Young Folks' History of England HTML version

18. Richard II, A.D. 1377—1399
These were not very good times in England. The new King, Richard, was only
eleven years old, and his three uncles did not care much for his good or the
good of the nation. There was not much fighting going on in France, but for
the little there was a great deal of money was wanting, and the great lords
were apt to be very hard upon the poor people on their estates. They would
not let them be taught to read; and if a poor man who belonged to an estate
went away to a town, his lord could have him brought back to his old home.
Any tax, too, fell more heavily on the poor than the rich. One tax, especially,
called the poll tax, which was made when Richard was sixteen, vexed them
greatly. Everyone above fifteen years old had to pay fourpence, and the
collectors were often very rude and insolent. A man named Wat Tyler, in
Kent, was so angry with a rude collector as to strike him dead. All the
villagers came together with sticks, scythes, and flails; and Wat Tyler told
them they would go to London, and tell the king how his poor commons were
treated. More people and more joined them on the way, and an immense
multitude of wild looking men came pouring into London, where the Lord
Mayor and Aldermen were taken by surprise, and could do nothing to stop
them. They did not do much harm then; they lay on the grass all night round
the Tower, and said they wanted to speak to the king. In the morning he
came down to his barge, and meant to have spoken to them; but his people,
seeing such a host of wild men, took fright, and carried him back again. He
went out again the next day on horseback; but while he was speaking to
some of them, the worst of them broke into the Tower, where they seized
Archbishop Simon of Canterbury, and fancying he was one of the king's bad
advisers, they cut off his head. Richard had to sleep in the house called the
Royal Wardrobe that night, but he went out again on horseback among the
mob, and began trying to understand what they wanted. Wat Tyler, while
talking, grew violent, forgot to whom he was speaking, and laid his hand on
the king's bridle, as if to threaten or take him prisoner. Upon this, the Lord
Mayor, with his mace—the large crowned staff that is carried before him—
dealt the man such a blow that fell from his horse, and an attendant thrust
him through with a sword. The people wavered, and seemed not to know
what to do: and the young king, with great readiness, rode forward and
said—"Good fellows, have you lost your leader? This fellow was but a traitor,
I am your king, and will be your captain and guide." Then he rode at their
head out into the fields, and the gentlemen, who had mustered their men by
this time, were able to get between them and the city. The people of each
county were desired to state their grievances; the king engaged to do what
he could for them, and they went home.
Richard seems to have really wished to take away some of the laws that were
so hard upon them, but his lords would not let him, and he had as yet very
little power—being only a boy—and by the time he grew up his head was full
of vanity and folly. He was very handsome, and he cared more for fine