over them, and they all perished. Thence the crowd went to the Temple, where they burnt all the houses occupied by lawyers, with all their books and documents, and then proceeded to the house of the Knights of St. John, a splendid building but lately erected. This also they fired, and so great was its extent that it burned for seven days.
The next morning twenty thousand of them marched to Highbury, the great manor-house of which belonged to the Order of St. John, and this and the buildings around it were all destroyed by fire.
After seeing the destruction of the Temple, Edgar and Albert went back to Cheapside. The streets were almost deserted. The better class of citizens had all shut themselves up in their houses and every door was closed. On knocking at the door of the mercer the two friends were admitted. The alderman had just returned from a gathering of the city authorities. They told him what they had witnessed.
"It passes all bounds," he said, "and yet there is naught that we can do to put a stop to it. For myself I have counselled that proclamation shall be made that all honest citizens shall gather, with arms in their hands, at the Guildhall, and that we should beg the king to give us some assistance in men-at-arms and archers, and that we should then give battle to the rabble. But I found few of my opinion. All were thinking of the safety of their families and goods, and said that were we defeated, as we well might be, seeing how great are their numbers, they would pillage and slay as they chose. Whereas, if we give them no pretence for molesting us, it might be that they would do no harm to private persons, but would content themselves with carrying out their original designs of obtaining a charter from the king.
"In faith it is cowardly counsel, and yet, as with the forces from the north and south there must be fully two hundred thousand rebels, I own that there is some reason in such advice. If the king with his knights and nobles and his garrison at the Tower would but sally out and set us an example, be sure that he would be joined by the law-abiding citizens, but as he doeth naught in this strait, I see not that peaceful citizens are called upon to take the whole brunt of it upon their own shoulders. However, I have little hope that the rioters will content themselves with destroying palaces and attacking lawyers. What you tell me of the execution of one of their number, who stole a silver cup, shows that the bulk of them are at present really desirous only of redress of grievances, but they will soon pass beyond this. The jail-birds will set an example of plunder and murder, and unless help comes before long, all London will be sacked. My men and apprentices are already engaged in carrying down to the cellars all my richest wares. The approach is by a trap-door, with a great stone over it in the yard, and it will, I hope, escape their search.
"Of one thing you may be sure, that as soon as the king shows himself, and it is seen that he is in danger, there will be no hanging back, but we shall join him with what force we can. I think not that he can have aid from without, for we hear that the country people have everywhere risen, and that from Winchester in the south, to Scarborough in the north, they have taken up arms, and that the nobles are everywhere shut up in their castles, so they, being cut off from each other, are in no position to gather a force that could bring aid to the king. You can tell your good father what I say, and that all depends upon the attitude of the king. If he comes to us with his knights and men we will join him; if he comes not, and we learn that he is in danger, we will do what we can, but that must depend much upon how the rebels comport themselves."
The two lads went to the Tower, but the gates were closed and the drawbridge pulled up, and they therefore returned to their lodging, where they passed the night. On the following day they returned into the city; there the rioters had already began their work. Thirty Flemings, who had taken refuge in the churches, were dragged from the altar and were beheaded, thirty-two others were seized in the vintry and also slain. Then parties broke into all the houses where the Flemings lived, and such as had not fled in disguise were killed, and their houses pillaged. All through the day the streets were in an uproar. Every man the rebels met was seized and questioned.
"Who are you for?" Such as answered "The king and commons" were allowed to go unmolested, others were killed. The two friends had several narrow escapes. Fortunately Edgar had learned the watchword at Dartford and readily replied, and they were allowed to pass on. They were traversing Bread Street when they heard a scream behind them, and a girl came flying along, pursued by a large number of the rioters, headed by a man in the dress of a clerk. She reached the door of a handsome house close to them, but before she could open it the leader of the party ran up and roughly seized her. Edgar struck him a buffet on the face which sent him reeling backwards.
With shouts of fury the crowd rushed up just as the door opened. Edgar and Albert stepped back into the doorway, while the girl ran upstairs.
"How, now, my masters," Edgar said as he drew his sword, "is this the way to secure your rights and liberties, by attacking women in the streets? Shame on you! Do you call yourselves Englishmen?"
"They are Flemings!" the man whom Edgar had struck shouted out.
"Well, sir, I should say that you were a Fleming yourself, by your speech," Edgar said.
"I am but a clerk," the man said. "He who lives here is one of the Flemings who bought the taxes, and has been grinding down the people, of whom I am one."
"The people must be badly off, indeed," Edgar said, contemptuously, "if they need to have such a cur as you on their side."
But his words were drowned by the furious shouts of the crowd, "Death to the Flemings!" and a rush was made at the door, headed by the clerk, who struck savagely at Edgar. The latter parried the stroke, and thrust the man through the throat. With a yell of rage the crowd now strove furiously to enter, but the position of the two lads standing back a couple of feet from the entrance rendered it impossible for more than two or three to attack them at once, and the clubs and rough weapons were no match for the swords. Nevertheless, although five or six of their opponents fell, the weight of numbers pressed the friends back to the staircase, where they again made a stand.
For five minutes the conflict raged. The boys had both received several blows, for the weight of the heavy weapons sometimes beat down their guard; but they still fought on, retiring a step or two up the stair when hardly pressed, and occasionally making dashes down upon their assailants, slaying the foremost, and hurling the others backwards. Presently the girl ran down again to them.
"All are in safety," she said. "Run upstairs when you can. Where you see me standing at a door run in and lock it on the inside."
"One more rush, Albert, and then upstairs."
With a shout Edgar threw himself upon a man who had raised a heavy pole- axe, and cut the fellow down. Then, as the man fell, Edgar flung himself on him, and hurled him against those behind, while Albert at the same moment ran an opponent through the body. Then, turning, they sprang up the stairs. On the landing above the girl was standing at an open door. They ran in and closed it, and then piled articles of furniture against it.
"There is no occasion for that," she said; "this way."
The room was heavily panelled, and one of the panels was standing open. They followed her into this.
"Push it back," she said; "it is too heavy for me." The panel was indeed of great weight, the wood being backed with brick, the whole ran on rollers, but Edgar had no difficulty in closing it.
"Thank God, and you, gentlemen, that we are in safety. The keenest eye could not see that the panel opens, and, being backed with brick, it gives no hollow sound when struck. They will search in vain for it."
Taking a lamp from the ground, she led the way down a narrow flight of stairs. By the depth to which they descended Edgar judged when they reached the bottom that they must be below the level of the cellars. She opened a door, and entered an apartment some twenty feet square. It was lighted by four candles standing on a table. In one corner a woman lay on a pallet; two women servants, sobbing with terror and excitement, stood beside her, while a tall, elderly man rose to meet them.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I don't know how to thank you. You must think it cowardly that I did not descend to share your peril; but it was necessary that I should go to the storey above that you reached to bring down my wife, who, as you see, is grievously sick. Her two maids were very nearly distraught with terror, and, if left to themselves, would never have carried their mistress below. Having had some experience of popular tumults in Bruges, my native town, I had this hiding-place constructed when I first came here twenty years ago. Now, to whom am I indebted for our safety?"
Edgar introduced his companion and himself.
"Then you are not, as would seem by your attire, merchants like myself?"
"No, sir. We but put on this attire over our own in order to be able to traverse the streets without interruption. May I ask how it is that your daughter was alone and unattended in the streets?"
"She was not unattended. She had with her my servant, a Flemish lad, who has but recently come over. He speaks no English, and not knowing the tongue, could not be sent out alone. My wife was taken worse this morning, and the leech not having sent the medicine he promised, my daughter, thinking that there could be no danger to a young girl, went to get it, and as the servant was dressed in English fashion, and would not be called upon to speak, I thought that she could pass unnoticed did they fall in with any party of the rioters."
"So we should have done, father," the girl said, "had we not met a band headed by Nicholas Bierstadt."
"The villain!" the merchant exclaimed. "So it was he who led the party here. When these troubles are over I will see that he obtains his deserts."
"He has obtained them already, sir," Edgar said, "for I slew the knave at the first thrust."
"He was my clerk, the son of a man of some influence at Bruges. He was well recommended to me, and came over here to learn the business and the language, with the intention of going into trade for himself. It was not long before I came to dislike his ways, and when, a fortnight since, he asked me for the hand of my daughter, I repulsed him, telling him that in the first place, she was too young to think of marriage, and that, in the second, I liked him not, and would never give my consent to her having him, and lastly, that she liked him as little as I did. He answered insolently, and I then expelled him from the house, when he threatened me that I should erelong regret my conduct. I gave the fellow no further thought, and did not know where he bestowed himself. Doubtless he was waiting to see whether this rabble would reach London and what would come of it, and when they entered doubtless he endeavoured to gratify his hatred by leading some of them hither. And now, Joanna, tell me what befell you."
"We went safely to the leech's, father, and I got the medicine from him. He made many apologies, but said that he had heard so much of the doings of the rioters that he thought it best to stay indoors, and of course he had not heard that mother was taken worse. We had come half-way back when we fell in with a party of the rioters. Methinks they would have said naught, but Bierstadt, whom I had not noticed, suddenly grasped me by the arm, saying, 'This is the daughter of the Fleming to whose house I am taking you, one of the chief oppressors of the poor.' Johann struck him in the face, and as he loosened his hold of me I darted away. Looking back, I saw Johann on the ground, and the mob round him were hacking at him with their weapons. This gave me a start, and I ran, but just as I reached the door Bierstadt overtook and seized me; then this gentleman, who was passing, struck him a stout buffet in the face, and without waiting to see more I hastened to give you the alarm."
"Providence surely sent you to the spot, gentlemen," the Fleming said; "here we are absolutely safe. During the last two days I have brought down a provision of food, wine, and water sufficient to last us for a month, and long before that methinks this rascaldom will have been suppressed."
"There is no doubt of that, sir; my only fear is that when they cannot discover where you are concealed, they will fire the house."
"Against that I have provided," the Fleming said. He opened the door. "See you that stone slab, above a foot in thickness; it looks solid, but it is not. It is worked by a counterpoise, and when it is lowered," and touching a spring, it began to descend, thus closing the stairway, "not only would it baffle them did they find the entrance above, but it would prevent any fire reaching here. The staircase is of stone, and above us is a strongly arched cellar, which would resist were the whole house to fall upon it."