This Day in History: 1381-07-20

Throughout June 1381, the Peasant’s Revolt had brought chaos and turmoil to the kingdom of the young King Richard II. As John of Gaunt, lord of Pontefract Castle, was the quasi-ruler of England during the young king’s minority, much of the anger of the mob was directed at him; in order to pay for the war in France, Gaunt had replaced the graduated rate of tax by the poll tax, which levied a tax of one shilling per head (£31 in today’s money) across the whole population. It was mainly due to the bravery of Richard II confronting the protesters that the revolt was defeated but not before the Savoy Palace, the grand London home of John of Gaunt, was totally destroyed. Fortunately, John was in Berwick, but his second wife, Constance, had fled north to seek refuge at Pontefract Castle, only to be refused entry by the constable. We can perhaps speculate that the reason for this was that John of Gaunt’s mistress, Katherine Swynford, having been sent north to Pontefract, was already in residence. We know that John was in residence at Pontefract from the 20th to 21st July 1381 having sent his household there, arranging for firewood and the best wine to be delivered to the castle.