Thomas Usk (died 4 March 1388) was appointed the under-sheriff of London by Richard II in 1387. His service in this role was brief and he was hanged in 1388.
A sheriff is a government official, with varying duties, existing in some countries with historical ties to England, where the office originated. There is an analogous although independently developed office in Iceland that is commonly translated to English as sheriff, and this is discussed below.
London is the capital and largest city of England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.
Richard II, also known as Richard of Bordeaux, was King of England from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard's father, Edward the Black Prince, died in 1376, leaving Richard as heir apparent to King Edward III. Upon the death of his grandfather Edward III, the 10-year-old Richard succeeded to the throne.
Born in London, Usk was a petty bureaucrat, scrivener, and author. The Westminster Chronicle records his inglorious death.
An important historical document for the reign of Richard II, the chronicle written at Westminster Abbey covers the years from 1381 to 1394.
Born in London, he is the author of The Testament of Love, which was once thought to be by Geoffrey Chaucer. Usk was a Collector of Customs from 1381 to 1384, when Geoffrey Chaucer was the Comptroller of Customs. If they were not familiar with each other, Usk at least was familiar with Chaucer's poetry. In The Testament of Love, the god of Love praises "mine own true servant, the noble philosophical poet in English" who had written a poem on Troilus (i.e. Chaucer).
Geoffrey Chaucer was an English poet and author. Widely considered the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages, he is best known for The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer has been styled the "Father of English literature" and was the first writer buried in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.
Troilus is a legendary character associated with the story of the Trojan War. The first surviving reference to him is in Homer's Iliad, which some scholars theorize was composed by bards and sung in the late 9th or 8th century BC.
Usk had been servant to John Northampton when the latter was Lord Mayor of London from 1381 to 1383. In 1384, he was arrested and released in exchange for informing against Northampton, for he had no desire, he said, to be "a stinking martyr." This earned him the enmity of the Gloucester party.
John Northampton was a reformist Lord Mayor of London in 1381 and 1382, during dissension in favor of reform of its Common Council in the early years of Richard II's reign. When the oligarchic leaders of London were able to engineer the overthrow of his faction, even the book of records of reform legislation was burned, known as the Jubilee book. The mob politics of such radical movements increased the uneasiness of the great about allowing popular participation in government.
The Lord Mayor of London is the City's mayor and the leader of the City of London Corporation. Within the City of London, the Lord Mayor is accorded precedence over all individuals except the sovereign and retains various traditional powers, rights and privileges, including the title and style The Right Honourable Lord Mayor of London.
Gloucester is a city and district in Gloucestershire, in the South West of England, of which it is the county town. Gloucester lies on the River Severn, between the Cotswolds to the east and the Forest of Dean to the west, 19 miles (31 km) east of Monmouth, 17.5 miles (28.2 km) east of Wales. It has the first traditional crossing point across the longest river in the country, modernised into multiple lanes, connecting Over, a place over the water hence the name of that village — southern counties of England for many decades have been linked by three very long, lower Severn crossings in the very south-west corner of Gloucestershire, quite close to Bristol and Avonmouth on the far side of which is the River Wye being the border of South Wales for several miles.
When Gloucester's party gained power through the Merciless Parliament Usk was prosecuted in 1388 and sentenced to be drawn, hanged, and beheaded, with his head put up over Newgate.
The Merciless Parliament was an English parliamentary session lasting from 3 February to 4 June 1388, at which many members of King Richard II's court were convicted of treason. The session was preceded by a period in which Richard's power was revoked and the kingdom placed under the regency of the Lords Appellant. Richard had launched an abortive military attempt to overthrow the Lords Appellant and negotiate peace with the kingdom of France so he could focus all his resources against his domestic enemies. The Lords Appellant counteracted the attempt and called the Parliamentary session to expose his attempts to make peace. Parliament reacted with hostility and convicted almost all of Richard's advisers of treason. Most were executed and a few exiled. Parliament was dissolved after violence broke out in Kent and the Duke of York and his allies began objecting to some executions. The term "merciless" was coined by Augustinian chronicler Henry Knighton.
Newgate was one of the historic seven gates of the London Wall around the City of London and one of the six which date back to Roman times. From it, a Roman road led west to Silchester, Hampshire. Excavations in 1875, 1903 and 1909 revealed the Roman structure and showed that it consisted of a double roadway between two square flanking guardroom towers.
The Testament of Love is an allegorical prose work written in prison to seek aid. Walter Skeat found that the initial letters of the sections formed an acrostic saying, "MARGARET OF VIRTU HAVE MERCI ON TSKNVI." Properly decoded, the last word is "THINUSK," or "thin[e] Usk."
As a literary device, an allegory is a metaphor in which a character, place or event is used to deliver a broader message about real-world issues and occurrences. Allegory has occurred widely throughout history in all forms of art, largely because it can readily illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.
Walter William Skeat, FBA was the pre-eminent British philologist of his time. He was instrumental in developing the English language as a higher education subject in the United Kingdom.
Usk had been a Lollard, but he was brought back to the Roman Catholic Church while in prison. He was hanged at Tyburn in March 1388, and after his body was taken down it was decapitated after thirty strokes of the axe.
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster was an English prince, military leader, and statesman. He was the third of the five sons of King Edward III of England who survived to adulthood. Due to his royal origin, advantageous marriages, and some generous land grants, Gaunt was one of the richest men of his era, and an influential figure during the reigns of both his father, Edward, and his nephew, Richard II. As Duke of Lancaster, he is the founder of the royal House of Lancaster, whose members would ascend to the throne after his death. His birthplace, Ghent, corrupted into English as Gaunt, was the origin for his name. When he became unpopular later in life, scurrilous rumours and lampoons circulated that he was actually the son of a Ghent butcher, perhaps because Edward III was not present at the birth. This story always drove him to fury.
The Peasants' Revolt, also named Wat Tyler's Rebellion or the Great Rising, was a major uprising across large parts of England in 1381. The revolt had various causes, including the socio-economic and political tensions generated by the Black Death in the 1340s, the high taxes resulting from the conflict with France during the Hundred Years' War, and instability within the local leadership of London. The final trigger for the revolt was the intervention of a royal official, John Bampton, in Essex on 30 May 1381. His attempts to collect unpaid poll taxes in Brentwood ended in a violent confrontation, which rapidly spread across the south-east of the country. A wide spectrum of rural society, including many local artisans and village officials, rose up in protest, burning court records and opening the local gaols. The rebels sought a reduction in taxation, an end to the system of unfree labour known as serfdom, and the removal of the King's senior officials and law courts.
Anne of Bohemia was Queen of England as the first wife of King Richard II. A member of the House of Luxembourg, she was the eldest daughter of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia, and Elizabeth of Pomerania. She died at age of 28 after 12 years of marriage; she was childless, and greatly mourned by her husband.
Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester was the fifth surviving son and youngest child of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault.
Richard Fitzalan, 4th Earl of Arundel, 9th Earl of Surrey, KG was an English medieval nobleman and military commander.
Roger de Mortimer, 4th Earl of March was an English nobleman. He was considered the heir presumptive to his cousin King Richard II.
Adam Pinkhurst is most well known as a fourteenth-century English scribe whom Linne Mooney identified as the 'personal scribe' of Geoffrey Chaucer, although much recent scholarship has cast doubt on this connection.
Sir John Clanvowe was an English diplomat, soldier and poet. He was born to a Marcher family originally of Welsh extraction, and was himself probably of mixed Anglo-Welsh origin. He held lands that lay in the present-day Radnorshire district of Powys and in Herefordshire.
Adam of Usk was a Welsh priest, canonist, and late medieval historian and chronicler.
John Waltham was a priest and high-ranking government official in England in the 14th century. He held a number of ecclesiastical and civic positions during the reigns of King Edward III and Richard II, eventually rising to become Lord High Treasurer, Lord Privy Seal of England and Bishop of Salisbury. He is buried in Westminster Abbey, London.
Lady Eleanor de Bohun was the elder daughter and co-heiress with her sister, Mary de Bohun, of their father Humphrey de Bohun, 7th Earl of Hereford (1341–1373). Her mother was Lady Joan Fitzalan, daughter of Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel and his second wife Eleanor of Lancaster.
Events from the 1380s in England.
Sir Nicholas Brembre was a wealthy magnate and a chief ally of King Richard II in 14th-century England. He was Lord Mayor of London in 1377, and again from 1383-5. Named a "worthie and puissant man of the city" by Richard Grafton, he became a citizen and grocer of London, and in 1372-3 purchased from the Malmains family the estates of Mereworth, Maplescomb, and West Peckham, in Kent. His ties to Richard ultimately resulted in his downfall, as the anti-Richard Lords Appellant effectively took control of the government and imprisoned, exiled, or executed most of Richard's court. Despite Richard's efforts, Brembre was executed in 1388 for treason at the behest of the Lords Appellant.
Thomas Montagu, 4th Earl of Salisbury, KG of Bisham in Berkshire, was an English nobleman and one of the most important English commanders during the Hundred Years' War.
Sir Philip de la Vache KG was an English courtier. He was the son of Sir Richard de la Vache, a well-to-do Buckinghamshire landowner who had acquired estates in Chalfont St Giles and Aston Clinton. In 1390 Philip married in Chudleigh, Devon Elizabeth Clifford, daughter of Sir Lewis Clifford, a fellow Knight of the Garter. They had one daughter, Blanche, who went on to marry Richard Grey, 6th Baron Grey de Wilton.
Sir Nicholas Exton was a medieval English merchant. A leading member of the Fishmongers' Company and citizen of the City of London, he was twice elected Mayor of that city during the troubled years of the reign of King Richard II. Little is known of his personal background and youth, but he became known at some point as a vigorous defender of the rights of his Guild. This eventually landed him in some trouble for attacking the then-current Mayor, and he was fined and imprisoned as a result. The situation soon reverted to his favour with the election as Mayor of Nicholas Brembre, a close ally of his. During this period Brembre was a loyal supporter of the King, who at this time was engaged in a bitter conflict with some of his nobles. They managed to manoeuvre the King into surrendering some of his authority, and this, in turn, weakened Brembre, who was eventually executed by the Appellants for his support of the King.
John Fresshe was a citizen, alderman, and Mayor of London in the latter years of the fourteenth century. A merchant by trade, he was a member of the Mercers' Company, a medieval London trade guild, and has been described as one of London's "leading citizens at the end of the century".
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