chapter  9
19 Pages

Rebellion and the law in fifteenth- century English towns Eliza Hartrich

The records of the court of the King’s Bench include a description of a session of the court of the Steward and Marshal of the King’s Household held on 29 August 1422 at Warwick and presided over by Humphrey, duke of Gloucester. There, jurors claimed that on 5 August, 30 men from Coventry and ‘other unknown malefactors and disturbers of the king’s peace’ had ‘conspired and confederated in the manner of war . . . to subvert the laws, ordinances, and statutes of the town of Coventry’. The offenders were said to have been armed with bows, arrows, swords, daggers, stakes, and other weapons when they assembled in a field called the Poddycroft to mount an insurrection. They ‘made abominable cries’, declaring that unless Mayor John Esterton released two prisoners from the town gaol, that the crowd of rebels would remove the prisoners by force. Esterton said that he would die before he would release the prisoners, but in the end Adam Deyster and Richard Joy agreed to serve as bail for the prisoners, who were permitted to leave the gaol peaceably. This did not stop the disorder in Coventry, however. Those assembled at the Poddycroft proceeded forcibly to break into a garden that the mayor and commonalty of Coventry had rented out to Giles Allesley. It was reported that the rebels carried swords, bows, and arrows, and that their actions were in ‘disturbance of the peace of the lord King and against the laws, statutes, and ordinances of the City and against the peace of the said lord King’. On 8 August, the rebels struck again. This time, ‘armed and arrayed in the manner of war with swords, bows, and arrows’ they broke into enclosed gardens and pastures rented out by the town of Coventry to Richard Southam, and there

made riots, rumours, and congregations . . . in contempt of the said lord our King and in disturbance of the peace of the said king and his people and in breach of the peace and to the grave damage of the same Mayor and Commonalty of the aforesaid City of Coventry.2