Robin Hood

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Peasants Revolt

In York the Lord mayor was John Gisbourne and in his position of Lord Mayor and chief Burgomaster (magistrate) he had overall power by which means he controlled the trade guilds imposing fines and penalties and like many others was able to pull strings to his own advantage. He was surrounded by scandal, he was a notorious patron of robbers, he issued false money and two of his right hand men Robert de Harom and Richard de Kendale were accused of murder.

He had a small army for whom fifteen hundred white hoods with a red tail were made along with badges indicating not only the size of his army but planning and preparation as 1,500 hoods are not made overnight. Red and white must have been Gisbourne’s colours the giving of which indicates a time “when liveries and personal badges were in everyday use” (Keen) “thus indicating a time of social change when the lower classes and criminal gangs were imitating the aristocracy” (Ohlgren) in the 14th and 15th century and is the period known as “Merrie England” (Ronald Hutton).

It must have got so bad that virtually the whole population of York rose up against him. His men attacked the monks along with other citizens in York as well as in Scarborough and Beverly but despite his followers Gisbourne had to flee the city yet again for his own safety. This time it was King Richard II who had to go from London to York to restore order, instructing his uncle John of Gaunt to settle the dispute. However Gisbourne's day was coming to an end and Simon-de-Quixley became mayor until 1383 and his leading supporter William Selby was mayor in 1385, 1387 and 1388. Gisbourne died two years later in 1390 age fifty-four.

Outlaw Merchants

It wasn’t only Gisbourne who was corrupt there were many merchants who led a life of crime. Piracy and smuggling were commonplace and the Patent and Close Rolls are full of writs supersedeas to local sheriffs, to prevent them implementing judgements of outlawry brought against the absent party (fugitive). They are also full of pardons to individuals for ‘not appearing to answer’ pleas in the royal courts (fugitives). In 1343 Roger Swerd of Hull, (mayor in 1358) killed a man when he attacked and pirated the cargo of an alien ship but was pardoned by Edward III. Clearly it was possible to be an outlaw or a fugitive and continue being a merchant.

In York a group of merchants led by Henry and John Goldbeter, Thomas Gra, William Acastre and Walter de Kelstern were accused of smuggling wool in 1340 in their absence (fugitives) while still continuing to work as merchants and although they were known fraudsters Walter de Kelstern was appointed to a commission to search all the shipping along the Humber coast for smuggled goods and Henry Goldbeter was similarly appointed to search specifically for smuggled wool.

John Goldbetor was frequently caught smuggling and was fined and pardoned many times. At an inquiry Goldberter “procured the men on it” (bribery or blackmail) so a new inquiry was summoned. He was accused of smuggling wool again in 1346 and was in the Fleet prison and accused again of smuggling in 1363 but each and every time he returned to mercantile trading. Despite this the Crown still appointed them as sworn royal officers (ulnager) whose duty was to serve as customs’ officials and as collectors or controllers to inspect woollen cloth and fix a seal upon it in guaranty of its quality or measure.

After the Peasants Revolt had ended in failure Parliament met to consider the proposals made by the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt at York and the Churchmen, represented by bishops, abbots, and priors, joined with the city authorities in declaring that bondsmen were “the goods and chattels of the lords of the manor, and must remain so.” This was little more than slavery, nothing had changed and as a result the cloth-making industry began to move over to the West Riding rural communities including Wakefield where weaving became a cottage industry free from such restrictions as existed at York, Ripon, Selby, Whitby and Beverly.

Gisbourn's wife Ellen was related to Robert and John Morton who were Sheriffs of Nottingham and Yorkshire respectively. Robert Morton of Harworth in Nottinghamshire and Bawtry in Yorkshire had property in both counties and according to the Court Roll 1380-81: "The Peasants Revolt" Robert-de-Morton was the steward of Conisbrough Castle which accounts for the Sheriff of Nottingham being in Yorkshire. He was one of John O' Gaunt's most trusted retainers. Robert's wife Joan was lady-in-waiting to Richard II's wife Queen, Anne of Bohemia and their father Thomas Morton was secretary to King Edward III of England. Neither must we forget that Gisbourn's son-in-law was from Plumpton where Robin loved to hunt, perhaps even in the company of William Plumpton?