THE PEASANTS' REVOLT
(and the men of Barnet)
The Peasants' Revolt of 1381, in which the men of Chipping Barnet played a leading role captured for us by the horrified St Albans chronicler.
On entering London on 13 June the Kent and Essex rebels sent a message to St Albans via men from Barnet and the next day Barnet men were again prominent in the St Albans contingent which headed to the capital and returned with the message that 'there would no longer be serfs but lords'
the following week the rebels attacked the symbols of the abbot's lordship
broke into his prison, woods and warrens, burnt the hated court rolls
and in a startling piece of theatre staged a mock mass, placing torn-up
documents instead of bread on the tongues of the (un)faithful. They
also forced the abbot to issue charters for each village: 'The people
of Barnet came with bows and arrows, two-edged axes, small axes, swords
and cudgels and obtained a similar charter of liberties as those of
the people of St Albans, including free hunting rights, fishing rights,
and rights of erecting hand mills' (milling was the lord's monopoly).
The sheriff of Hertfordshire also found it difficult to bring the rebels to trial and the case was not finally heard until October 1418.The abbot won of course but behind the rhetoric and the fines there was actually some accommodation. He had to face the impossibility of running the manor without the support of its leading families. The revolt involved both 'bondmen and tenants in bondage', an important distinction since nominally un free land had in fact became a normal part of the land market and men who were personally free were investing in it but irked by its restrictions.
Many of those involved in 1381 were not peasants at all but men of
substantial property. The Barnet rebels in 1417 included twelve freemen,
among them a citizen of London. The general solution which gradually
emerged during the 15th century was the disappearance of personal unfreedom and
its associated services and indignities - and refusal of such services
had long been another constant in the Barnet rolls.