A Dream of John Ball: Notes

by Peter Wright

p. 198 para. 1 

some Elizabethan manor house .... Queen Anne ... Silly Billy .... Victoria

In Morris's time modem architectural styles in England were still largely differentiated by the names of dynasties and reigns, rather than by the stylistic labels introduced since then by architectural historians, such as Palladian, Baroque, Greek Revival,  etc. Thus Banister Fletcher, History of Architecture on the Comparative Method (first publ. 1896 [1954 edn. used])  only divides 'English Renaissance Architecture' (on p. 766 seqq.) into 'Elizabethan', 'Jacobean', 'Stuart' (1625-1702) and 'Georgian' (1702-1830). So the names of these monarchs given here are probably rather chronological than stylistic markers. 'Queen Anne' may appear because her name had been adopted to designate the new vernacular style developed from the 1860s and 1870s for domestic buildings, to replace Victorian Gothic, partly under the influence of Morris's friend Philip Webb.

By 'Silly Billy' Morris refers to King William IV (reigned 1830-37), as appears in the version of John  Ball revised for book publication.  That king could suitably have been so called on account of his hearty but uncouth manners and intellectual oddity: see descriptions of him in Charles Greville's diary, under 16, 20, 25, 30 July 1830, in Leaves from the Greville Diary, ed. P. Morrell (1929), pp. 98-99, 101, 103-105. The nickname of 'Silly Billy' was originally applied to the king's cousin, the vacuous and pompous William Henry, 2nd duke of Gloucester (1776-1834): Oxford D.N.B. vol. 59, p. 119. It is not clear on what basis Morris came to apply it to the king.

much churchwardened

Over-thoroughly tidied, and even renovated, by the churchwardens in charge of its fabric


The architectural  style with round-headed arches and windows prevalent in England from the late 11th century to the late 12th.

a splendid collegiate church

Collegiate churches were served and managed by a body of 'secular' canons, often under a dean, not bound by monastic vows, but residing and sharing the church's revenues as individuals. They usually had larger chancels than parish churches to accommodate the choral services performed by their canons, in person or by deputy. [[ cf. note on 'vicars' on p. 244 para. 4]]

water-meadows ... Wiltshire downs ....William Cobbett

The Radical journalist and politician William Cobbett made his main visit to Wiltshire (described  in his Rural Rides, Everyman edn. 1912, vol. 2, pp. 34-99) during a fortnight of August to September 1826, when he travelled  down the Avon to Salisbury and back up the western edge of the county. Occasionally, amidst extensive discussion of farming practices and political invective, he shows appreciation of the watered meadows amid the downs. Cobbett shared Morris's opinion that the condition of ordinary labouring people had greatly worsened since the close of the Middle Ages, and his History of the Reformation (publ. 1824) was one of the few actual narrative histories that stood outside the progressive 'Whig' consensus of Victorian historians, offering a 'Tory  Radical' view more typical of social critics, such as Ruskin and Morris himself. See J.W. Burrow, A Liberal Descent (1981), pp. 240-41.

p. 199  para. I  down the Thames ... Streatley  .... Wallingford

This is a little oddly phrased, given that Wallingford is upstream from Streatley. Perhaps Morris was thinking of going 'down' to his intended destination at Kelmscott: cf. William Morris Chronology, ed. N. Salmon (1996), p. 104, 14 Aug. 1880. The dream of a medieval city seems entirely imaginary, unless Morris was thinking of Wallingford  itself, in the Middle Ages a quite important planned borough, built around a 12th-century castle; apparently it once had 12 parish churches.

** p. 199 para. 1 foothills of the White Horse

The northern edge of the Wiltshire downland, overlooking  the Vale of the White Horse, through which the Upper Thames flows. It is named from the probably prehistoric figure of a 'white horse' cut into the chalk on the crest of the escarpment a little south of Uffington, which Morris and his family often visited from Kelmscott Manor. See May Morris, Intro. Collected Works, 18, pp. xx-xxi. That figure and an adjoining Iron Age hill fort inspired his description of Bear Castle and the 'hill-side carving' beside it in The Well at the World's End, bk. 1, chap. 4.

**Land of Nod

Sleep: cf. Genesis, chap. 4, v. 16. Apparently a punning 18th-century interpretation, ascribed to Swift.

p. 199 para. 1   Mitcham Fair Green

Morris's  visits to Mitcham, a little east of his works at Merton, where he sometimes spoke in the open air, are discussed in Judith Goodman's talk on Morris and Merton, reported in the William Morris Society Newsletter, Autumn 2007, pp. 36-37.


Awkward questions

Para. 2   white poppies

Opium, made from white poppies, was used in the Middle Ages in making soporific and would-be anaesthetic potions: C. Rawcliffe, Medicine and Society in Late Medieval England, (1995), p. 77. The repeated later mention of poppies of this colour, [[below, p. 238 para. 3; p. 240 para. 1;  p. 256 para.4]] may, however, be intended to be symbolical of dreaming, or of  transition between sleep and waking.

In Morris's 'Love of Alcestis', her husband Admetus is told to set poppy-leaves at his bridal chamber door: The Earthly Paradise, ed. F.S. Boos, vol. 1, p. 505. A white poppy is brought to the expiring Beloved in Rossetti's picture, commemorating Elizabeth Siddal, 'Beata Beatrix'.

** Roman road

The roads laid out during the Roman occupation of Britain (1st-4th centuries A.D.) were proverbially straight. Compare that mentioned, [[ p. 224 para. l ]] p. 200.  

para. 1        small strips   .... the unhedged tillage

Given the state of knowledge in his time, and his purpose in writing, Morris was entitled to portray his Kentish village as one of the supposed standard medieval type, with common fields divided into strips owned by individual  villagers (and only hedged  around their outer edges), and subject to an annual rotation of crops over two or three years, and with a common pasture grazed by the villagers' cattle in a single herd [[cf. p. 223-24]]. Actually Kent had even in the late Middle Ages few or no villages of this sort,  but was one of those regions enclosed into individual farms very early; there were some 'open fields' with land belonging to more than one owner, but these seem to have resulted from division among heirs, and there was almost no trace of communally managed rotations or pasturage on the scale of  a whole village: see Studies in Field Systems in the British Isles, ed. A. R. Baker and R. A. Butlin (1973), chap. 9 (pp. 377-419).

p.  200  para. 2 to summon the squire to the leet

The squire   In the late 14th century the title of 'squire' was in transition from indicating a military function to meaning, as in modem times, the social rank of the country gentleman who owns the largest estate in a village and expects to dominate (though not actually to administer) its affairs. Earlier, in the 13th century, squires (originally, as scutiferi, or armigeri, junior warriors attending older ones) had been p1imarily the less well equipped portion of the mounted warriors (in paid 14th-century English armies, they received only half a knight's wages), and, when younger, like Chaucer's Squire, were those who in attendance on knights were learning the martial and social skills of chivalry before receiving knighthood [[cf. p. 213 end]].

 In the 12th century most English landowners owning a manor or more would have accepted the rank of knight; from the mid 13th however, the increasing expense of knighthood, both the higher costs of armour and warhorses, and those of the ceremony of knighting and of  the display required by that rank, led many lesser landowners to refrain from being knighted, although they still claimed to belong to the 'gently-born' aristocracy. From about 1350 such lesser aristocrats began to be called squires: cf. the distinction in the socially graduated poll tax of 1379 (see Dobson, Peasants'  Revolt, p. 107,) between squires wealthy enough to be knights, those of lesser estate, and those, not owning property, in service or in arms. Here, and [[p. 250 para. 4]], Morris probably intends mainly the social meaning; on [[p. 232 para. 3]] ('squires and knights'), he is using the military one. These developments are fully discussed in N. Saul, Knights and Esquires (1986), chapter 1.

The leet

Lords of manors usually held two types of court for their tenants. One, later technically styled a 'court baron', dealt with the rights and obligations of those tenants (primarily the unfree) related to the lands that they occupied. The other, the leet, formally called the 'view of frankpledge', handled the enforcement of public order and the repression of such nuisances as badly maintained roads and drainage ditches, wrongly sited dung heaps, etc., also often controlling the quality and price of bread and ale. In practice the two kinds of court were usually held on the same day(s), (though leets came at longer intervals), one after the other, and Morris may not intend to distinguish between them.

** gown ... hood .. bag

The Dreamer’s costume is modeled on that worn in the late 14th century by educated lay civilians; the head-dress in particular  resembles that worn by Chaucer in his traditional portraits.

p. 20 I para. 2  

St. Clement

In early Christian legend St. Clement I, a close successor of St. Peter as bishop of Rome, was martyred by being thrown into the Black Sea, to whose coasts he had been exiled, fastened to an anchor. Hence he was reckoned as the patron of workers in iron, such as blacksmiths.

** the butts

English medieval villages were expected, and eventually required by law, to have archery butts where men could practise using the national weapon, the long-bow.

p. 203  para. 2  
John the Miller ... The king's son of heaven  ....

These lines, here taken as the peasants’ password, are the opening ones of verses in one of the gnomic letters circulated among peasants, this one openly ascribed to John Ball, (see Dobson, Peasants' Revolt, pp. 380-33) in which they tried to arouse awareness of their discontent.  The use of such letters to spread the message of revolt is discussed  in S. Justice, Writing and Revolt: England in 1381 (1994). Morris has substituted 'that' for the 'hath' of the original verses.


Pp. 204-205  last and first paras.

The men of Essex

Violent opposition to the collection of the poll tax first broke out in villages in southwest Essex late in May 1381, and the rebel villagers of that area soon sent messages across the Thames to rouse rebellion there early in June. [[cf. previous para.] and Historical Introduction, I. Political Narrative, paragraph 2]

The poll-groat  bailiffs

Groats (from gros deniers) were the larger silver coins, worth four pennies, introduced in England in 1351, to supplement with a higher denomination the pennies which had been the only silver currency since Anglo-Saxon times. The groat had the same design as a penny, but with only one circle of lettering round its edge: a groat of Edward III is illustrated in Coins, an Illustrated Survey, ed. M. J. Price (1980), p. 169, illus. 779 A, B.;  cf.. description of the coins (probably  pennies) on  [[p.  202 paragraph 5]]. For the poll taxes of 1377-81, and the grievances they caused, see Historical Introduction, I. Political Narrative, paragraph 2.


In the Middle Ages 'bailiff was a term used to describe anyone acting officially as the deputy or agent of another. Most notably it meant in England the deputies acting under the sheriff in controlling the subdivisions  of the shire called ‘hundreds' and their own subordinates: that class of officials became notorious for oppression  and extortion--hence Morris's hostile references later in A Dream. (Agents appointed  by lords to manage manors, not drawn from among their tenants, were also styled bailiffs, cf. [( p. 218, paragraph 4: 'the bailliff squeezeth' )] as were the chief magistrates of towns not governed by mayors.) Here Morris is referring primarily to the agents drawn from among the royal 'sergeants-at­arms', sent out in spring 1381 to stiffen the new commissions, and any underlings of theirs whom they employed to collect the poll tax.

**the old king's time
The reign of Edward III, 1327-77

** the Black Death

The epidemic, commonly reckoned to have been bubonic (aggravated  by pneumonic) plague, which killed up to half the population of England (and of most other European countries) in 1348-49: cf. e.g. O.J. Benedictow, The Black Death, 1346-53.

The lords that would turn them .. into villeins again

See Historical Introduction, III. Feudalism.

p. 205   
soccage tenants

In the 11th century villagers basically free but who had bound themselves to 'seek'  the soke or jurisdiction of a particular lord, especially numerous in the eastern counties, were styled 'sokemen'. In the 13th century there were still many 'free sokemen', lower in status than landholders who were fully free tenants. Here, however, Morris probably means the class of 'villein sokemen', unfree tenants on the king's  'ancient  demesne', reckoned by the 13th century to consist of the manors held by the king in 1086, as recorded in the Domesday Book, even though those manors might have later passed into other ownership, (but not including estates that the king had acquired after 1086): their tenure was more privileged than that of ordinary villeins. They were entitled to appeal to the king's courts to protect their possession of their lands and their rights of inheritance, and to prevent any new lords increasing the services due from their holdings beyond what was permitted by ancient custom. (In practice the royal judges frequently found legal technicalities enabling them to reject those sokemen's complaints against the new lords' encroachments; cf. Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, pp. 75 and following). The 14th-century campaigns in which villagers tried to have their burdens reduced by appealing to Domesday are discussed by Rodney Hilton, 'Peasant Movements  in England before 1381', Economic History Review, vol 4 (1934), and in Hilton and Aston, English Rising of 1381, chap. 2.    

 p. 205  
the statute of the old king

Morris apparently means the Statute of Labourers approved by Parliament in 1351 (cf. William Morris on History, p. 122) confirming an ordinance by Edward III and his council in 1349 (Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, pp. 63-68). Actually it had nothing to say about the length of the working day, or of meal breaks (or perhaps 'tea­breaks')* within it, which are probably what Morris means by 'bever-time', though that actual phrase does not appear in the Middle English Dictionary. Rather the new law was intended to restrain, both for farm workers and for craftsmen, the increases in wages that they had begun to demand, following the reduction of the workforce by the recent plague, and to compel them to accept the same daily rates of pay as had been previously usual, officially in 1347. They were also required, if not employed, to accept hirings for a year from anyone who wished to take them on. [[Cf. p. 253 paragraph 1]]

The main beneficiaries were smaller landowners who had few or no unfree tenants owing services and so depended on hired labour. Surviving records show that continual attempts were made over the next two or three decades, before 1360 by specially commissioned Justices of Labourers, to punish working men (but less often their employers), when they obtained higher wages. This was presumably as serious a grievance for landless workers as manorial lords' continued or renewed demand for labour services was for unfree landholders. (See Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, pp. 69-72; also B. H. Putnam, Enforcement of the Statue of Labourers (1908).

Possibly Morris was unconsciously led to describe that Statute as being concerned with working hours rather than wage rates by his adherence to Marxist history, prompting an unwillingness to admit that there was already an extensive use of wage labour in the 14th century.

* In towns the normal medieval working day for employed craftsmen was from dawn to sunset, varying in length with the seasons. In the countryside some manorial custumals suggest that villeins doing day's works for their lord had their actual length reckoned not by time, but by the amount of work needed to finish a particular task, (often less than a full day), having finished which they could presumably go back to their own land. In 1370 masons working on York Minster were allowed an hour's break for a meal at noon, also in the afternoon 'drinking  time', in winter for as long as it took to walk ½ mile, in summer double that, besides a siesta ('sleeping time') of 'the time of a mile way': English Historical Documents, IV, 1327-1485, ed. A.R. Myers (1969), pp. 1182-84. Probably it was not then illegal to allow fieldworkers, toiling as heavily, as much time off.

Holy Church ... the Lollards   ... holy days

Morris has suggested a strange alliance: given the strong antagonism between orthodox churchmen and John Wycliffe's Lollard followers,  they could not be expected to co-operate on anything, still less on the elimination of an important element of Catholic piety. On the contrary, contemporary monastic chroniclers sought to link the Lollards to the rebels, mainly through John  Ball, allegedly an associate of Wycliffe. (See Dobson, Peasant’s Revolt, pp. 372-78.)  (Ball had actually been preaching his subversive doctrines since the mid 1360s.) There was at least a parallel between the peasants' demand on 15 June (perhaps inspired by Ball: cf. Dobson, p. 128) that the clergy and monasteries be deprived of their property beyond 'reasonable sustenance' (Dobson, pp. 164-65) and Wycliffe's programme, developed from the 1370s, for disendowing the church.

As for saints' days (most holy days apart from the great feasts commemorating Christ's life and death were in honour of saints), the Lollards did not object to them as such. But they condemned pilgrimages to saints' shrines and worship of their images as idolatrous, and also insisted that prayers be addressed not to saints, but directly to God. I have found one Lollard in 1428 claiming that it was lawful for men to work on Saturdays and other holy days. (English Historical Documents, IV, 1327-1485, ed. A. R. Myers (1969), p. 865.) However, not only before, but after, the Reformation,* when  the number of holy days on which work was prohibited was reduced from about fifty to just under thirty (besides Sundays) by Act of Parliament (Statutes 5 and 6, Edward  VI, Public Acts, no. 3.), parishioners  were  often reported to the church authorities for working on such days. (Probably the poorer classes would not have regretted not being forbidden to work then--if they chose.)

*Some historians of the development of capitalism have suggested that the replacement of the medieval system of irregularly occurring holy days with days of rest regularly recurring every seven days was part of the process by which the working class was disciplined for the continuous work required by machines in factories. Possibly Morris had some such argument in mind here.

p. 205 para. 2

See below on [[ p. 207 verses ]].

St. Albans  ...  the Lord Abbot's soldiers

The monks of many ancient Benedictine monasteries, including St. Albans (unlike the king and lay lords), were very reluctant to allow the inhabitants of the towns that had grown up outside their gates any chartered rights of independent municipal self-govermnent. (See David Knowles, The Religious Orders in England, I (1948), chap. 24.) At St Albans the townsmen in mid June 1381 used threats of fire and slaughter, backed up by warnings of intervention from Wat Tyler, to compel the abbot to concede them a charter, such as they had obtained during a previous rising in 1327, and to relieve them from various, some humiliating, restraints on their economic and sporting activities. Their leader William Grindecobbe, however, induced them to act moderately, and no monks were actually killed. See Dobson, pp. 269-77. The abbot, having no armed force to protect the abbey had to temporise and practise appeasement until soldiers sent by the government arrived to help reimpose his authority in mid July.

Norwich  ... John Litster

Geoffrey Litster (though called John and placed at Norwich in the main chronicle account of him), a village dyer (the meaning of his surname), was the leader of the revolt in East Norfolk. Details in Dobson, pp. 256-61.

For Morris's telescoping of chronology in this paragraph, from ignorance or for rhetorical effect, see Grennan, William Morris: Medievalist and Revolutionary, p. 100 at end, and [[Historical Introduction, II. Comparison, section 3]].

The tiler of Dartford

The tale of how a Dartford tiler (John not Wat)  avenged his daughter's being molested by a tax collector was first certainly reported by the antiquary John Stowe in his Annales (1631 edn. p. 284), though he claimed an old chronicle as his source. See Dobson pp. 395 n, 135; William Morris on History, p. 141; Morris, like T. Rogers, History of Agriculture and Prices, vol. 1,  p. 83, assumed that Wat Tyler was the hero of this story.

p. 206  para.2   

A historical Will Green might have fed his guest less roughly. In mentioning this bread Morris possibly recalled how Ball (in Froissart) claimed that the peasantry had only rye (seigle) to eat (so Froissart, tr. Johnes; Berners translates it ‘chaff’*). By the 1370s even the poor probably fared better. Morris could have seen Langland's complaint (Piers Plowman, B version, Passus VI, lines 302-19) that even beggars then despised all but the best white bread. Rye was little grown at that period in southern England (outside some regions with poor soils) for human consumption.

*J. R. Green, Short History of the English People, chap. 5, section 4 (Everyman edition, 1915, p. 235), oddly says 'oat-cake'. Even then oats were in England (as Dr. Johnson noted) mainly fed to beasts.

Dunwich ... keels from Iceland

There was a lively trade between England and Iceland in the 15th century. English merchants sold there goods such as breadcorn, metalwork, and broadcloth, which Iceland could not produce for itself; and brought back mainly stockfish (dried cod), herring, and other fish for eating on fast days. This trade, which Morris might have known of from the 'Libelle of English Policy' (chap. 10) of the 1430s (included in Hakluyt's Voyages), did not start, however, until the 1410s. In the period just before, Icelanders had apparently been almost cut off from engaging in voyages abroad, because they had no timber for ship-building. They had to rely on ships from Norway, of which their island had been a dependency since 1261. (See Studies in English Trade in the 15th Century, ed. E. Power and M. M. Postan (1933), chap. 4, pp. 155-82.) That trade with England was mainly conducted from East Coast ports such as Hull and Lynn, though probably not from Dunwich, by then in decay as a harbour, (as Morris might have remembered), owing to the coastal erosion which has since virtually destroyed it. Morris possibly named it through recalling how he had brought John in 'The Land East of the Sun ...' ashore at Dunwich from Norway: lines 2405-2408 (The Earthly Paradise, ed. F.S Boos, vol. 2, p. 99).

p. 206 para. 1
a lord's  carver

Carving meat dextrously, even gracefully, was an accomplishment that well-born youths were expected to acquire during their training: cf. Chaucer's Squire, who 'carf biforn his fader at the table': Canterbury Tales, Prologue, line 100.

**Oxford, scholar
Monis's regretful memories of the streets of Oxford as he had seen them, still little spoilt, when he studied there in the 1850s, are eloquently expressed in his lectures, e.g. 'The Aims of Art'.

p. 206 para. 5/6  
Robin Hood

The traditional ballads about the famous outlaw, clearly loved by Morris, were probably known to him in 19th-century reprints of earlier chapbooks, 'garlands', and broadsides, following that of 1795 by Joseph Ritson. (The whole set are contained in F. J. Child's collection, English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 5 vols. (1882-98), in vol. 3, and the earlier ones in Rhymes of Robyn Hood, ed. R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor (1976). In the 19th century the few lines in the 15th-century 'Geste of Robin Hood' in which Robin tells his men to spare the poor and plunder the wealthy, along with accounts of his shooting for food the deer in the king's forests in south Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, and of his conflict with the sheriff of Nottingham[shire], were taken to imply that he robbed the rich to help the poor and oppressed*. So, in novels such as Scott's Ivanhoe, and compilations of traditional stories about Robin, such as that by the Radically minded scholar Joseph Ritson (from which derives the conventional modern dating to Richard I's reign, not reported before 1500) Robin is portrayed, as Morris here describes him, as a champion of freedom against tyranny and a pioneer of social insurrection.

Since 1958 there has been a controversy among medieval historians about the social significance of the tales about Robin, as presented in the earliest surviving (probably 15th-century) ballads about him. Left­wing historians, such as Rodney Hilton (see his essay of 1958 in Peasants,  Knights, and Heretics, ed. Hilton (1976), and, initially, Maurice Keen, Outlaws of  Medieval Legend (1st edn. 1961) esp. chaps. 10-12, have urged the view, accepted here by Morris, that Robin's robberies present him as a champion of the poor against the classes that oppressed them, what some modern historians have designated a 'social bandit'. Others, especially J. C. Holt, (e.g. in Robin Hood (1982)), have argued that Robin, despite his outlawry and deer-poaching forest life, was reckoned a member of the class of yeomen, who were then not the prosperous farmers to whom the term was applied from the 15th century. Rather, since they served in the households, and sometimes the forests, of the aristocracy, they were attached to the dominant orders. It is claimed that Robin does not challenge the social hierarchy: his adversaries are not lords or knights, but evil officials, such as sheriffs, and wealthy monks, and (like the peasants in 1381) he respects the king. A recent discussion, A. J. Pollard, Imagining Robin Hood (2004), esp. chapter 7, takes a mediating position, noting that the poor might enjoy stories that showed their social superiors being attacked and humiliated, even when the protagonist came from a different social level.

*Robin's 'taking from the rich to give to the poor' was not described in those terms until about 1600: see Holt, op. cit. p. 184.

p. 207  verse 1
The sheriff ... a mighty lord

By the late 14th century the sheriff was no longer the almost all-powerful governor appointed  by the king  in the 12th and early 13th centuries, often for long periods and chosen from men high in his trust and favour, to manage almost all his business in the shire, judicial and financial, besides keeping public order. Such sheriffs were encouraged to squeeze its people because they were allowed to keep the difference between the fixed sum that they owed to the king from its revenues and what they actually collected. Opposition from the 'county community', gentry and freeholders, to the resulting extortion had resulted by the mid 14th century in sheriffs being usually chosen to serve for a single year from a shire's more prominent gentry. They were by then concerned chiefly with still important, but mostly routine functions, leaving less scope for oppression, though a sheriff was still able to do useful favours for those who won his support by kinship or influence, and to make trouble for their opponents (as appears in the Paston Letters).  Morris's poem reflects the sheriff's earlier predominance, as still evidenced in popular memory in the Robin Hood ballads. For the sheriff in his prime of power, see W. A. Morris, The Medieval English Sheriff to 1300 (1927), and for his late medieval decline, The English Government  at Work, 1327-36, vol. 2, ed. W.A. Morris and J.R. Strayer (1947), chap. 2.

many a sergeant          

One of the medieval meanings of 'sergeant' referred to those officers serving the powerful who applied physical force in support of authority. The king had 'sergeants-at-arms' who guarded him and might be sent out on missions not requiring high rank (cf. above on the poll tax). Morris might have learnt from Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris, (chap. 6, pt. 1), that the police force of medieval Paris consisted of sergeants. [[Cf. below p. 214 paragraph 2. ]]

verses 2 and 4
the king's writ

The written order(s) sent out from the king's chancery to authorise the starting of lawsuits, or, more relevantly to these lines, directing the sheriff to arrest supposed criminals.

** verse 4  the grey-goose wing

Arrows were often fledged with goose feathers. Cf. [[ p. 221 paragraph 2; p. 223, paragraph 1 ]].

p. 208 verse 5
the hithe

A hi/ythe is usually taken to mean a landing-place in a port or on a river: O.E.D.

** p. 208 para. 2
plain-song of the church

Morris is probably recalling the singing he and his friends heard in the French cathedrals on their tour of France in 1855: cf. Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, ed. Georgiana Burne-Jones (1904), vol. 1, p. 113.


p. 209 para. 1  
John Ball hath rung our bell

See Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 382, last letter from John Ball, and [[Historical Introduction, IV. Medieval and Later Sources, esp. paragraph 3]]

** p. 209 paragraph 3  


Sweaty from toil

on the ground .... a hare

Cf. Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Prologue to Sir Thopas, stanza I (the Host to Chaucer)

Para. 3  

Apparently in the 14th century, before full plate armour was widely in use, sheets and pieces of  metal, flat or curved, worn over chain mail to protect vulnerable points were described as 'plates'; a 'pair of plates' was equivalent to a cuirass.

p. 210 para. 2   
a banner

The shape of this banner suggests the ornamental ones used by 19th-century trade unions at processions and demonstrations rather than the square ones shown in battle by medieval commanders. [[see below, p. 221 paragraph 5 on pennons]]. The medieval church may have used in processions such banners on cross­poles with saints' images, etc., probably frontal, painted on canvas, unlike the embroidered ones borne by modern High Churchmen on such occasions.

Morris may have had in mind in his description of this banner, rather than the portrayal of Adam and Eve in action, digging and spinning, as shown in the frontispiece for the book edition drawn by Burne­Jones, a pair of their figures side by side, facing forward, such as were produced by Burne-Jones for individual figures of saints and patriarchs for church windows. Burne-Janes drew such a figure of Adam, roughly clad and leaning on his spade, in the mid 1870s: see A. C. Sewter, Stained Glass of William Morris and His Circle (1974), illus. 428, 539. His only such single figure of Eve, in a hairy robe and spinning, was done for Middleton Cheney in 1865, though there she is seen sideways. (Sewter, illus. 238)

When Adam delved ....

Historians  now consider that this rhyme to be a traditional  one, merely adopted by the peasants as their motto. See [[Historical Introduction, IV. Medieval and Later Sources, paragraph 4]]

The beads used to count the number of prayers repeated when someone, often a layman, was saying to the Virgin Mary a vowed number of prayers, including the Lord's Prayer and the Ave Maria; the beads were arranged in fifteen groups of ten.

** p. 212 para. 2  Cain

Cf. Genesis chap. 4.


p. 213  para. 1
gossip ... brother sworn in arms
Gossip = fellow

Occasional record survives from the 14th and 15th centuries of knights and squires binding themselves as 'brothers-in-arms' to share the dangers, and the gains and losses of warfare: M. Keen, 'Brotherhood in Arms', History, xlvii (1964), pp. 1-17. If lower-ranking soldiers did the same, it would probably not have been put in writing.

Last line  
the accolade

Originally the ceremony of knighting included the man conferring knighthood giving the new knight a smart buffet on his neck (col). By the late 14th century this had apparently been replaced with a stroke on the shoulder(s) with a sword. See how King Richard knighted Mayor Walworth: Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 167.

p. 214  para. 1
the archbishop's prison  ... [and]  house

For Morris's  misdating and misplacing of Ball's release, [[here and on p. 214 paragraph 1]], Grennan, William Morris: Medievalist and Revolutionary, p. 100,  and ( [Historical Introduction, Comparison, section 2.]] No chronicle actually says that the archbishop's Canterbury residence was fired, though it was apparently pillaged, as his Lambeth one was later: Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, pp. 140, 199.

Para. 1

See note on  [[ p. 251, paragraph 5 ]]

p. 214 para. 1
sergeants and bailiffs  

[[ cf. above, notes on pp. 204-205. ]]

p. 214 para. 4  
a parson of a town

Ball's words here may recall Chaucer's description of the good Parson: Canterbury Tales, Prologue, esp. lines 486 seqq.

p. 218 para. 2
the Men of Kent and Duke William

Ball is alluding to the legend that the men of Kent met William the Conqueror marching on London in 1066 after the battle of  Hastings (for whose actual site Senlac is an antiquarian name), and would not let him pass until he had agreed to confirm their traditional rights and liberties. This story was still believed, and included in reputable histories (e.g. Sir  F. Palgrave [father of the anthologist], History of Normandy and England (1864), vol. 2, pp. 363-65), until the mid 19th century, but has been rejected by later scholars (cf. E. A. Freeman, History of the Norman Conquest, vol. 3, p. 539, note 1) because it does not appear in contemporary narratives of the Conquest. It was first recorded in a chronicle of St. Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, compiled c. 1380-1400, by William Thorne. So there is no anachronism in Ball citing it here. It was probably developed as a ‘myth of origin' for the special privileges and customs of the Kentish peasantry, including that of gavelkind, under which a man's lands were divided on his death equally among his sons, and, more relevant to Ball's words here, the rule, acknowledged in the king's  courts by 1300 (see F. Pollock and F. M. Maitland, History of English Law (1895, reprinted 1968), vol. 2, pp. 271-72), that no one in Kent could be born into villeinage. Hence their relative prosperity recognised in the next paragraph.


It appears that, despite the more advanced agricultural practices in use in the Eastern counties by the 14th century, the burden of villeinage on those tenants who were unfree (there were many freemen) was relatively heavier in that region. E. A. Kosminsky, Studies in the Agrarian  History of England in the 13th Century  (1956), p. 194, calculated that in Essex, East Anglia, and neighbouring counties, about half the value of peasants'  renders to their lords carne from the labour services that might be required from them, whereas in regions to the west and south the proportion  was only a quarter to a third. But so far as Morris is concerned, this is a lucky guess.

The Easterling chapman

German merchants from the North Sea and Baltic ports of the Hanseatic League. See below, on  [[ p. 251 ]]  (It is not clear why Morris accuses these merchants of 'shearing' the East Anglian peasantry; although they traded in such ports as Lynn and Yarmouth, their inland contacts, if any, would rather have been with weavers and clothiers producing the cloth that they bought for export.)

p. 219 para. 3 [[ also p. 263 para. 2, end ]]
without money and without price

Cf. Isaiah, chap. 55, v. 1.

p. 220 para. 5  

Kingston [presumably  on Thames] ... north of Thames ... Wat Tyler

The court had no armed force at all south of the river. [[ cf. Historical Introduction, I. Political Narrative, paragraph 4 ]] As for Tyler, not only Froissart, whom Morris had read, but other sources place him in Kent in early June 1381: e.g, Dobson, Peasants’s Revolt, pp. 127, 138-39, 147.

p. 221 para. 5    
Sir John Newton

For the misdating of the capture of Rochester castle, see Grennan, William Morris: Medievalist and Revolutionary, p. 100, and [[Historical Introduction, II. Comparison, section 2]]. In the rest of this paragraph, the identifications and heraldry are largely Morris's invention. For the sheriff,  see below, note on [[ p. 233.]]  No Rafe Hopton has been traced in the records around this time anywhere in England; Morris may have borrowed his name from Sir Ralph Hopton, a noted Royalist commander in the south-west in the Civil War of 1642-46. As for that family, there were Hopton gentry families in Yorkshire and the Welsh border counties, but their coats-of-arms sometimes included lions, but not fishes. Morris is less wrong about the 'Calverlys': their arms had three calves, but black, not red. Morris had presumably seen only an engraved version.


These were the flags borne by ordinary knights, bearing their coat-of-arms, and ending in one or two streamers, like swallow-tails; when a knight was promoted to banneret, in command of a larger force, the tails were cut off to give a square banner, as was done for Sir John Chandos before the battle of Najera in Spain in 1369: see Froissart, tr. Johnes, bk. 1, chap. 241 (1839 edn., p. 370). (It is this promotion that Sir Lambert du Bois hopes for in Morris's  'The Eve of Crècy', in The Defence of Guenevere.)

** Hartlip .... Guildstead
Names of Morris's invention for imaginary places.

p. 221  note

Morris here refers to Sir Hugh Calveley (so usually spelt now) who served actively in the French War from about 1350 to the early 1380s; he would have found him frequently mentioned in Froissart. Coming from a minor Cheshire gentry family, Calveley made his name (and fortune) fighting in Northern France in the 1350s. During the intermission of the War after 1360, he led 'free companies' [[cf. below on p. 233]] sent into Spain in the mid 1360s by the king of France to help depose King Pedro of Castile (an ally of England) before returning to English service in 1369 and holding high commands, including those of garrison fortresses at Calais and Brest.  In spring 1381 he had just returned from taking part in the siege of the French-held city of Nantes in Brittany: cf. Froissart, tr. Johnes. bk. 2, chaps. 50, 60.  Morris presumably intends him to be present in command at the fight that follows: [[ p. 231 para. 4 ]]. He died in 1394 and was buried in Bunbury church (Cheshire), where his tomb with its armoured effigy can still be seen. See the full biography in the new Oxford DNB.

p. 222 para. I  
London .... Nicholas Bramber

Bramber was one of the three or four London aldermen who led the city's  militia (drawn from the middling and wealthier citizens)  to the king's rescue after Wat Tyler was killed in Smithfield on 15 June, and was knighted on the spot. A leader of the more oligarchical party among the rich London merchants, he served as mayor 1383-86, and was Richard's leading supporter in the city from 1386, for which he was beheaded in 1388.

It seems a little odd that the knight should be talking at this point of Bramber rather than of William Walworth, the mayor in 1381, who actually controlled the city's defences. Froissart, tr. Bemers, calls the mayor 'Nicholas' Walworth, see Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 197. Could Morris, writing in haste or from memory, have confused the two Nicholases and not noticed the slip when revising?

men-at-arms and sergeants

Here men-arms probably means the fully armoured horsemen, including knights, and sergeants, especially the more lightly armed ones, (otherwise called hobelars) wearing metal-reinforced leather, like the rider on p. 200, paragraph 2.


Sheriffs' offficers, whose authority is shown by their metal-tipped staffs; title cited in the Oxford English Dictionary only from 1541. But sheriffs must have had staff with similar duties earlier.

p. 222-23   
Hob Wright ..... Gregory Tailor etc. [[cf. p. 233 last para.]]

Morris has carefully chosen occupational names (or ones from unspecific topographical features) to suggest that these minor characters were primarily identified by crafts that they practised in person. By the late 14th century surnames had been long enough in use, even among ordinary villagers, to make it unlikely that all pargetters or tailors were actually exercising the skill they were named from. The 'shining' arms worn by some of these men may be implied to be armour seized from the pair of bailiffs who governed the city of Canterbury [[ Historical Introduction, II. Comparison, section 3.]] until it obtained a mayor in 1448. (See Alice Green, Town Life in the 15th Century (1894), vol. 2, pp. 283-84.)

p. 223  para, 1
Jack Straw and God

This is Morris's  adaptation of a prayer before battle ascribed to hard-bitten, not too devout medieval soldiers, such as La Hire, a noted French captain of Joan of Arc's time, running roughly thus: 'Lord God, 'I pray Thee to do as well this day for La Hire, as he would do for Thee if he were God and Thou wert La Hire'.

p. 224  
the town bull

In villages with common pastures it was often the custom to have a single bull (which the parson was sometimes expected to provide) run with the herd to impregnate the cows.

p. 226 para. 7
Crècy field

The battle of Crècy was fought on 28 August 1346 between the army of Edward III and the pursuing French army a little north of the Somme. The English victory was assisted by the lethal effect of the English archery on the French knights attacking on horseback. ('Artillery' here refers to the arrows shot by the English.)

p. 228 para. 5
three 'Jack Straws'

Morris, having perhaps heard of  the suggestion in  one chronicle (Dobson, Peasants’s Revolt, p. 186), that Wat Tyler was also known as Jack Straw, has guessed that it  had become a 'nom de guene' that might be used by other peasant leaders.  Cf. Grennan, William Morris: Medievalist and Revolutionary, pp. 99-100. However Jack Straw is mentioned independently in the history of the revolt often enough to indicate that he was a separate personality: see Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, index.

pp. 228-29  
the horseman had a tabard

In the attempted proclamation by the 'herald' wearing a tabard with the sheriff's supposed coat-of-arms, Morris is perhaps seeking to provide a medieval equivalent of the 'reading  of the Riot Act' by a magistrate,  which in the l8th and 19th centuries was a necessary legal preliminary for police or troops to attack, and try to disperse, a crowd: cf. the 'glittering officer on horseback’ who in Morris's account of the imagined  future revolution in chapter 17 of News from Nowhere reads an order to disperse  before the shooting in Trafalgar Square starts.

p. 229 para. 4
the Stone of Doom

i.e. the Stone on which the kings of Scotland had been traditionally enthroned at Scone, brought to England by Edward I in 1296 as part of his project of dismantling Scots kingship, and placed from about 1300 in the then new Coronation chair in Westminster  Abbey, to which he had given it. According to legend the Stone, brought from Spain via Ireland, had been that on which Jacob pillowed his head at Bethel when he saw angels ascending and descending, and heard God declare the destiny ('Doom') of his descendants. Cf. A House of Kings: Official History of Westminster Abbey, ed. E. Carpenter, (1967), p. 409.     

Jack Straw, though he adopts after a fashion the theory that it is the king's ministers and advisers, not himself, who are responsible for misgovernment, is here rather more sceptical of the young king's willingness to support the peasants' cause than his followers historically proved to be, to their cost.

p. 230  para. 2   
the god Apollo's bow   

Cf. Homer, Iliad, bk. 1, line 49. para. 3 

great wooden shields at their backs

Monis does not here describe the usual way in which crossbowmen protected themselves. Other descriptions of the shields they used, called 'pavises', suggest that they did not wear them, like tortoises, behind their backs; rather pavises were loose and portable screens, perhaps with props, which assistants carried and held in front of them as needed. This could easily be done during sieges, but might be less practicable during battles in the field.* Possibly Morris was led to present the crossbowman's defence in this way by a manuscript picture of one, engaged in a siege, wearing a rounded shield covering his back from his shoulders to his thighs, reproduced  in T. Johnes' translation of Froissart: Hafod Press edn., 1804, vol. 2, col. plate opp. p. 208.

*At Crècy the Genoese crossbowmen did not have their pavises to hand; they were far in the rear with the French army's lagging waggon-train.

p. 231  para. 3  
horses led by grooms and pages

Battles described by Froissart indicate that the dismounted knights did thus keep their horses to hand behind their line, held by pages (who had taken the squires' place as their personal attendants) ready to mount to break or pursue a yielding enemy, or, as here, to retreat.

p. 232  para. 3  
the street of coppersmiths at Florence

A well-indexed Baedeker of 1913 for Florence does not mention any 'via dei Calderaii' there, although there are several other streets named after crafts near the old market south-west of the Duomo. Probably Morris just assumed that medieval craftsmen worked close together, or he may have recalled how, at the battle of Rosebeeke late in 1382, in which the French army defeated the men of Ghent, Froissart says that the noise was louder than if 'all the armourers of Paris and Brussels had been working together': Froissart, tr. Bemers, bk. 2, chap. 422.

p. 233 para. 4  
the sheriff dead

Monis has avoided clashing with knowable historical fact by not naming this sheriff. (No nationwide list of sheriffs, in which such a name could have been found, was printed until 1898.) The actual sheriff of Kent in 1380-81 was Sir William Septvans, whose arms punningly included winnowing fans: see the early brass of an ancestor in Chartham church, reproduced in Pevsner, [by J. Newman], Northeast and East Kent (1969 edn.), p. 256. Sir William was captured by Wat Tyler at Canterbury castle, his headquarters, about 10 June, and made to hand over his official records, which were burnt, but he survived to be the object of a plot by still defiant peasants next October: see Archaeologia Cantiana, 3 (1860), pp. 83-86, 89, 92-93; 4 (1861), pp. 71-72. He probably died in 1407: Hasted, History of Kent, vol. 1, p.  562.

one hanged

Narratives of the rising all agree that the insurgents' favoured way of slaying their enemies was beheading; cf. Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 185.

men of the Companions

Members of the 'free companies' of mercenary soldiers, veterans of the Anglo-French war, hated and feared for their rapacity and violence. They developed in the 1360s from the semi-professional soldiers who had fought in France in the 1350s, and, when officially 'demobilised' after the peace of 1360, chose to fight on by themselves, organised  in 'companies' under elected commanders, sometimes hiring themselves out to warring rulers and (in Italy) cities, but often solely for their own profit. In the latter case their practice was to seize some fortress, from which they would plunder and ravage the villages of the surrounding countryside and merchants and others passing through it, and threaten neighbouring towns, or, preferably, extort heavy 'protection money' for refraining from such destructive activities. When they had exhausted a particular area, they would sell the fortress to the authorities of that district for a high price, capture another, and resume the process. Morris knew well of their practices, as he shows in the first dozen stanzas of his early poem named after Geoffray Teste Noir, a captain notorious for his cruelty. Such companies afflicted northern France throughout the 1360s, and the lands further south until about 1390. (Although called in France 'English' many of them were Gascons and Bretons; probably few who had joined them actually returned to England.)

**Para. 6



p, 235 para. 3  
Sir John Newton. . . Rochester  . . . London Bridge

For Newton's role as an envoy to the king, see Grennan, William Morris: Medievalist and Revolutionary, p. 100; Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, pp. 142-44. Morris, following Froissart, assumes that the peasants only came to Rochester once, on their march from Canterbury to London, ignoring their capture of its castle on 6 June. It is not clear whether they initially intended to assail London across its bridge, or only chose to do so after their attempt to negotiate with the king at their encampment on Blackheath  had failed. The bridge was of course guarded, and they could not necessarily have expected to have its gates opened to them by supporters among the poorer Londoners inside, as actually happened.  Cf. Dobson, pp. 156, 168-69.

Para. 4   
soft words

Ball here correctly anticipates the pretences at concession made by the government trying to persuade the rebels to disperse, before revoking the promises that they had made under pressure. Cf.  [[ p. 249 paragraph 3 ]].

p. 236  para. 2    
the pilgrimage road

presumably the main London-Canterbury road through Rochester followed by Chaucer and his imagined fellowship.


p. 238   para. 1  
the house ... of stone ... round arches ... handsomely  carved

Morris presumably imagines a house somewhat like the 12th-century 'Jew's House' at Lincoln with its round-headed windows, one of the oldest non-aristocratic dwellings surviving in England. An actual village clergyman's home might not have been so imposing.

The parson's house .... his monastery

Here and later Morris is a little confused about church law on parish churches. Most of them, established from the 10th century onwards, had originally been controlled by the manorial lords who had founded them, who took their tithes and other revenues and paid a priest to minister in them. From the 12th century such lords, persuaded that it was impious for laymen to possess sacred things, had often given their churches to monasteries, which might leave the church to a parson or rector taking the whole income, whom they merely appointed, as their lay predecessors had done. But often the monastery would take over ('appropriate') most of the income, especially the tithes of corn, the most valuable part, and appoint to serve the church a vicar endowed with the tithes on beasts and other produce, and a little land. Both rectors and vicars were 'secular' clergy, not monks, who were forbidden by canon law to minister to parishes. Here, however, Morris apparently supposes that the 'parson' was a monk who could flee to 'his' monastery; a secular incumbent would have been less likely to retreat to an institution which had merely appointed  him.

chantr[e]y priests

Priests employed to sing masses to deliver from Purgatory the souls of the people who had founded the chantry and endowed it with land or money. When not so engaged they were expected to help with the ordinary services of the church in which the chantry was established. (They might have lodged with the parson of the parish, but this was probably not common.)

p. 240 para. 9   
a bowl  .... of light polished wood

These cups, technically called mazers, were usually made of maple wood and had their brims bound with metal, in surviving ones usually silver. Examples can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

p. 240 para. I 0
Hob Carter and his mate

Possibly a reminiscence of ‘Jakke Carter', named as author of one of the peasants' propaganda letters: Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 382.

p. 241  

Here Morris gives a sample of unrhymed alliterative verse as revived for narrative and didactic poems in the 14th century, though he has set out the verses in short lines, recalling those used in the poems of Icelandic skalds which he knew from his work on the sagas. Though he would hardly have heard of the concept of an 'alliterative revival', he certainly knew Langland's Piers Plowman, as edited from the 1860s by W. W. Skeat, (see William Morris on History, p. 84), but might not have been aware of the 'alliterative romances' now so well known, such as 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'  and 'Morte Arthur.’ (Modern bibliographies only cite more recent editions of them.)


pp. 242-44  
Description of the church

The 'round-arched  door' and 'sculpture' refer to typical 12th-century doorways which often have solid tympana carved with religious subjects, surrounded with carved mouldings. (They were sometimes preserved because of their ornateness when the church was otherwise rebuilt: two such Norman doorways thus survive at Bloxham church in North Oxfordshire.) The church has aisles (cf. the mention of 'shafts of arches' at the end of the paragraph, and the arrangement of aisle east ends), with larger new windows, presumably to light the altars at those east ends. The smaller nave windows are typical of 12th-century churches,  but the glass in them would be more recent: the use of 'white fretwork' (?grisaille) round small coloured figures apparently only came in the late 13th century.  The elaborate painted screens across the nave and aisle east ends are likely to be at earliest 14th-century. As for the 'few oak benches', seating was being introduced  into parish churches in the 14th century to accommodate the congregation when listening to the preaching that was being more frequently provided for them, but most of the surviving ornately carved benches with bench-ends or poppy heads would only have been installed in the 15th. Given the newness of the church east end, the 'wide traceried windows' [[p. 244]] there will be Perpendicular in style.

p. 243  para. l    
St. Christopher

A legendary giant, who sought to serve the mightiest ruler he could find. While engaged in carrying travellers across a river, he was called on to bear a child, but could hardly support its weight. He was told thereupon that his burden was the Christ child, who was bearing the whole world. He was reckoned the patron saint of travellers, and his figure was often painted close to a church's main doorway to assure those leaving it a safe journey.

The Doom of the Last Day

Scenes of the Last Judgement were often painted above the arch leading from nave to chancel, with sinners condemned by Christ as Judge being dragged, naked save their headwear, encircled with a chain, by devils into the mouth of Hell: see R. Rosewell, Medieval Wall Paintings (2007), pp. 72-80.

a lawyer with his blue coif

Such coifs were the insignia of the king's 'sergeants-at-law', the most senior rank among the lawyers, who were solely entitled to plead in his court of Common Pleas. They were formally invested with such coifs (actually white) round their heads on their appointment.

Para. 4  
St. Martin

St. Martin of Tours, hermit and missionary bishop in late Roman Gaul, died 397 A.D. While serving in his youth as an officer in the Roman army, he cut his cloak in half to clothe a nearly naked beggar, and learnt in a dream that the beggar was Christ. One type of his images, placed in this church as that of its patron saint, [[ below, p. 246, paragraph 4 ]] accordingly shows him on horseback dividing his cloak.

St. Francis
St. Francis of Assisi (died 1226, canonised  1228). Founder of the Franciscan order of friars, and champion of poverty as the most perfect form of Christian life.

St. Thomas of Canterbury

Thomas Becket, previously chancellor to King Henry II (reigned 1154-89), was made by him archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, but driven into exile in 1164 because he opposed the king's desire to subject the clergy to royal jurisdiction, especially in criminal cases. Returning to England in 1170, he was killed in Canterbury cathedral on 29 December by four knights encouraged  by King Henry's rage against him (in a fresh dispute) and canonised in 1173. His magnificently adorned shrine in that cathedral was one of the chief objects of pilgrimage for Englishmen until its destruction by Henry VIII at the Reformation.

Para. 4  
a light ... before the host  ... red and strange

It is not certain whether the modern Catholic practice of permanently burning a red light before the reserved Sacrament was already in use in the late Middle Ages.

New stalls for the priests and vicars

Parish churches that housed colleges of clergy would have had choir stalls in their chancels, but it is not certain that others would have seating for choirs as early as 1381. As for the 'vicars' [[ see above note on p. 238 ]] a parish would have at most one vicar, but he would sometimes have other clergy to assist with the services. Cathedrals and colleges, whose canons were often absent in the service of lay and ecclesiastical magnates, came to have 'vicars choral', paid actually to sing the choir services in their stead, and Morris may obscurely be recalling the title of such clergy.  (He might have better have spoken of 'priests and clerks'.)

p. 245 para. 3  
stories of the old Danes

Morris possibly thought he had found this phrase in Beowulf, set partly in Demmark, or perhaps in the Danish ballads in the collections issued from 1853 by S.H. Grundtvig, to which he might have been introduced by Eric Magnusson, and some of which he translated. (In the Icelandic sagas most noteworthy deaths are described in rather too much gory detail to allow for such a tranquil expression as 'changing life'.) Morris may actually be unconsciously recalling the phrase from Malory, Morte Darthur (Caxton version), bk. 21, chap. 7, stating of the doubtfully dead King Arthur that 'here in this world he changed his life'.

p. 246 para. 2
a gay knight on horseback

See note for p. [[ 243 ]].


p. 248  para. 4  
the king's  uncles

Richard II had three surviving uncles, John of Gaunt, Edmund of Langley, and Thomas of Woodstock. For their actions about 1381, see also [[ Historical Introduction, I. Political Narrative, paragraphs 1 and 4 ]] The two younger, Edmund, earl of Cambridge, and Thomas, earl of Buckingham, created in 1385 respectively dukes of York and Gloucester,  were not necessarily  unpopular. Thomas was the only royal uncle to end with 'shame' [[see p. 249, paragraph 3]]. In 1386-88 he led the noble opposition, styled the Lords Appellant, to Richard's system of personal rule, and had several of the king's closest friends executed or exiled. In revenge Richard eventually had him arrested and put to death in 1397: he was smothered while imprisoned at Calais. His two elder brothers, however, died 'full of years and honour' in 1399 and 1402.

The eldest, John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, was certainly unpopular in 1381. In 1376-77 he had supported the clique of courtiers and merchants accused of mismanaging the by then senile Edward III's affairs, while helping themselves out of his revenues. He was especially unpopular with the Londoners, having tried in those years to interfere with their powers of civic self-government, and also having supported John Wycliffe when the bishop of London attempted to put him on trial for heresy. In June 1381 the rebels destroyed his luxurious London palace of the Savoy and attacked several of his dependents: a friar captured in the Tower was beheaded just for being Lancaster's physician: Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 162. The duke was luckily for himself away on the Scots border negotiating a truce. (He briefly took refuge among the Scots on hearing, wrongly, that the king had accepted the peasants' demand for his death.)

King Richard himself was deposed in 1399 by his cousin, Gaunt's son, Henry of Lancaster (later Henry IV), and probably done to death in his prison early in 1400, after a plot to restore him had failed.

Para. 6       
slain ... by the lawyers

Morris would have read in Froissart of 1,500 executions after the revolt. Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 316, and other chroniclers also suggest a judicial 'reign of terror' with many deaths; Dobson, pp. 312-14. For a much lower estimate of deaths, based on surviving (incomplete) records of trials, Dobson, p. 319; cf. [[ Historical Introduction, I. Political Narrative, paragraph 7. ]]

Thou goest to thy death

The historical John Ball was captured at Coventry and taken to St. Albans for execution in mid July 1381: Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt, p. 314.

Para. 7   
famine after the great sickness

If Morris looked at Rogers's annual summary of his statistics for corn prices, he would have found ( History of Agriculture and Prices, vol. 1,  pp. 208-209) that they rose sharply, indicating poor harvests, in the years, 1350-52, just after the Black Death: see also table (based on Rogers) in C. Dyer, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages (1989), pp. 262-63. But this dramatic invention may be just a fortunate guess.

p.249 para. 1  
my unwedded wife . .. the tonsure

Strictly in church law, clerks who, having taken their 'first tonsure', had received the four lower ecclesiastical orders (below subdeacon), were allowed to marry, but not permitted to hold church benefices. Morris clearly means that Ball had taken or kept his wife after he was ordained priest.

Para. 3  
when their captains are slain

Morris believed that Wat Tyler's killing resulted from deliberate treachery (William Morris on History, p. 142), and several modern historians think that it was planned in advance.

Para. 5
the Gilds of Craft shall wax

Morris may have exaggerated the effect of such gilds in promoting social or political equality. Although they did give their full members greater power over their working lives, they were seldom involved in creating greater participation in government even within towns,* still less outside them. If Morris read Green's widow Alice's Town Life in the 15th Century (published 1894), he would have found gilds stigmatised as combinations to advance the interests of the masters against both their customers and their employees, and as being as much controlled by their wealthier members as the town governments. He himself realised (William Morris on History, pp. 123, 151, 158) that by this period many trained craftsmen could not become masters and had to work for life as journeymen hired for wages.

It is not clear what Morris means by king and lords 'worsening': given the implied antithesis this should signify losing power rather than becoming more oppressive, but although the power of the Crown did weaken briefly during the dynastic struggles of the mid 15th century, even he should have admitted that it grew again under the Tudors.

 *Apparently it was only in London, c. 1376-84, and in York, in the 15th century, that the 'common councils' set up in the later Middle Ages to counterbalance the oligarchic powers of mayor and aldermen were organised through gilds. Elsewhere such new councils were set up through a wider movement among the less wealthy burgesses: cf. Cambridge Urban History of Britain, vol. 1, 600-1540, ed. D.  M. Palliser (2000), pp. 404-66; D. M. Palliser, Tudor York (1979), pp. 67-68.

p. 249  para. 5  
where a man now earns ...

By the late 15th century, owing to a combination of falling prices, especially for food, and rising wages, the ordinary labourer was more prosperous than he was to be for many centuries afterwards. Rogers described that period as the 'golden age of the labourer'. See C. Dyer, Standards of Living, chap. 8, esp. table on pp. 215, 217, and p. 216 for quote from Rogers. (The lower prices were less advantageous for small farmers, who had to pay from selling their corn for goods that they could not grow themselves.)

p. 250 para. 5
daughters of the horseleech

Cf. Proverbs, chap. 30, v. 15.

p. 250 para. 6 to p. 251 para. 1    
less corn ... more sheep ... more wool ... a few shepherds  ... wool .. to be sold to the Easterlings

Here Morris is mistaken in detail, but not in the general thrust of his argument. He would have learnt, perhaps originally from More's Utopia, book I, (cf. William Morris on History, p. 124) how landowners, presumably  during the 15th century, were expelling cultivators of corn to make room for increased sheep flocks yielding profitable wool, so that sheep became 'eaters of men'. Actually exports of wool declined sharply between the mid 14th century and the late 15th to barely a third of the earlier amount, and the increased production of wool went largely to the growing English cloth industry, in the export of whose products the Hanse merchants had about a fifth share, whereas they had exported little or no wool since the early 1300s. (In the 15th century the export of wool, except to Italy, had become a monopoly of the merchants of the Staple at Calais.) See T. H. Lloyd, English Wool Trade in the Middle Ages (1977), esp. chaps. 7-8, and England and the German Hanse (1991).

The result of this demand for wool was that many villages, particularly in the Midlands (usually those already weakened through lack of wealth and population), were depopulated by their lords about 1450-90 to make way for sheep pastures. The classic study is Maurice Beresford, Lost Villages of England (1954/63), esp. chaps. 5-7; for a more recent discussion, E. B. Fryde, Peasants and Landlords in Later Medieval England (1996), chap. 12). Attempts to restrain such activities by legislation, arising less from compassion for the expelled villagers than for fear of losing corn production and potential fighting men, were made only from about 1490 after the main wave of destruction had passed. (In his comments in his historical essays, e.g. William Morris on History, pp. 88, 124-25, Morris exaggerates the extent of expropriation of small farmers and expulsion of labourers to the towns in the 16th century.)

p. 251  para, 1  
the free men ... the word of their lord

Strictly the potential victims of such expulsion were not free men as such, but the tenants, usually by then personally free, occupying as 'copyhold' land possessed in villeinage by their unfree predecessors; their title was not at that period protected by the common law like that of freeholders, so that lords of manors could more easily find legal pretexts to drive them out. A few cases were reported where a whole community was thus expelled. Cf. Fryde, Peasants and Landlords, chaps. 15-16.

Para. 5
an outlaw

In medieval English law a man convicted (usually in absence) of crimes punishable by death (which included robbery), or who failed, after due (and prolonged) summonses to appear in court to answer such charges, could be outlawed, deprived of the protection of the law. Originally he could be killed by anyone who encountered him, and until the early 13th century would be summarily executed when captured. Morris is here probably thinking primarily of the exclusion from society involved.


** p. 253 para. 1

mill for grinding corn into flour

p. 253 para. 1

By  the 14th century constables were chosen in villages from among their inhabitants to maintain public order, including the arrest of criminals.

** the Hebrews in ... Egypt
Cf. Exodus, chap. 1.

Para. 2  
Valiant men

Morris is perhaps thinking of such 16th-century rebellions as that against enclosures led by Robert Ket (who was executed) in Norfolk in 1549, or of the mid-17th-century Levellers and Diggers (cf. William Morris on History, pp. 162-63), all of which failed. He might not have known of the rising against enclosures in Midland villages in 1607. A Marxist would perhaps, consider all kinds of rebellion, even ostensibly on religious or political grounds, to be really based on the desire for social revolution.


p. 259 line I
The Hunt's  Up

This resembles the opening line, 'The Hunt is Up', in Thomas Ravenscroft's book of madrigals on sporting subjects of 1614, reprinted in K. Fellowes, English Madrigal Verse (1920), pt. 1, p. 183. Morris had sung some early music at Oxford, and in 1859 gave William Chappell's collection of Popular Music of the Olden Time to Jane on their marriage: copy in William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow.

p. 259  para. 1
a thing made by men ... with one or two horses

Two-horse-drawn mechanical reapers were available from the 1850s, and reaper-binders were coming into use in the 1880s: The Victorian Countryside, ed. G. E. Mingay (1981), vol. 2, pp. 517-18.

p. 260 para. 2
a man in religion

In the Middle Ages the term 'religion' applied not as now to a system of belief and worship concerned with the divine, but primarily to the monastic orders whose members had taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

p. 262  para. 2   
a bold sergeant become a wise captain

A colleague-in-arms of Hugh Calveley, Sir Robert Knolles, who supplied military expertise for the London militia to overawe the peasants at Smithfield on 15 June, had probably 'risen from the ranks' by the 1350s, having initially fought as an archer. See the Oxford DNB. Morris was also perhaps thinking of the low-born Sir Robert Salle, whose 'martyrdom' at the hands of the Norfolk rebels Froissart so feelingly, though perhaps inaccurately, describes: Dobson, Peasants’ Revolt,  pp. 262-64.

the Abbot of St. Albans

For his supposed soldiers, cf. above note on  [[p. 205 ]].
Not many medieval English abbots, probably fewer than ten, were entitled to wear mitres and other bishops' vestments; to do so they needed a special privilege from the Pope, only granted to those also exempt from bishops' jurisdiction. See D. Knowles, The Monastic Order in England (l949), pp. 585-86, 711-12. St. Albans obtained such a grant early, in the 1150s, from Pope Hadrian IV, the only English Pope (so far), 1154-59; he had risen by his own abilities from an obscure birth on the abbey's estates to the highest place in the Western church; an extreme example of the individual advancement deprecated here by Morris.

the Prior of Merton

Cf. Chaucer's hunting Monk: Canterbury Tales, Prologue, lines 175-92; or perhaps a remote reminiscence of Scott's sporting Prior of Jervaulx, in Walter Scott's Ivanhoe,  chap. 2,  paragraph 10.

** Para. 3 no abbeys .... nor any religious

Morris, emphasising the total suppression of monastic life by Henry VIII at the Reformation, has iguored or forgotten the revival of monastic life in England in the 19th century by Roman Catholics, and even from the 1840s by some Anglicans. (The index to A. C. Sewter's The Stained Glass of William Morris suggests that he was never commissioned  to provide windows for any churches of this renewed monasticism.)

p. 264
villeins ... tenants paying quit-rents

This refers to the conversion from the late 14th century of the holdings of unfree tenants owing their lord labour services into 'copyholds' paying cash rents. See [[Historical Introduction, III. Feudalism, paragraph 4]]

p. 266  

the Thames Conservancy

The official body, set up in 1857, which in Morris's time was responsible for managing the navigation, flow, and banks of the whole course of the Thames. He had also to complain of their heavy-handed treatment of the vegetation of the river banks close to Kelmscott Manor: Collected Letters, ed. Kelvin, vol. 4, pp. 294-95.

Richmond Park

A park covering about 2,500 acres, on rising ground about 3 miles SSW of Hammersmith. It was created in 1637 to provide hunting for the neighbouring Thames-side Tudor palace of Richmond (now demolished). (Deer are still kept there.)

The "Great Wen"

The Wen or Great Wen was the name given by William Cobbett to the growing metropolis of London, which he regarded as an ugly excrescence on the landscape of England: e. g., Rural Rides (Everyman edn. 1912), pp. 47, 57, 65, 79, 84 (under 10 Dec. 1821; 1, 8, 21 Jan.; 19 June 1822), etc.

John Ruskin . . . ‘play’

Morris had learnt from John Ruskin's writings, esp. his chapter on “The Nature of Gothic,” in The Stones of Venice (vol.  2, chap. 6), that for a good craftsman the exercise of his skill made 'work' a great pleasure.