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Petition 1387, National Archive: SC 8/21/1006

The National Archives holds a petition, written in French, from the time of Richard II submitted by the Bowyers and four other minor companies of the City of London to the King and Lords of Parliament.

The cutlers, bowyers, fletchers, spurriers and blacksmiths of London made various accusations of intimidation, corruption, misgovernment and usurpation of royal power against Nicholas Brembre formerly Mayor of London, and his accomplices, and against Nicholas Exton, the current Mayor. They request that they be punished and a remedy provided for these abuses and to that end that the current Mayor be ordered to bring all indictments of felony made by Nicholas Brembre before the king. They also request the statute made in the parliament held at Westminster in the sixth year of the king's reign, forbidding victuallers from holding office in cities, boroughs, towns and ports, unless there is no other sufficient person, and only if they cease to be victuallers while in office, might be in force and put into execution in London as elsewhere. They also request that Nicholas Exton be removed from office, as he was forjudged in the Guildhall in London for having been unjustly elected by Nicholas Brembre and his accomplices, and that Anthony Cheyne and Hugh Fastolf, other accomplices of Nicholas Brembre's, also be removed. They also request that the statute made in the parliament held in the fifth year of the King's reign, limiting the price of wines, be renewed and enforced.

The catalogue note records - "This is one of several petitions from the London companies as part of a process begun in November 1387 and taken up before the Appellants early in 1388 and thus transferred into the "Merciless Parliament" of February 1388".

Persons named in the document are three Mayors of London, John de Northampton, Nicholas Brembre and Nicholas Exton, a recorder, William Cheyne and a sheriff, Hugh Fastolf.

Background

The political unrest in the City after the Peasant's Revolt of 1381 has been interpreted as a struggle between rich and poor and as a class conflict between the artisans of the non-victualler companies, such as the Cutlers and Bowyers, and the wealthy merchants of the victualler companies, such as the Grocers and Fishmongers, who enjoyed monopolies of essential staple foods. Outside the City, there was a struggle for power between Richard II and the Lords Appellant. The latter were a group of five nobles (Gloucester, Arundel, Warwick, Bolingbroke and Norfolk) who invoked procedures under law to prosecute the king's unpopular favourites.

John de Northampton, a Draper, served two terms as Lord Mayor in 1381 and 1382 which were characterised by measures to help London's less prosperous citizens. At the election of 1383 he was ousted by Nicholas Brembre, a Grocer, who packed the Guildhall with armed support so as secure his election. He was followed by his accomplice, Nicholas Exton, a Fishmonger. When Brembre had Northampton arrested on a charge of sedition in 1384, this provoked a riot and Brembre arrested and beheaded Northampton's kinsman, John Constantine.

The petition submitted by the Cutlers, Bowyer, Fletchers, Spurriers and Blacksmiths was one several similar petitions appealing against the corruption and tryanny of the former Mayor. Brembre was one of five of the king's favourites charged with treason by the Lords Appellant in 1387. He was tried by the Merciless Parliament, found guilty and executed at Tyburn by hanging.

Nicholas Brembre is the only Lord Mayor ever to have been executed and the Bowyers' Company played a small part in bringing about his downfall.

Simon Leach
October 2014

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