John Waterhouse – Playwright and Author

A Background to Late Fourteenth Century England.

Every place referred to in ‘The Tale of Tom Chaney’ exists, although some have changed their names since medieval times. The story is set against real historical events and all the key historical figures, as well as their actions, are factual.

The Black Death of 1348 ultimately wiped out half the population of England, resulting in a shortage of labour. The serfs who had long been tied to their local Lord of the Manor land found themselves in demand and by the 1370’s had started to assert their independence, defying ancient feudal laws by selling their services to the highest bidder.

The flamboyant heir to the throne Edward the Black Prince died suddenly in 1376 followed by his father, Edward the Third the following year. The ten-year Richard the Second found himself thrust onto the throne and the peasants believed that the time had come to strike. The Peasants Revolt was incited by a common tax across all people but became the occasion for wide ranging demands, resulting in a brutal put-down by the King’s forces.

Since 1330’s. England had been locked in an almost continuous war with France and both plagues and domestic revolts only served to temporarily put a halt to the fighting across the channel. There were other disputes which caused England to go to war with its neighbour including a crusade against the King of France’s forces in Flanders in 1383, caused by his acceptance of a rival pope to the incumbent in Rome. In addition, a campaign in Spain in 1387 was conducted by the King’s regent John of Gaunt over his claim by marriage to the throne of Castile.

New religious ideas were also coming to the fore with the Lollards, a loose movement which challenged the wealth of the church and the absolute authority of the pope as well wanting to see the bible available in the England language. This movement was ultimately on a collision course with the establishment, with brutal repercussions.

With the last crusader castle in the Holy Land having lost at the end of the thirteenth century, the three orders of warrior monks lost their original purpose. The Knights Hospitaller stayed close to Vatican after the official dissolution of the Knights Templar starting in 1307. The Teutonic Knights turned their eyes east attacking neighbouring countries who considered to be pagans. The invasion of Lithuania in 1390 was just the last in a series of crusades against other Baltic people going back fifty years.

The Knights Templar had officially ceased across Europe to exist by the 1320’s but rumours abounded that they continued in secret, in league with the other orders of warrior monks and using a secret system of degree and lodges started by skilled travelling stone craftsmen; the Free Masons.