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Thursday 25 July 2002, 9.02 am - 9.30 am.
Melvyn Bragg follows his long historical exploration of the Routes of English with Voices of the Powerless, in which he explores the lives of the ordinary working men and women of Britain at six critical moments across the last 1,000 years.

The extracts of documents that may be read on this page are:
Froissart chronicle.
Vision of Piers Plowman.
John Ball's sermon.
Anonimalle chronicle.
Manorial and Court Records.

Froissart - A French chronicler of the period.
" And so long they went forward till they came within a four mile of London, and there lodged on a hill called Blackheath; and as they went, they said ever they were the king's men and the noble commons of England: and when they of London knew that they were come so near to them, the mayor, as ye have heard before, closed the gates and kept straitly all the passages. This order caused the mayor, who was called William Walworth and divers other rich burgesses of the city, who were not of their sect; but there were in London of their unhappy opinions more than thirty thousand."

" The unhappy people of Kent, Essex, Sussex and Bedford began to stir, because, they said, they were kept in great servage. And in the beginning of the world, they said, there were no bondmen; wherefore they maintained that none ought to be bond, without he did treason to his lord; for they were neither angels nor spirits, but men formed to the similitude of their lords; saying why should they then be kept so under like beasts? The which they said they would no longer suffer. For they would be all one, and if they laboured or did anything for their lords, they would have wages therefor."

" And they had a captain called Walter Tyler, and with him in company was Jack Straw and John Ball: these three were chief sovereign captains, but the head of all was Walter Tyler, and he was indeed a tiler of houses, an ungracious patron."

" When these unhappy men began thus to stir, they of London, except such as were of their band, were greatly affrayed. Then the mayor of London and the rich men of the city took counsel together, and when they saw the people thus coming on every side, they caused the gates of the city to be closed and would suffer no man to enter into the city."

Then they cried all with one voice, 'Let us go to London,' and so they took their way thither, and so came to the Savoy in the way to Westminster, which was a goodly house and it pertained to the duke of Lancaster. And when they entered, they slew the keepers thereof and robbed and pillaged the house, and when they had so done, then they set fire on it and clean destroyed and burnt it."

Vision of Piers Plowman, by William Langland, included accounts of the growing disparities within society.
" The needy are our neighbours, if we note rightly;
As prisoners in cells, or poor folk in hovels,
Charged with children and overcharged by landlords.
What they may spare in spinning they spend on rental,
On milk, or on meal to make porridge
To still the sobbing of the children at meal time.
Also they themselves suffer much hunger."

" They have woe in wintertime, and wake at midnight
To rise and to rock the cradle at the bedside,
To card and to comb, to darn clouts and to wash them,
To rub and to reel and to put rushes on the paving.
The woe of these women who dwell in hovels
Is too sad to speak of or to say in rhyme.
And many other men have much to suffer
From hunger and from thirst."

John Ball's sermon at Blackheath. This is one translation of the speech John Ball is reputed to have delivered to the rebels.
" When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman ? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may ( if ye will ) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty."

Anonimalle chronicle, discovered in York, is generally viewed as being more accurate than Froissart.
" Then the King caused a proclamation to be made that all the commons of the country who were still in London should come to Smithfield, to meet him there; and so they did."

" And when the King and his train had arrived there they turned into the Eastern meadow in front of St. Bartholomew's, which is a house of canons: and the commons arrayed themselves on the west side in great battles."

" Wat Tyler of Maidstone came to the King with great confidence, mounted on a little horse, that the commons might see him"

" And he dismounted, holding in his hand a dagger. And when he had dismounted he half bent his knee, and then took the King by the hand, and shook his arm forcibly and roughly, saying to him, "Brother, be of good comfort and joyful, for you shall have, in the fortnight that is to come, praise from the commons even more than you have yet had, and we shall be good companions." And the King said to Walter, "Why will you not go back to your own country?" But the other answered, with a great oath, that neither he nor his fellows would depart until they had got their charter such as they wished to have it. And he demanded that there should be no more villeins in England, and no serfdom or villeinage, but that all men should be free and of one condition. To this the King gave an easy answer, and said that he should have all that he could fairly grant, reserving only for himself the regality of his crown. And then he bade him go back to his home, without making further delay."

" Presently Wat Tyler, in the presence of the King, sent for a flagon of water to rinse his mouth, because of the great heat that he was in, and when it was brought he rinsed his mouth in a very rude and disgusting fashion before the King's face. And then he made them bring him a jug of beer, and drank a great draught, and then, in the presence of the King, climbed on his horse again. At this time a certain valet who was among the King's retinue, when he saw him, said aloud that he knew the said Walter for the greatest thief and robber in all Kent. And for these words Wat tried to strike him with his dagger, and would have slain him in the King's presence."

" But for his violent behaviour and despite, the Mayor of London, William Walworth arrested him. And because he arrested him, the said Wat stabbed the Mayor with his dagger in the stomach in great wrath."

" But, as it pleased God, the Mayor was wearing armour and took no harm, but like a hardy and vigorous man drew his cutlass, and struck back at the said Wat, and gave him a deep cut on the neck, and then a great cut on the head. And during this scuffle one of the King's household drew his sword, and ran Wat two or three times through the body, mortally wounding him."

" Afterwards the King sent out his messengers into divers parts, to capture the malefactors and put them to death. And many were taken and hanged at London, and they set up many gallows around the City of London, and in other cities and boroughs of the south country. At last, as it pleased God, the King seeing that too many of his liege subjects would be undone, and too much blood split, took pity in his heart, and granted them all pardon, on condition that they should never rise again. And so finished this wicked war."

Manorial and Court Records, these contemporary documents record a wide section of the population, including those involved in the revolt, both before and after the rebellion.
Before the Revolt
" Gynge Hospital. Court held Tuesday after the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Inquest made ex officio senescalli by oath of Richard Avenaunt, John Campe, John atte Ponde, John Umfrey and Thomas Veysy who say that John Scot (2d), John Kynot (2d) and William Smyth (2d) are suitors of the court and defaulted…Item - they present that Richard Kent (3d) and William Smyth (3d) are ale tasters and did not do their office."
After the Revolt
" William Smyth who was indicted for felony on account of the rebellion fled and withdrew himself, because of which he forfeited avers (AYvers, = possessions or beasts) worth 26s 8d; 4 calves worth 6s 8d.; and one calf worth 18d.; and they remain in the keeping of John Warde, bailiff, and he should answer to the lord for their price. And the bailiff is ordered to seize all other chattels both live and dead within the lordship which were William's on the day he was made felon."

Listen Live
Audio Help
l - Castles and Cruelty - extracts on programme page.
2 - The Peasants' Revolt - extracts on programme page.
-3 - The Reformation - extracts on programme page
4 - The Plantation of Ulster - extracts on programme page
5 - The English Civil War and the Siege of Chester - - extracts on programme page
Listen to Melvyn Bragg talk about Voices of the Powerless
Listen to Simon Elmes, executive producer, give an unigue insight into the programme.
Listen to the signature music
Go to - Homepage.
Go to Prog l - Castles and Cruelty
Go to Prog 1 - Biography of Orderic Vitalis
Go to Prog 2 - The Peasants' Revolt
Go to Prog 3 - The Reformation
Go to Prog 3 - The Reformation - Key Events
Go to Prog 4 - The Plantation of Ireland in the Counties of Armagh and Tyrone.
Go to Prog 5 - The English Civil War and the Siege of Chester
Read The Sources
Go to Prog 1 - Castles and Cruelty
Go to Prog 2 - The Peasants' Revolt
Go to Prog 3 - the Reformation
Go to Prog 4 - the Plantation of Ulster
Go to Prog 5 - The English Civil War and the Siege of Chester

In Our Time
Thursday 9.00-9.45am, rpt 9.30-10.00pm. Melvyn Bragg explores the history of ideas. Listen again online or download the latest programme as an mp3 file.
This Sceptred Isle
Melvyn Bragg
Melvyn Bragg presents In Our Time for BBC Radio 4, a series where he and his guests discuss the "Big Ideas" of cultural or scientific significance.

He also presented The Routes of English, his millennial series celebrating 1,000 years of the English language.

Melvyn Bragg was born in 1939 in Wigton, Cumbria - where many of his books are set. He won a scholarship to Oxford to read history, and in 1961 he gained a coveted traineeship with the BBC.

He has presented a number of television series including: Read All about It, Two Thousand Years, and Who's Afraid of the Ten Commandments? and createdThe South Bank Show.

Melvyn presented Start the Week between 1988 and 1998. In his 1998 series On Giant's Shoulders he interviewed scientists about their eminent predecessors.

As well as presenting for Radio 4, he is Controller of Arts for London Weekend Television. In 1998 he was made a life peer. He's written 17 novels, the latest of which, The Soldier's Return, won the WH Smith Literary Award.

Melvyn Bragg was made a Life Peer in 1998 and he took the title of Baron Bragg of Wigton in the County of Cumbria.

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