A paper delivered at the International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 1–5 July 2019 by Stephen Basdeo
The so-called Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was widely reported in various chronicles. The Anonimalle Chronicle—based here in Leeds—is said to be one of the best sources for historians of the rebellion, along with histories written by the likes of John Froissart, Henry Knighton, and Thomas Walsingham. The latter’s chronicle is highly interesting; although modern editions of Walsingham’s writings are published under general titles such as The St Albans Chronicle, these are actually compilations of what, until the work of V. H. Galbraith in the early twentieth century, were actually viewed as three separate and distinct works: Historia Anglicana, Annales Ricardi II et Henrici IV, Chronicon Angliae. The first of these, Historia Anglicana, is what I would like to focus on today because it contains something very interesting: the purported last dying speech and confession of Jack Straw, one of the ringleaders of the Peasants’ Revolt. Obviously, we have to take Straw’s confession, as recorded in Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana, with more than a pinch of salt. R. B. Dobson tells us that it appears at a point in Walsingham’s narrative in which he ‘gladly relieves himself of the need to adhere to the facts and gives free rein to his powerful imagination’. At the same time, Dobson notes that Straw’s confession ‘is unlikely to be a mere figment of Walsingham’s imaginative powers’. Whatever the truth of the matter, later chroniclers took it at face value and the speech reappears in narratives of the revolt up to the year 1715, after which, very oddly, it disappears completely in print until Henry Riley transcribed the Walsingham’s works for the Rolls Series in 1863. So, I set out to find out why this was so. So, I’d like to tell you a story of how and why Jack Straw’s speech and, by extension, the two manuscripts of the Historia Anglicana ‘disappeared’ between 1715 and 1863. So, although I originally planned a kind of ‘textual’ interpretation of the speech (the primary sources weren’t saying what I wanted them to say), tracing the history of a manuscript still fits within the idea of ‘materialities’ and I hope you’re not disappointed!
Straw’s confession occurs at a point in Walsingham’s narrative after Wat Tyler has been put to death. The Lord Mayor, William Walworth, bribes Straw to confess his reasons for stirring up the commons to rebellion. There are two reasons for this: it will ensure that prayers are said for him after his death, and serve for a useful moral to the country at large. We are also told the rebels ‘true’ motivations:
Our plan was to kill all the knights, esquires, and other gentlemen … then we would have killed the king and driven out of the land all possessioners, bishops, monks, canons, and rectors of churches … We would have created kings, Wat Tylere in Kent and one each in other counties.
To begin, we should note that what we now call Historia Anglicana with Straw’s Last Dying speech appears on two surviving manuscripts: The Chronica Maiora, or Corpus Christi College Cambridge manuscript 195, and the Historia Anglicana, Arundel Manuscript No. VII. The former, as the name suggests, was held in the library of the Cambridge College; during the Reformation, manuscripts from St Albans found their way into the hands of a number of private book collectors. It was John Bale (1495–1563) who originally “owned” or “took” the Corpus Christi manuscript which then made its way into the possession of the famous Matthew Parker (1504–75). It was Parker’s collection of Walsingham’s chronicles which paved the way for their first printing; Parker combined Historia Anglicana with Walsingham’s Ypodigma Neustriae into Historia Brevis, first published in 1574 and again in 1594. Historia Brevis was then incorporated into William Camden’s Anglica, Normanica, Hibernica, Cambrica, a Veteribus Scripta, published in Frankfurt in 1603.
One man who clearly had read Walsingham’s chronicles was John Stow (1524–1605). We have a brief summary of the Peasants’ Revolt and of Straw’s confession in Stow’s A Summarie of the Chronicles of England (1565): ‘Jacke Strawe being taken confessed all the conspiracie & lost his head at London’. He definitely would have had access to Walsingham’s works because his patron was the aforementioned Matthew Parker, who asked Stow to translate and edit the so-called Matthew of Westminster’s Flores Historiarum, published in 1567 and to work with Parker on the 1574 Historia Brevis. After collaborating with Parker, Stow wrote his own Annales of England— reworked from Stow’s much shorter Chronicles of England (1580)—published in 1592, 1601, and 1605. In the Annales, Straw’s confession is reproduced faithfully: the aims of the rebels are the same as in Walsingham’s version, to kill the gentlemen and set themselves up as kings; these details were probably taken from the reprint of Straw’s confession in Holinshead’s Chronicles, published in 1577. In Walsingham’s original text Walworth convinces Straw to confess his crimes in return for masses to be said for him after his death. This obviously reflected the idea of death as a discrete event, of purgatory and the necessity of prayers to be said after a sinner’s passing on. There is one variation in the text of the speech: obviously as a result of the Reformation, Straw in Stow’s account will no longer have masses said for him after his death but his confession, William Walworth tells Straw, should simply be said ‘for thy soules health’.
Regarding the second—and I will only briefly talk about it here as I’ll come on to it later:—in 1589, Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, purchased many of Walsingham’s texts from the Abbey at St Albans. Howard died in 1646, after which the manuscript collection was held by Howard’s son, Henry Howard, and then his grandson, also Henry Howard. The grandson then divided the manuscripts between the Royal Society and then the College of Arms in 1666, with the Historia Anglicana given to the latter. Howard’s donation to the College of Arms was likely a philanthropic gesture: in 1666, the College of Arms was a victim of the Great Fire of London and, although a number of members of the public and the public themselves saved as many manuscripts and rolls as they could, many were lost.
The idea that Straw needed to die with a clean conscience or soul reappears in The Iust Reward of Rebels, published at the beginning of the English Revolution in 1642. The source text for this work, which aimed to show the folly of rebelling against one’s king through providing a true account of the rebellion, was likewise, as much of Stow’s work before, Walsingham’s ‘Chronicle of St Albones’. It is merely a politicised appropriation of the events of the revolt and Straw’s speech completed with the aim of criticising the parliamentarians who were waging war against their king. In a similar vein is a book which sees the final time that Straw’s speech appears in popular culture: The History of all the Mobs, written by Robert Ferguson in 1715. All references to ‘souls’ and ‘spirits’ is absent but the text of the speech itself is largely faithful to that of John Stow’s (although Ferguson was not that great a researcher, declaring that the revolt occurred in 1383 and not 1381).
After The History of all the Mobs, Jack Straw’s speech disappears—as far as I can ascertain—from all new retellings of the revolt (I have listed these in my bibliography on this paper should anyone be interested in consulting them). It is referenced nowhere in cheap eighteenth-century chapbook histories of the revolt, or the many ‘Historical Gleanings’ sections of newspapers and periodicals which appeared throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (many of which appeared in the lead up to the Peterloo Massacre at Manchester in 1819). They often reference Froissart’s chronicles but neglect Walsingham, much as William Hone does in his preface to Robert Southey’s Wat Tyler, published in 1817.
The question remains, therefore: why, when other medieval chroniclers were referenced in a variety of ‘popular’ historical essays, was Walsingham neglected? By extension, we might count Stow, Holinshead, and Parker’s Historia Brevis among those chronicles which were likewise, if not forgotten, then at least less privileged. The short answer is: I have absolutely no idea why Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana ceased to be consulted as a source for the revolt after the mid-eighteenth century, although I do have a few suppositions which, at this stage, may be either right or wrong. Having searched some, although not all, catalogues of rare book libraries from the eighteenth century, Stow’s works are rarely mentioned and, if they are, it is usually in general terms such as ‘Stow’s Chronicles’, which does not contain the speech. Where Walsingham is mentioned, again it is in general terms such as ‘Saint Alban’s Chronicle’, many variants of which do not contain the speech. Walsingham enjoys a very brief (one sentence) footnote in Antiquitates Culinariæ (1791), although the particular chronicle referred to is not mentioned, being simply a ‘Walsingham tells us’. Again we find one brief reference to Walsingham in a pamphlet written by the antiquary Joseph Ayloffe, but whether he had actually read the Historia Anglicana is unclear, as he just refers to ‘Walsingham’ and not any specific manuscript. To me, this suggests that, by the mid-eighteenth century, Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana and Stow’s Annales were perhaps left to languish in various libraries and were no longer being consulted by those who wished to retell the revolt.
Even early radicals’ and reformers’ late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century publications avoided Walsingham. This was probably due to the fact that they disliked ‘party historians’ whose sympathies were always with Walworth and Richard II. Thomas Paine, in his invoking of Wat Tyler’s name, hit upon the same sentiments in reference to the establishment’s views of the rebel. Even in hardbound history books, such as The Life of Wat Tyler published in 1851, which acknowledges its debt to various sources such as Froissart and Knighton, there is no debt paid to Walsingham—poor Walsingham! These nineteenth-century popular history books often took the bare facts of the revolt but put their own spin on it (ahem—see chapter five of my book for further details). Southey’s Wat Tyler play is referenced more in magazines and newspapers such as Bronterre’s National Reformer, The Northern Star, and the Red Republican more than any medieval chronicler ever was when they printed accounts of the revolt (again, I hate to do this ‘cause it is rather vain but: see my book for any nineteenth-century Wat Tyler query). Not even Pierce Egan the Younger’s—he’s a real favourite of mine—well-researched novel contains Straw’s last dying speech.
So, would Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana ever be rescued from languishing unnoticed? All I’ll say here, as someone who is more Victorian than medieval, is: Thank God for the Victorians! Walsingham’s history would soon be ‘rediscovered’ thanks to Victorian lawmakers’ passage of the Public Record Office Act in 1838, which aimed to
rescue from oblivion … valuable collections of papers the contents of which are now unknown even to the possessors which are … of the highest value on account of the information which they afford in matters of history, law, legislation, biography, and several other important subjects.
Riley worked from Arundel MSS No. VII to produce his critical edition of Historia Anglicana, which he collated with Chronica Maiora in Corpus Christi College’s archives in Cambridge. Now, since the mid-eighteenth century, the College of Arms had been left to languish; it could barely afford to rebuild after the Great Fire and after the Hanoverian succession, the Georgian kings showed little interest in the college, refused to grant it any money, and even refused to renew its royal charter. In a situation that I’m sure we can all identify with, they kept applying to the government for money and kept getting rejected—history really does repeat itself! By the 1830s, the college was dilapidated and at risk of fire but the government ordered the college, with some financial incentive, to make a list of all the records and manuscripts which they held to comply with the Public Record Office Act. This suggests, as the Public Record Act itself recognised, that the College of Arms simply did not know what they had. A small team of researchers was assembled by the government to collect information about Britain’s records and, where necessary, publish them. Among these was Henry Thomas Riley. Little is known of Riley’s life except for the fact that he was a lawyer, called to the bar in 1847, but his legal career not paying well, he took odd jobs editing and translating old manuscripts for the Public Record Office. But Riley published Walsingham’s chronicles as distinct, separate works which is arguably better practice than some modern translators who compile all of them together into one generalised Chronica Maiora. Riley accepted that the Historia Anglicana was ‘based upon’ or ‘derived from’ a larger and more complete Walsingham text, Royal MS. 13. E. ix—this omits Straw’s speech—but was hesitant to view all of Walsingham chronicles as one large ‘whole’, and his position was disputed in the 1930s by V. H. Galbraith.
While Galbraith’s conclusions—that each Walsingham chronicle was part of a larger St Albans Chronicle—have become accepted scholarly ‘fact’—based on identifying these manuscripts’ repetitions and references to each other—his publication of the St Alban’s Chronicle comprising Historia Anglicana, Annales Ricardi II et Henrici IV, Chronicon Angliae, a practice carried on by modern editors, has obscured the history of the manuscripts to some extent. Sometimes, when studying the reappearance of a specific passage such as Straw’s speech and why it disappeared from ‘popular’ understanding of the Peasants’ Revolt, the history of one chronicle needs to be disentangled from the rest with which it has been ‘lumped together’. I do, of course, need to do further research; Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana may have been one of those manuscripts in need of being ‘rescued from oblivion’, but this does not account for the lack of citations to John Stow and Holinshead and their versions of Jack Straw’s last dying speech.
 R. B. Dobson, ed., The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 (London: MacMillan, 1970), p. 363.
 Thomas Walsingham, ‘The Confession of John Straw’, in The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, ed. by R. B. Dobson (London: MacMillan, 1970), pp. 365–6 (p. 365).
 Ibid., p. 366.
 James G. Clark, ‘Thomas Walsingham Reconsidered: Books and Learning at Late-Medieval St. Albans’, Speculum, 77: 3 (2002), 832–60 (p. 837): ‘There is an important group of St. Albans manuscripts containing material attributed to Walsingham all of which can be dated to the second quarter of the fifteenth century, that is, within a generation of his death. This includes Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 195; and Bodl., MSS Bodley 585, Douce 299, Rawlinson B 152, and Rawlinson D 358’.
 J. Clark, ‘Reformation and reaction at St Albans Abbey, 1530-58’, The English Historical Review, 115: 461 (2000), 297–328 (p. 321): the chief instigator in this respect was Richard Boreman, the last Abbot of St Albans, who sold a thirteenth-century anthology of astronomical treaties to John Dee in 1553, while the previous abbot, Robert Catton, also retained a number of books from St Albans’s library for his own personal use, as did Boreman.
 Thomas Walsingham, The Chronica Maiora, MS Cambridge CCC 195; Thomas Walsingham, The Chronica Maiora of Thomas Walsingham, 1376–1422, Trans. David Preest (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005), p. 22.
 For a fuller account of medieval books in early modern England and specifically of Matthew Parker, see the following: Jennifer Summit, Memory’s Library: Medieval Books in Early Modern England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); R. I. Page, Matthew Parker and his Books (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1993); Anthony Grafton, ‘Matthew Parker: The Book as Archive’, History of Humanities, 2: 1 (2017), 15–50.
 John Foxe, Actes and Monuments (London, 1570), pp. 702–3: John Foxe in Acts and Monuments, first printed in 1653, likewise drew upon Walsingham’s chronicles, although Straw’s speech does not appear in Foxe’s work and the only information of the revolt first appeared in the 1570 edition, and what Foxe included was relatively short: ‘But let vs consider yet further of these xx. thousand souldiours so sodenly without wages, without vitall, or other prouision congregated together, what they were, from whence, out of what quarter, countrey, or countreys they came. MarginaliaIn other kynges dayes, when soeuer any rebellion is against the kyng, moued by the commōs, as when Iacke Straw, and Wat Tyler of Kent, and Essex rose in þe tyme of kyng Richard. 2. Whē William Mandeuill of Abyngdon, Iacke Cade of Kent, in þe tyme of kyng Henry the 6. In the tyme of kyng Henry the 8. when the commotion was of rebels in Lyncolshyre, thē in Yorkeshyre, when in kyng Edward the 6. tyme Humfrey Arundell in Deuonshyre, Captayne Kyte in Northfolke made styrre agaynst the kyng, the countrey and partes from whence these rebels did spryng, were both noted and also diffamed. In this so traiterous commotion therfore let vs nowe learne, what men these were, and from what countrey or countreis in all Englande they came. If they came out of any, let the Chronicles declare what countreys they were. If they came out of none (as none is named) then let them come out of Outopia, where be lyke this figment was first forged, and inuented. Wherefore seyng neither the countreys from whence they came, nor yet the names of any of all these thousand do appeare what they were eyther in Chronicle or in recorde, but remaine altogether vnknowen, I leaue it (gentle reader) to thy iudgemēt, to thinke therupon, as thy wisedome shall lead thee’. There is little variation upon these words in successive editions of Foxe’s works which were published in 1576 and 1583.
 John Stow, A Summarie of the Chronicles of England (London: Richard Bradocke, 1598), p. 149.
 Ralph Holinshed, et al., The Chronicles of England, 4 vols (London: Lucas Harrison, 1577), IV, p. 1036.
 Walsingham, ‘The Confession of John Straw’, p. 365. See also Thomas Walsingham, Chronica Monasterii S. Albani. Thomae Walsingham, Quondam Monachi S. Albani, Historia Anglicana, ed. by Henry Thomas Riley, 2 vols (London: Longman, 1864), II, p. 10.
 Katherine Royer, The English Execution Narrative, 1200–1700, 2nd edn (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016), pp. 51–3.
 John Stow, Annales of England (London, 1601), p. 465.
 H. T. Riley, ed., Chronica Monasterii S. Albani: Thomae Walsingham, Quondam Monachi S. Albani, Historia Anglicana, London Rolls Series, 2 vols (London: Longman, 1872), I, p. x.
 The Iust Reward of Rebels (London: F. Couls, 1642), pp. 14–15: ‘The Lord Mayor againe thus seconded it; I speake to thee as a dying man who now ought to study for the peace of thy soule, and not dissemble at all either with God, or man’.
 Ibid., p. 3.
 Stephen Basdeo, The Life and Legend of a Rebel Leader: Wat Tyler (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2018), pp. 61–3.
 Robert Ferguson, The History of All the Mobs, Tumults, and Insurrections in Great Britain (London: J. Moore, 1715), pp. 12–13.
 Robert Southey, Wat Tyler: A Dramatic Poem (London: Printed for William Hone, 1817), p. xvii.
 John Berkenhout, Biographia Literaria; or, a Biographical History of Literature, 2 vols (London: J. Dodsley, 1748), I, p. 48.
 Richard Warner, Antiquitates Culinariæ; or Curious Tracts Relating to the Culinary Affairs of the Old English (London: R. Blamire, 1791), p. xxxi.
 Joseph Ayloffe, An Account of the Body of King Edward the First (London: Printed in the Year 1775), p. 21.
 ‘Historical Gleanings’, The English Chartist Circular, 28 (n. d.), 28.
 Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man: Part the Second, 8th edn (London: J. S. Jordan, 1792), p. 111.
 Roger Ellis, ‘The historical manuscripts commission 1869–1969’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 2: 6 (1962), 233–42 (p. 233).
 Anthony Wagner, Heralds of England: A History of the Office and College of Arms (London: HMSO, 1967), p. 167.
 V. H. Galbraith, ‘Thomas Walsingham and the Saint Albans Chronicle, 1272–1422’, The English Historical Review, 47: 185 (1932), 12–30.
Ailesbury, Charles Bruce, A Catalogue of the Books of the Right Honourable Charles Viscount Bruce of Ampthill (London: Printed at the Theatre, 1733)
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Basdeo, Stephen, The Life and Legend of a Rebel Leader: Wat Tyler (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2018)
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Brie, F. W. D., ‘Wat Tyler and Jack Straw’, The English Historical Review, 21: 81 (1906), 106-111
Bronterre’s National Reformer
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Clark, James G., ‘Reformation and reaction at St Albans Abbey, 1530-58’, The English Historical Review, 115: 461 (2000), 297–328
————, ‘Thomas Walsingham Reconsidered: Books and Learning at Late-Medieval St. Albans’, Speculum, 77: 3 (2002), 832–60
Cleveland, John, The Rustick Rampant; or Rurall Anarchy Affronting Monarchy (London: F. C., 1658)
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Dobson, R. B., ed., The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 (London: MacMillan, 1970)
Ellis, Roger, ‘The historical manuscripts commission 1869–1969’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, 2: 6 (1962), 233–42
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Ferguson, Robert, The History of All the Mobs, Tumults, and Insurrections in Great Britain (London: J. Moore, 1715)
Foxe, John, Actes and Monuments (London, 1570)
Galbraith, V. H., ‘Thomas Walsingham and the Saint Albans Chronicle, 1272–1422’, The English Historical Review, 47: 185 (1932), 12–30
Godfrey, Walter H., and Anthony Wagner, An Account of the College of Arms in Queen Victoria Street (London: Guild & School of Handicraft, 1963)
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Trokelowe, Johannis and Henrici de Blandeford, Chonrica Monasterii S. Albani. Monachorum S. Albani, Necnon Quorundam Anonymorum Chronica et Annales, ed. by H. T. Riley, London Rolls Series (London: Longman, 1866)
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————, Chronica Monasterii S. Albani: Thomae Walsingham, Quondam Monachi S. Albani, Historia Anglicana, ed. by H. T. Riley, London Rolls Series, 2 vols (London: Longman, 1872)
————, ‘The Confession of John Straw’, in The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, ed. by R. B. Dobson (London: MacMillan, 1970), pp. 365–6
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