Tag Archives: Peasant’s Revolt

Sir Gawain and Sir Walter atte Lea


Image of tomb of Sir Walter Atte Lea in Albury

The much damaged remains of the tomb of Sir Walter Atte Lea, who helped in calming the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381

And so we went riding through dark woods and groves,

Gringolet and myself going slow down wind-ways,

Till we came unto Albury set high on its hill

With eyes over Hertfordshire at sweet summer tide

Where Walter atte Lea lies asleep in repose

In a bier by a window beside a bright light

That shines upon him and his wife lying there.

What now he whispers I wish I could hear

But all of his voice has gone blown with the barley

Along with the words that he spoke long ago

To Richard the boy king who ruled with weak reason

When peasants in Essex and Suffolk and Kent

Did rise up against those grasping greedy for tax!

Walter wanted to walk with his own peasants there

To tackle them himself and not to allow

Central courts to oppress them and cause much contempt

When he had to live there and treat with his men

And help rule his lands without disloyal folk.

Repression he argued had gone way too far

And if it did not stop well then doom must swift follow

For sure.

He talked with his men there

Who knew his local law

Walter saw what was right fair

In talking with the rural poor.


The Church of St Mary at Albury in Hertfordshire contains a variety of monuments and brasses to attract the casual visitor. The tomb of Sir Walter atte Lea, referred to in this post, is now sadly much defaced and has also been moved at some time in the past. Sir Walter atte Lea (also known as Sir Walter atte Lee) himself played a key role during the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, attempting to deal with complaints locally rather than to impose harsher penalties from a distant monarchy. He appears to have handled the matter incompetently although this did not stop his further advancement under Richard II, as this link reveals. The location of the church, atop a hill surveying much of the surrounding countryside, means it commands attractive views over the east Hertfordshire uplands.


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The rising of the serfs – Britain’s moral collapse?


Good readers, what sin still presides in the land since Perceval failed to ask The Question of the Fisher King? As I ride through the Waste Forest on yet another Quest, signs trouble me. In the Matter of Britain, something is not right.

I read of Britain’s “moral collapse” today and wonder whether King Arthur himself has sunk into a coma, never to recover. I see damsels no longer demure, turned instead to riot and cast rocks and stones. I read of serfs driving chariots into innocents and mowing them down. Order has gone from the land. The armies of the Queen seem unable to bring order to the people. The forest that doth feed the nation is turned to waste indeed…

How comes it that a land I knew so well now turns itself upside down? Where now social order? Why does the populace fly from morality? Well, riot is not controllable and neither can it be “cured” like a leg of ham.

Rioting has always been the way of the people – as Wat Tyler himself was telling me just the other day – but what is it this time which stirs the bellies of the rebellious?

Once, they told us, it was authoritarian brutality and prejudice. Now they tell us it is money and social problems brought on by “decades of neglect”. I read, too, that the armies of the Queen are to blame because they failed to predict rebellion. Stuff and nonsense.

Governments argue that the cause of riot lies not without but within. Social order is not about social control but self control. Where today the private moment in the hermitage, the silent inner counsel, the discipline of self over the indiscipline of the many?

True enough, private moments today are oft spent in front of mirrors, on social media, on telephones and other devices. In my day, we had none of these things (well maybe a mirror): we could only look out and reflect in upon ourselves. In so doing, love, charity and faith governed our ways and moral codes.

But did this make things better? Did this avoid riot? Ah, no! After all, as a knight I benefited but as for the serfs who worked my land, that’s another matter…

As I write, I reflect too on the words of the maverick preacher John Ball when he argued: “when Adam delved and Eve Span, who was then the gentleman?” It is careless to think too romantically of my own times: the people have always sought to better themselves.

But sadly, government reactions today seem hardly any different to my own time. It was Richard II who is supposed to have said at Blackheath: “Serfs ye are, and serfs ye shall remain“.

Alas, this seems the response of government today. Some things never change. To coin a phrase, the serfs are revolting. Again…

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Filed under British History, Gawain and the Green Knight, King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, Touring Britain