riot of 1349

riot of 1349

Unrest over market taxes imposed by the Church


In June 1348 a French sailor staggered ashore from his ship at Weymouth, Dorset. Infected with a bacterial infection we know as bubonic plague, known at the time as the Black Death. The sailor died later that night but the damage had been done and the plague quickly spread throughout the area and recent research confirms that about a third of the population of the known world perished. More than half of the beneficed clergy in Somerset died between October 1348 and April 1349. Yeovil was thought to be the hardest hit town in the area and it has been estimated that around fifty percent of Yeovil's population died as a result of the plague.

Ultimately overshadowing the second half of the 14th century, the aftermath of the Black Death saw little in the way of building works. Not only had the country lost many of its skilled artisans and builders but the high cost of the remaining workforce was prohibitive for most recovering parishes. In south Somerset, as elsewhere, one effect of the Black Death was the change from arable farming to less labour-intensive sheep farming.

In Yeovil there had been a longstanding dispute concerning taxes and other constraints regarding market rights and tolls and Sunday trading placed on the townspeople of Yeovil by the Church. Across the country survivors of the plague, perhaps encouraged by their survival, assumed a more militant stance that previously and in Yeovil simmering grievances came to a head in November 1349. Just a couple of months after the plague had ended. Their resentment against the Church turned into a full-scale riot.

On Sunday 25 November 1349, during a Visitation by Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury (d1363), the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the anger and dissatisfaction of the people of Yeovil came to a head and violence erupted. The mob attacked the Bishop and his entourage who were forced to retreat within the rectory of the church (the Saxon church, not today's church), where they remained all night.

The following morning some of the rioters broke into the church. As one of the priests tried to talk with the mob, their ringleader, Roger de Warmwelle of Newton Surmaville, struck the priest and the mob erupted.

The event was recorded in the Bishop's Register ".... the liberty of the Church was violated by a great multitude of people who, like armed conspirators, invaded it with bows and arrows, bars of iron, stones and other divers arms and attacked priests. Blood was sacrilegiously and unjustly spilt in the Church. Not content with this, they sacrilegiously, and with great tumult, not regarding his divine office, and like the Devil incarnate, injuriously abused the Bishop with contumelious words, and this tumult they continued until dark."

Of course, there were dire consequences. The church itself was interdicted by the Pope and the townspeople who had taken part in the riot were excommunicated. Roger de Warmwelle was tried at Taunton and fined £20 (roughly £17,000 at today's value). De Warmwelle and a number of the other rioters were also made to do public penance and suffer humiliation at Yeovil, Bath, Wells, Bristol, Somerton and Glastonbury. See below.

Despite these strictures the market disputes and Sunday trading continued such that in 1360 the Bishop threatened to excommunicate anyone who attended the Sunday market. Nevertheless the resentment remained, and the disputes continued, for decades.


Further Extracts from Bishop Ralph's Register


Bishop Ralph to the archdeacon or his official.

In the progress of our visitation, when making our transit through the town of Jevele on Sunday next before the feast of St Martin last, and whilst we caused the divine office to be chanted, at the hour of vespers on the said Sunday, in the parish church of Jevele, certain sons of perdition, forming the community of the said town, having assembled in a numerous multitude with bows, arrows, iron bars, stones and other kinds of arms, fiercely wounded very many of our servants of God to the abundant spilling of blood. But not content with these evil doings they entered into the said church with great strife and shut us and our servants in the rectory of the said church until the darkness of the night of the same day. And afterwards they incarcerated us and our servants in the rectory of the said church until on the day following the neighbours, devout sons of the church and all worthy of commendation, delivered us from so great danger and from our prison. All and singular which delinquents we declare to have fallen into the sentence of greater excommunication. We order you that you denounce the said favourers in all the churches under your jurisdiction.


Bishop Ralph to the perpetual vicar of Jevele
Wyvelscombe, 5 Dec. AD 1349

Although lately we declared the town of Jevele, the villages or hamlets of the same to lie under interdict on account of the demerits of the sons of Belial being there who ruched to the irreverence of our pontifical dignity and to the no small injury of our servants whilst we were in the progress of our visitation at Jevele. Lest the instruments of divine praise there be suspended, the teaching of Christ diminished and the devotion of the beloved of God be weakened, we suspend the said interdict until the Epiphany of the Lord next to come.


Bishop Ralph to the perpetual vicar of Jevele
Wyvelscombe, 5 Dec. AD 1349

Whereas we, lawfully proceeding, caused the benefit of absolution to be bestowed on Walter Shoubuggare, Richard Weston, Roger Le Taillour, Thomas Skynnare, John Westnere, taillour, Nicholas Bernard, Ralph Gromynge, John Foul, William Tympayn, Adam Tannere, Stephen Panyot, John Cartere, Hugh le Glovere, John West, Stephen Chaundeler, Henry Ryvel, Henry Chop, John Westnere, and John Cruce of the parish of Jevele, and enjoyned on them the underwritten punishment to be done at Jevele for their injuries, violences, and grave excesses committed whilst we were in the progress of our visitation at Jevele, and confessed by them and each of them. That is to say, that each of them shall restore to you all the arms which they used in the assault, to be kept by you until we order what shall be done with them. Each of them shall stand on Sundays on a lofty place of the said church bare headed, &c., whilst the divine offices are being celebrated, he shall hold a taper of one pound of wax burning and shall offer it o him celebrating mass. The cause of the punishment shall be expounded to the clergy and people there in the vulgar tongue. He shall go for the three days of the market of Jevele through the middle of the same and shall be fustigated by a priest. We therefore commit and order you, firmly enjoining, that you announce the said Walter and others to be absolved and admit them to perform the punishment in form aforesaid.

This letter aforesaid did not pass nor was it sent to the vicar above written.


Bishop Ralph to the perpetual vicar of Jevele
Wyvelscombe, Jan. AD 1349

We suspended the interdict under date 5 Dec. AD 1349, till the Epiphany of the Lord next to come. We have thought fit to prorogue the suspension for two weeks. Announce the interdict od suspension so to be prorogued, we wishing that you shall celebrate the divine offices in the said church or the chapels depending thereon.


Memorandum that on the 25th day of November AD 1349, before Master John de Sydenhale, canon of Wells, commissary of Ralph, bishop of Bath and Wells, specially appointed in this behalf, sitting as a tribunal in the cemetery of the conventual church of Taunton, Roger de Warmwille, of the parish of Jevele, in the presence of William Cammel, canon of Wells, public notary, Master Simon de Fareway, Sir John Sambroke, rector of Merkesbury, John Sprengehuse, Richard Bardolf and others, publicly confessed that he would go through the punishment underwritten which the said commissary enjoined on him for his excess and grave injuries done to the said father and his servants in the parish church of Jevele. That is to say, he would go round the church of Jevele three times on Sundays and feast days before the procession to be made on that occasion with bare head and feet &c., in penitential manner, and whilst high mass is being celebrated he shall hold a taper of the weight of one pound of wax in his hand, which, when the punishment has been gone through he shall offer to the high altar there, and the chaplain celebrating the mass shall expound the cause of the said punishment to the clergy and the people in the vulgar. He shall go through the market there on the three days of the market next following in like manner and round the churches of Wells, Bath, Glaston, Bristol and Somerton. From the town of Jevele shall visit Christ Church, Canterbury, in honour of St Thomas the Martyr, in penitential manner. He shall pay 20li to the said lord or his receiver of Wells. And afterwards the lord ordered the perpetual vicar of Jevele to admit the said Roger to perform the said punishment, the tenour of which letter is given.

On Wednesday next after the feast of St Clement, AD above, John Molet and Nicholas Selmon, of the parish of Jevele, personally appeared in the parish church of Bishop's Lydiard before the commissary above written.


Bishop Ralph to the dean of Merston and the perpetual vicar of Jevele
Wyvelscombe, Feb. AD 1349

Whereas we have thought fit to enjoin on Richard de Weston, Thomas Skynnere, John Westerne, tailour, Nicholas Bernard, Ralph Gromynge, John Foal, William Tampayn, Adam Tannere, Stephen Paniot, John Cartere, Hugh Glovere, John Cruse, Stephen Chaundeler, Henry Chop, John Westerne, clerk, Robert Braszenner, Geoffrey Foulare, John Mey, William Schippestere, John Wilot, John Clerk alias Zonge, Thomas Faucoun alias Bedeman, John Kuyt, Richard Pere, Luke Bole, William Manninge, John Spore, Thomas Thursteyn, Walter Wynter, Thomas Tannere, son of Thomas Skynnere, John Joye, Reginald Loketon, Thomas Attezerde, Robert Bras, tanner, John Styward, John Le Rede, baker, William Jurdan, Alan Leulyn Kemar, William Aluissh, Richard Weston, Andrew Thesilie, William Bymbain, Thomas Goldsmith, Nicholas Skynnere, Robert Carpenter, William Swift, of Kyngesbury, William Crowe, John Wisi, Robert Goule, John Stiward, William Bysmare, Walter Paniot, Philip Glovere, Magota Weston and Richrad Weston her husband, John Molet, and Nicholas Selmon, of the parish of Jevele, amongst other punishments the punishment of triple fustigation (to cudgel, or beat, with a short heavy stick) for their injuries, violences and excesses whilst we were in the progress of our visitation, we order you that you warn them to begin and perform the said punishment on Sunday next after the feast of St Valentine the Martyr, and cite John Huchon and William Styward that they appear before us or our commissary in the prebendal church of Wivelscomb on Monday next after the feast of St Valentine the Martyr, next to come.


Bishop Ralph to the dean of Wells
Wyvelscomb, March, AD 1349

Whereas we, lawfully proceeding, certain men of the town of Jevele appearing before us for their injuries, violences, and grave excesses committed whilst lately we were in the progress of our visitation, amongst other punishments which we enjoined on them, thought fit to enjoin on them the punishment of triple fustigation, &c. Wherefore we commit our offices to you to receive on this instant Sunday next whomsoever of the parish of Jevele coming to our church of Wells and being penitent from their hearts for their excesses and wishing to begin and to do the punishment, and also to expound the punishment to them and to do the other things.