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Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Peasants Revolt in East Anglia: John Wraw


The key point of the peasants revolt started in Liston and Pentlow.  From the contemporary chronicle, the ‘Anonimal Chronicle of St. Mary’s, York’.
'At this same time the commons had risen in Suffolk in great numbers, and had as their chief Sir John Wraw, who brought with him more than 10,000 men. And they robbed many good folks, and cast their houses to the ground. And the said Sir John [to get] gold and silver [for his own profit?], came to Cambridge. There they did great damage by burning houses, and then they went to Bury, and found in that town a justice, Sir John Cavendish, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, and brought him to the pillory, and cut off his head and set it on the pillory. And afterwards they dragged to the pillory the Prior of that abbey, a good man and wise, and an accomplished singer, and a certain monk with him, and cut off their heads. And they set them on poles before the pillory, that all who passed down that street might see them. This Sir John Wraw their leader was afterwards taken as a traitor, and brought to London and condemned to death, and hanged, drawn, and quartered, and beheaded.'

Between 30 May  28 June 1381 half of England was in revolt. The revolt had been carefully planned. People wanted to free themselves of the feudal regulations which the Lord of Manors were still trying to impose on them 300 years after the Norman Conquest. The biggest bone of contention was the servitude of the 'unfree tenants' called 'villeins by blood', documented in the manorial rolls.The leader of the East Anglian Rising was John Wraw, (or Wrawe) a priest who was or had been a chaplain or Rector ('cappelanus') of Ringsfield. He was poor (at his trial he was said to have no property, real or personal whatever), discontented and ambitious.  It would seem that he had come straight from London on Wednesday, June 12, 1381 to raise the rebellion. There he had been conferring with the leading malcontents and had been meeting Wat Tyler on occasion.  Wraw certainly knew all that had happened in Kent, and the way for him had been prepared by emissaries from Essex, who had been carrying the news of the revolt northward for some days before the actual call to arms.  John Wraw is said to have been born in Pentlow. It is certainly possible, because he knew the area well.

On Wednesday 13 June: a large group of  people, whose leaders were a squire, Thomas Monchensey of Edwardston, and three priests from Sudbury—probably old friends and allies of the insurgent chief, set out from Sudbury to sack Lyons's manor at OverHall in Liston. Richard Lyons, who was in his London house at the time, was a wine-merchant and lapidary, created sheriff of London in 1371, and was the corrupt financier at the centre of the protests of the Good Parliament of 1376 who had finally impeached him; In the Parliament of 1379-80 he appears to have sat for Essex, Wat Tvler had formerly been his servant, as appears from his epitaph in the church of St. James, on Garlick Hill, where he was buried and Sir Richard  'on a tyme did beate him,'. If Wat Tyler had accompanied his master to Overhall on occasion, then it is likely that the two leaders of the rebellion knew each other quite well.

As Wraw and his band, containing people from Norfolk, Suffolk, Herts, and Essex, arrived at the luxurious Manor house, he made proclamation that he was come to right the grievances of all men, and called the true commons to his banner, sending a special message to the neighbouring town of Sudbury, from which he expected to raise a large contingent of allies. His band of followers grew rapidly and turned into a mob that destroyed all the documents and manorial rolls they could find that could be used as proof of feudal bondage before turning their attention to the wine-cellar. The hall was then entirely destroyed,  'breaking in both doors and windows, and destroying the tiles on the roof'. A couple of days later, Wat Tyler caught up with his old employer, Richard Lyons, in London and slaughtered him.

On the next morning, Thursday, June 13, the feast of Corpus Christi, Wraw and his mob commenced their march into Cavendish to try to capture Sir John Cavendish. According to local legend, they marched along the old road near the Stour, through the manor of Weston, through Pentlow, past the Hall, and on into Cavendish. A group of insurgents split off from the main party and, brandishing axes, attacked Pentlow Hall, which was then owned by Sir John Cavendish, and proceeded to pull it apart, throwing the timbers into the river.

Lawyers were specially obnoxious to the insurgents, and Sir John Cavendish was personally unpopular. He had been zealously enforcing the unpopular Statute of Labourers, one of the chief causes of the risings, in his native county. Presumably warned in time of the threatened invasion, the judge hid all his plate and
other valuables in Cavendish church tower, and fled in the direction of Ely. Wraw and his men had to be content, for the moment, with sacking the manor-house. They had been told that John Cavendish had hidden his valuables in the church tower, ans appear even to have taken the trouble to procure the keys, through the felonious practices of Ralph Somertou, dyer of Sudbury, who thereupon admitted John Wrawe and his crowd of followers into the church, and led them to the belfry, where they had been informed that the goods of ' John de Cavendish, late Justice _of our Lord the King,' had been hidden away. These they at once seized, taking away from the church tower, as we are told, a ' Jakke of Velvet,' price 26s. &d., a silver candlestick worth seven pounds, and other articles of value, which spoil Wrawe was called upon to divide among his followers.They ended the day by going back to the green at Melford where the local publicans at the tavern of a certain Onewene ensured that the mob were well nourished for the next stage in the revolt. They proceeded to  'adinvicem biberunt unam pipam vini rubei,' of the price of seven marks, 3s. 4d, which amount was, however, faithfully paid to the taverner from the spoils already taken.

Then the mob split into two. One group pursued John Cavendish and finally caught up with him next day at Lakenheath where he was attempting to cross the river Brandon.  He almost escaped, for his pursuers were still behind him when he reached the ferry over the River Brandon. But before he could enter the boat a woman named Katharine Garner pushed it into the centre of the river so that he could not cross and left him helpless on the bank. Cavendish was caught by the mob where he was beheaded and his head carried back to Bury on a pole where they went to  Cavendish's town house and destroyed it.

Another group of rebels, led by  John Wrawe, Robert Tavell, of Lavenham, and John Talmache, Esquire, had gone straight to Bury from Long Melford to Bury St Edmunds, where the townspeople gladly allowed them in. The townsfolk had sent messages to Wraw and his horde, inviting them to come to Bury. On the evening of June 13 the rebels appeared in great force, and were welcomed with open glee by the poorer classes, many of whom joined them. The wealthier burgesses affected to hold themselves aloof from the movement, but secretly gave both encouragement and advice to the invaders. For good consideration received, Wraw undertook to bring the monks to reason in his own way. There was no Abbot at the time, but the monastery was under the control of the Prior's deputy, John Cambridge. They set about plundering the houses of the Abbey officials.  Prior Cambridge, who was leader of the intransigents, heard that the rebels planned to put him to death on the following day so he escaped, but on Friday he was captured in a wood three miles from Newmarket. He was given a trial before John Wraw and was beheaded on the 15th of June. His body was left lying for five days unburied on Mildenhall Heath. His head was fixed on a pike and carried back to Bury. and set up on the pillory in the market-place. There it had for a companion that of John Cavendish. The mob amused themselves by placing the lawyer's mouth to the priest's ear, as for confession, or by setting them lip to lip. They then recieved an extra head to p[lay with,  that of  the unfortunate  John Lakenheath, a monk who, bearing the office of custos baroniae in the abbey, had been charged with the unpopular duty of exacting manorial dues and fines. Three other brethren, whose heads were also wanted for the collection, escaped, one by concealing himself, the other two by taking sanctuary at the altar, where (by some inexplicable chance) the mob did not seek them. On Sunday, one more head, that of a local notable, who was considered too friendly to the abbey, was set with the others.

The monastery had for generations been at odds with the freedom-loving burghers. In the absence of the abbot the monastery seemed defenceless, The panic-stricken monks, fearing a repetition of the sacking of 1327, now gave the townsmen a charter, and parted with their documents, silver plate, and other valuables. The sacking of the homes of the wealthy and general rioting continued over several days. At every turn the manorial rolls were burned and with them centuries of feudal bondage

For a week John Wraw reigned at Bury, sending out his lieutenants on all sides to spread the revolt and to extort blackmail wherever it could be got. His main agents were a  renegade knight, named Sir Thomas Cornerd, and two priests from Sudbury. His sphere of operations extended as far as
Bungay and Beccles

On the evening of Thursday,13th John Wraw was offered the crown of Suffolk, but he told the crowd to give it to someone else. Robert de Westerham, a mercer, was crowned king instead.

On 18 June Wraw set off for north-east Suffolk. His first exploit was the sack of Mettingham Castle. He led a strong detachment of 500 men who damaged the buildings and took £40 in cash.
Next day he held a sort of assize in Beccles, and presided at the execution of Geoffrey Southgate, an unpopular resident, who was handed over by three of his neighbours.

On the 23rd of June 500 lancers under the Earl of Suffolk William Ufford, from the Royal Army in London arrived at Bury . Before this formidable force, the rebel bands melted away, without making the least show of resistance. Wraw, showed himself an arrant coward. Instead of offering battle to the forces of order, he fled and hid himself. Probably only about twenty people on both sides were killed in Suffolk

At the trials only 20 were executed including the leader John Wraw, who fled; hid but was captured, tried to save himself by turning king’s evidence and implicating his lieutenants, but he was hanged with the others.Of the 1700 who took part 70 were women.

It is difficult to feel much sympathy for Wraw. He was a discontented, and ambitious priest who seems to have acted out of  vanity, greed  and cruelty.  In his confession, he admitted to have made a handsome profit from leading the rebellion. When it was all over he cowardly tried to save his life by turning King’s evidence. To ingratiate himself with his captors, he laid depositions against all his own lieutenant, Robert Westbroun, and two Bury squires named Denham and Halesworth, as the main agents of the Prior’s trial and death. He furnished the Government with sufficient information to hang many of his accomplices.

Wraw made splendid speeches, but when the going got tough, he caved in immediately.

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