Two Episodes from Froissart’s Chronicles

(i) When an English army briefly camps near Paris during the Hundred Years’ War, an English knight is killed in the suburbs after fulfilling a vow to strike the city’s barricades (c. 1370)
(ii) The beginnings of the English Peasants’ Revolt (1381)

Book I, Chapter 289, p. 200
[c. 1370]

Sir Robert Knolles [an English commander], in continuing his incursions through different provinces of France, advances near to Paris. A knight of his army in returning from a vainglorious expedition, is slain by a butcher of Paris.

. . . Now it happened one Tuesday morning, when the English began to decamp, and had set fire to all the villages wherein they were lodged, so that the fires were distinctly seen from Paris, a knight of their army, who had made a vow the preceding day that he would advance as far as the barriers and strike them with his lance, did not break his oath, but set off with his lance in his hand, his target [i.e., his shield] on his neck, and completely armed except his helmet, and spurring his steed, was followed by his squire on another courser carrying the helmet. When he approached Paris, he put on the helmet, which his squire laced behind. He then galloped away, sticking spurs into his horse, and advanced prancing to strike the barriers. They were then open; and the lords and barons within imagined he intended to enter the town, but he did not mean any such thing, for, having struck the gates according to his vow, he checked his horse and turned about. The French knights who saw him thus retreat cried out to him, “Get away! get away! thou hast well acquitted thyself.” . . . On his return, he met a butcher on the pavement in the suburbs, a very strong man, who had noticed him as he had passed him, and had in his hand an very sharp and heavy hatchet with a long handle. As the knight was returning alone, and in a careless manner, the valiant butcher came on one side of him, and gave him such a blow between the shoulders that he fell on his horse’s neck: he recovered himself, but the butcher repeated the blow on his head so that the axe entered it. The knight, through excess of pain, fell to the earth; and the horse galloped away to the squire, who was waiting for his master in the fields at the extremity of the suburbs. The squire caught the courser, but wondered what was become of his master; for he had seen him gallop to the barriers, strike them, and then turn about to come back. He therefore set out to look for him; but he had not gone many paces before he saw him in the hands of four fellows, who were beating him as if they were hammering on an anvil: this so much frightened the squire that he dared not advance further, for he saw he could not give him any effectual assistance: he therefore returned as speedily as he could. Thus was the knight slain: and those lords who were posted at the barriers had him buried in holy ground. The squire returned to the army, and related the misfortune which had befallen his master.

Book II, Chapter 73, p. 283

The populace of England rebel against the nobility

. . . It is customary in England, as in several other countries, for the nobility to have great privileges over the commonalty, whom they keep in bondage; that is to say, they are bound by law and custom to plough the lands of gentlemen, to harvest the grain, to carry it home to the barn, to thrash and winnow it: they are also bound to harvest the hay and carry it home. All these services they are obliged to perform for their lords, and many more in England than in other countries. The prelates and the gentlemen are thus served. In the counties of Kent, Essex, Sussex and Bedford, these services are more oppressive than in all the rest of the kingdom.
The evil-disposed in these districts began to rise, saying, they were too severely oppressed; that at the beginning of the world there were no slaves, and that no one ought to be treated as such, unless he had committed treason against his lord, as Lucifer had done against God: but they had done no such thing, for they were neither angels nor spirits, but men formed after the same likeness with their lords, who treated them as beasts. This they would not longer bear, but had determined to be free, and if they labored or did any other works for their lords, they would be paid for it.
A crazy priest in the county of Kent, called John Ball, who, for his absurd preaching, had been thrice confined in the prison of the archbishop of Canterbury, was greatly instrumental in inflaming them with those ideas. He was accustomed, every Sunday after mass, as the people were coming out of the church, to preach to them in the market place and assemble a crowd around him; to whom he would say: “My good friends, things cannot go on well in England, nor ever will until everything shall be in common; when there shall neither be vassal nor lord, and all distinctions levelled; when the lords shall be no more masters than ourselves. How ill have they used us! and for what reason do they thus hold us in bondage? Are we not all descended from the same parents, Adam and Eve? and what can they show, or what reasons give, why they should be more the masters than ourselves? except, perhaps, in making us labor and work for them to spend. They are clothed in velvets and rich stuffs, ornamented with ermine and other furs, while we are forced to wear poor cloth. They have wines, spices, and fine bread, when we have only rye and the refuse of the straw; and, if we drink, it must be water. They have handsome seats and manors, when we must brave the wind and rain in our labors in the field; but it is from our labor they have wherewith to support their pomp. We are called slaves; and, if we do not perform our services, we are beaten, and we have not any sovereign to whom we can complain, or who wishes to hear us and do us justice. Let us go to the king, who is young, and remonstrate with him on our servitude, telling him we must have it otherwise, or that we shall find a remedy for it ourselves. If we wait on him in a body, all those who come under the appellation of slaves, or are held in bondage, will follow us, in the hopes of being free. When the king shall see us, we shall obtain a favorable answer, or we must then seek ourselves to amend our condition.”
With such words as these did John Ball harangue the people, at his village, every Sunday after mass, for which he was much beloved by them. Some who wished no good declared it was very true, and murmuring to each other, as they were going to the fields, on the road from one village to another, or at their different houses, said, “John Ball preaches such and such things, and he speaks truth.”
The archbishop of Canterbury, on being informed of this, had John Ball arrested, and imprisoned for two or three months by way of punishment; but it would have been better if he had been confined during his life, or had been put to death, than to have been suffered thus to act. The archbishop set him at liberty, for he could not for conscience sake have put him to death. The moment John Ball was out of prison, he returned to his former errors. Numbers in the city of London having heard of his preaching, being envious of the rich men and nobility, began to say among themselves, that the kingdom was too badly governed, and the nobility had seized all the gold and silver coin. These wicked Londoners, therefore, began to assemble and to rebel: they sent to tell those in the adjoining counties, they might come boldly to London, and bring their companions with them, for they would find the town open to them, and the commonalty in the same way of thinking; that they would press the king so much, there should no longer be a slave in England.


Source: [Jean Froissart], Chronicles of England, France, Spain, and the adjoining countries, from the latter part of the reign of Edward II to the coronation of Henri IV, translated by Thomas Johnes (New-York: Leavitt and Allen, 1857). Available online at:;idno=ACG8357 [seen 9 January 2013]. Summaries, dates, and brief explanatory notes in square brackets added by Martha Carlin.