NOVEMBER 2017

NOVEMBER  2017
The Rise of the Billionaires Leaves the Middle Class Stranded

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

YEAR OF OUR LORD, 365 C.E.

I would call 365 of the Common Era the worst year for Christianity since Jesus got arrested. It began in January when raiding parties of Germanic tribes crossed the Rhine at Strasburg in Gaul. As a soldier risen from the ranks, the new Emperor in Constantinople, the sour faced Valentinian I, realized that if the Germans were having a hungry winter, then spring would bring a full scale invasion. He immediately ordered the commander of the two under strength legions in Gaul, Charietto, to call for support from the loyal tribes. And he started planing to move his court and his legions to the west.
The sour puss Valentinian (above)  had only taken on the purple in March of 364, at 43 years old. He was smart and decisive. But he had little patience with intellectuals, and when the Christian leader Hillary of Potiers insisted the Emperor enforce persecutions of pagans and Christian heretics the Emperor told him to go home, into exile. Valentinian was a Christian, but with so many enemies outside the empire, he did not want to give anybody inside the empire - pagan or Christian - a reason to join them. To an ideologue like Hillary, such practical tolerance was an insult to God.
Hillary (above) had been waging war against the ideas of Bishop Arius of Alexandria since the Council of Nicoea, back in 325 C.E.. Eventually even Constantine the Great, who had convened the Council, got tired of Hillary's insistent calls for punishing any who suggested that God the father (Yawyeh) and God the Son (Jesus) were not the same persona. “Jesus that I know as my Redeemer cannot be less than God”, the “Hammer of the Arians” insisted. And yet even after Arius died in an Alexandrian toilet after being poisoned in 336, his idea of God the father and the demigod his son, refused to be stamped out   Even after being dismissed by Valentinian I, with the threat of exile hanging over his own head ,  Hillary could not keep his mouth or his pen shut. In the spring of 365 Hillary's condemnation of the Emperor became a minor best seller.
Like many a Christian ideologue since, the 55 year old Hillary divined the end of the world was coming because the Emperor refused to listen to him. And if anybody could see the end of the world coming, it would be Hillary of Poitiers, who helped create acceptance for the “Book of Revelations” by the Council of Nicocea (above). That book prophesied that one of the signs of the “end of times” would be the rise and rule of the Antichrist. And wrote Hillary in the year 365, “the Antichrist is ruling.”. Most educated people took his rhetoric as just more holy hot air.
Back in Gaul, as winter turned to spring, Charietto sent scouts into the border forests, to attack the German raiders in their sleep. He paid these hunters by the kill, which they proved by bringing in German heads, which were then impaled on spikes around Gaulic villages as a morale builder. But the bloody tributes failed to inspire the population. So the general sought out the support of an aging pro Roman Gaul, Serverianus, who managed to raise a small force loyal to him. And that June, with his legions tied to the major cities, Charietto was forced to use Severianus's men as a rapid response force.
Unfortunately the Germans ambushed the Gauls. Serverianus was thrown from his horse and killed. Charietto managed to slow the rout for a time, but when he was killed the entire force was either slaughtered or scattered. And all of Gaul began to ask themselves what they were paying Roman taxes for. It started to seem as if Hillary had been right. God - father, son and Holy Ghost - was intent on punishing the Roman world.
The Emperor Valentinian I was already on the road to Gaul, and had reached the old Imperial villa at Mediana, in what is today southern Serbia, when word of the disaster reached him. He immediately dispatched an old political ally, Dagalaifus, to take charge of things on the ground in Gaul.  But the disaster highlighted, again,  that the Empire was too big for one man to rule. Valentinian had promised to name a co-ruler and he did so now, handing over Constantinople and the eastern half of his realm to his younger brother Valens . This division, in 365, would prove to be the ultimate break between east and west, Greek and Latin Christianity, but at the time it was merely a division of convenes. Valentinian then hurried on to Gaul, not pausing until he had reached the ancient circular fortress town of Rheims.
Meanwhile, roughly 17,000 feet beneath the merchant ships plying the surface between the bread basket of North Africa and the way station island of Crete, a truly earth shaking doomsday was looming. As yet unimagined by human minds, ancient Greece and the islands of the Aegean, birthplace of democracy and Western literature, was being held in place by the anvil of the European plate, while from the south the even larger hammer of the African plate was driving under the Aegean plate at an inch and a half a year, downward at a 30 degree angle and pulling the southern edge of Crete down with it. 
And off the island's southwest coast, just after dawn on 21 July, 365,  the rocks of the Aegean plate snapped, and the west coast of Crete suddenly popped 20 feet into the air.  Hillary of Poitiers may have prophesied this as the end of the world, but it had happened before. That was why Crete is there.
Almost two thousand years later the shaking would be estimated as an 8.5 earthquake on the classic Richter Scale. Survivor Ammianus Marcellinus would describe it as “...a thick succession of fiercely shaken thunderbolts” which made “the solidity of the whole earth...shake and shudder.” And he was 600 miles southeast of the epicenter. 
 A mere 20 miles away, at the base of a peninsula on the northwest coast of Crete, was the port of Phalasarna (above), a wealthy harbor for over six hundred years. That morning, 21 July, 365, the entire harbor and town was lifted nine feet out of the water. 
Walls and stairways cracked, homes and work shops collapsed and the stone supports for the piers (above) were lifted straight upward, high and dry. In a few moments it became a port without water. In the town, the dead outnumbered the living. And every town on Crete was damaged or destroyed by the quake.
The pagan writer Libanius attributed the disaster to the anger of Poseidon, the god of the sea and of earthquakes, as punishment for the heresy of Christianity. The world was, “Like a horse shaking off his rider...All the cities of Libya were destroyed...the greatest cities in Sicily lie in ruins, as do those in the Hellenes...beautiful Nicacea has been felled.”  Meanwhile the Christian writer Jerome described the collapse of the walls and houses of the city Ar Moab, east of the Dead Sea in Palestine, as the Christian God's wraith for the sin of paganism.
But the greater killer was the tsunami. To the west, 600 miles from the epicenter, the first 82 foot high tidal wave hit 70 minutes after the quake, washing up to a mile inland on Malta. On the south coast of Cyprus, 500 miles to the east,  the wave drowned the city of Kourion, killing at least 5,000, including craftsmen at their work benches. But the worst was what the wave did to the great city of Alexandria, on the Nile Delta.
Marcellinus was there when “...the sea was driven away...so that the abyss of the depths was uncovered...Many ships, then, were stranded as if on dry land, and people wandered...to collect fish and the like in their hands; then the roaring sea....returning when least expected killed many thousands by drowning...the bodies of people killed in shipwrecks lay there, faces up or down. Other huge ships, thrust out by the mad blasts, perched on the roofs of houses...hurled nearly two miles from the shore.”.The cost in Alexandria was at least 5,000 dead and 50,000 homes and apartments destroyed. Farmland in the rich Nile Delta was poisoned by salt water for a decade.
Where the island of Crete, north of the fault, had been raised in an instant by 9 feet or more, south of the fault, in Alexandria, the shore sank by 20 feet, submerging the harbor breakwaters, the famous lighthouse, even Cleopatra's tomb. 
And the House of the Dead, tomb of Alexander the Great, one of the greatest mausoleums in the world, was shattered by the earthquake and then smashed by the waves, its scattered stones scavenged until there was nothing left of it. For two centuries Alexandria would memorialize “The Day of Horror”.
In far off Reims, in northeastern France, Valentinian I's only concern was that in the midst of a Germanic invasion, he was suddenly told he could expect no revenues from the rich lands of north Africa and Sicily. Meanwhile in the east, his brother Valens was facing his own crises.
Upon becoming eastern Emperor, Valens (above) moved his legions to quell revolts in Mesopotamia, and had reached Cappadocian Ceasarea, 600 miles from Constantinople, when his father-in-law hit the fan.
As commander of the Martensian legion responsible for order in the capital, Pretronius Probus (the father-in-law) was running the city in Valens absence. But according to our old friend Marcellinus, Petronius,  Pretonius  was “ a man ugly in spirit and in appearance...cruel, savage and fearlessly hard-hearted, never capable of giving or receiving reason” in his search for tax debts going back decades. He “...closed the houses of the poor and the palaces of the rich in great numbers....”
And according to the Catholic historian Gregory of Nazianzus, Pretonius even arrested (later Saint) Basil of Nazianzus, to squeeze money out of the church. It proved a repossession too far, and there was a general uprising in the city. “Each man was armed with the tool he was using, or with whatever else came to hand at the moment. Torch in hand, amid showers of stones, with cudgel's ready, all ran and shouted together in their united zeal....Nor were the women weaponless...” As dramatic as the story told by both historians may be, I suspect that what rose in Constantinople in the late summer of 365 was an “astro-turf” rebellion, for the benefit of Procopius, a distant relative of the Emperor Constantine the Great,  who promised the upper classes a return of stability and power.
Learning of all this in September, Valens thought briefly about abdication, or even suicide. But his advisers (and his wife) would have none of that. So he turned his military expedition around and started his legions back to the capital. The first two legions to approach the city were bribed by Probopius's supporters, and joined the rebellion, supported by Catholic Church leaders.  This fed Valens's growing distrust in the Church and encouraged Valen's sympathy for the “Arians Christians”,  who were more understanding of the Emperor's need to raise revenues. The split between Latin and Greek Churches was growing wider by the minute.
It would be the next year before the rebel Procopius and his supporters could be tracked down and killed. And that same year, of 366,  before the Germanic tribes would be forced back across the Rhine. For the time being.
In January of 367 defender of the Trinity, Hillary of Poitiers, who prophesied with certainty the world was coming to an end, instead died in exile. But Christianity, and the world, both survived in spite of his vision.
This was proof again that Christianity could survive even its most fervent supporters, who always seem to confuse their personal doomsday with God's.
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Friday, November 11, 2016

AIR MAIL

I believe the decision by the United States Post Office to leap into the 20th century of mail delivery was taken with all the alacrity and planning you would expect from the second oldest and most entrenched bureaucracy in the U.S. government.  On Monday,  6 May, 1918  -  15 years after the Wright Brother's first flight - United States Army Major Reuben Fleet was summoned into the office of Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker. There Baker told the pilot that he was now responsible for setting up the first Air Mail Service between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. Further, the stunned Major was informed that the first flight of the new service would take off from Washington, D.C. at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday 15 May , just nine days hence.
Major Fleet was flabbergasted. This is the first he had heard of any such an idea. He pointed out to the Secretary that the best plane in the Army’s inventory was the JN-4D, known as the Jenny. But the Jenny  was so under-powered that if you tried to execute a turn without first dipping her nose, the Jenny would stall.
Worse, the Jenny was a two seat trainer, capable of barely 65 miles an hour and had a range of less than 90 miles. In other words, a Jenny couldn’t reach Philadelphia non-stop from either New York or Washington. The Secretary responded that whatever the difficulties,  they had to be overcome because - and this was the kicker - the Postmaster General, Albert S. Burleson, had already issued the press release. And as any military officer in Washington can explain, once the press release has gone out, you are committed.
Major Fleet - whose personal motto was, "Nothing Short of Right Is Right" -  immediately called the Curtiss Aeroplane Corporation on Long Island and ordered the emergency conversion of twelve Jenny’s - replacing the front seat controls with storage for mail bags, changing the 90 horse power engines for ones with 150 horse power,  and adding fuel tanks to increase the range. Curtiss promised to deliver the planes to Belmont Park airfield by Monday, 13 May.
But as Fleet overcame each obstacle it seemed two more popped up. Naturally, he preferred to start the Washington flights out of College Park, Maryland, nine miles north of the capital (thus saving nine miles on the first or last leg of each flight). But the Post Office press release insisted on using the polo field at Potomac Park, near the tidal basin, (top of the above photo), right in the middle of Washington, and ringed by tall trees. The Department of the Interior was insistent that not a branch of those magnificent 100 year old trees be broken. Fleet then asked for six of the most experienced pilots in America to fly the routes.
He got four very good pilots and two political "ringers". The two ringers were Lieutenants James Edgerton and George Leroy Boyle, both of whom had just graduated from flight school in Texas (well, almost), and so far their solo flying experience consisted of one 15 mile journey across the south Texas prairies. In fact, before Major Fleet had been given his orders, Lieutenants Edgerton and Boyle  had received theirs, and were already on their way to Washington. It was a an old bureaucratic  trick known as the fait accompli. The two ringers would get the credit if everything went well. Major Fleet would get the blame if the ringers screwed the pouch. 
On the other hand, Edgerton was the son of a Post Office purchasing agent,  and Boyle was engaged to marry Margaret McChord, the only daughter of Interstate Commerce Commissioner Charles McChord (above, holding the bag). She ran the Red Cross gift shop inside the Commerce Department building.  That made both young men politically if not avionically well qualified for staring roles in the Air Mail drama. Major Fleet knew enough about the way Washington worked that he did not argue with their selection. So, after leaving instructions for the surreptitious removal of one particularly pernicious tree at the edge of Potomac Park, Fleet left for Long Island by train with what he judged were his five best pilots. Fleet left his sixth pilot, Lt. Boyle, behind in Washington to entertain the lovely Miss McChord, and presumably her  father, Commissioner McChord, as well.  Frankly, after having met him, that was the assignment for which Major Fleet figured Lt. Boyle was best qualified.
At the aerodrome inside the Belmont Park race track outside New York City,  Major Fleet found his modified Jennys were waiting as promised – but still in their crates. The mechanics and pilots spent the next two days desperately lashing together the required six planes. Two first newly assembled Jennys were then flown to Philadelphia. The next two were made ready to fly from what they were now calling Belmont Field. And early on Wednesday, 15 May, the exhausted Major Fleet flew the last plane assembled (Number 38262) from Philadelphia to Washington, landing at Potomac Park at 10:35 a.m., with barely twenty-five minutes to spare before the 11:00 a.m. takeoff deadline, as per the previously released press release.
The makeshift airfield was filled with brass and political heavy weights. Franklin Roosevelt, the under-Secretary of the Navy, was there, as was Postmaster General and the Secretary of the War, and even Alexander Graham Bell.  Fleet may have been hoping the President would be late. The previous day POTUS had rested his hand on a cannon barrel still hot from having fired a salute in his honor. But just after Major Fleet parked his Jenny, Woodrow Wilson drove up, left hand wrapped in a bandage.. But where was Lieutenant Boyle? Fleet had just about decided to take the flight himself when a voice from the crowd boomed out with disturbing confidence, “Never fear, because Boyle is here.”
Forward stepped the cocky young Lieutenant George Leroy Boyle (left), looking like a young Jay Leno, and followed by the lovely Margaret McChord, carrying a dozen roses she had gotten from somewhere. Boyle put on a brave face during the distribution of commemorative watches and nobly posed for official handshakes. Then , ignoring the photographers, Major Fleet attempted to coach Boyle on how to follow the railroad tracks north from Union Station.  
But the closer they got to take off time, the photos of the Lieutenant begin to give the impression of a man prone to motion sickness who has just realized that he has volunteered to be abandoned on a life raft in the middle of hurricane. (That's Margaret hovering in the BG, to the right of the man in the straw hat) As he struggled to keep Boyles' attention, Major Fleet was interrupted by a wail of sirens. A mail truck, carrying  four 140 pound bags of First Class (24 cent) Air Mail had arrived.
The photographers were momentarily distracted, getting pictures of the bags being loaded into the Jenny. The noise and excitement did not help Boyles' concentration, and eventually Major Fleet simply taped the road map to the now almost catatonic Boyle’s leg. Boyle was now starting to resemble a hunter on his way to meet a firing squad of well armed deer.
There were more photos taken as Boyle climbed aboard the unfamiliar airplane and set the switches to start the engine. A sergeant windmill-ed the propeller three times to pull fuel into the cylinders. Lt. Boyle yelled, “Contact!”, and the sergeant pushed the propeller through again, hard. The engine coughed and died. Twice more Boyle and the sergeant tried to start the engine. But the motor stubbornly refused to engage.
The President was getting annoyed. The crowd was starting to giggle. Boyle was beginning to look as if he might throw up in the cockpit. Finally the sergeant thought to look in the gas tank. It was bone dry. Fleet had been lucky to arrive that morning before he ran out of gas. And no one, amid all the hoopla, not even the exhausted Fleet, had thought to refuel the plane.
Fuel was borrowed from some planes in the nearby U.S. Naval Yard field (which raises the question why the army was not using the Navy air field) and, 45 minutes late, Lt. Boyle's wings  were turned into the wind, and he roared down the open lawn. The crowd held its breath as he just cleared the trees at the end of the makeshift runway, by all of three feet. The U.S. Army was in the Air Mail business; sort of.
Meanwhile the flight from Belmont Park had gotten off on time, and arrived at Philadelphia two hours later. Right on schedule.  But after waiting for Boyle in Philly for almost an hour, the New York bound Jenny took off without any mail and headed north. When it arrived on Long Island everyone there was so excited they forgot to ask where the mail was. But eventually somebody thought to ask "What happened to Lt. Boyle?" The answer to that question arrived an hour later.
After finally getting into the air, Boyle came to the depressing realization that he could not read a map to save his life, even one taped to his own thigh. He mistakenly followed a branch line of railroad tracks for 20 miles to the southeast from Washington, the approximate opposite direction from Philadelphia.  By the time Lt. Boyle had realized his error, he had almost run out of gas. On crash landing near Waldorf, Maryland, the chastised Lt. Boyle did a ground loop, flipping his Jenny onto her top. He called Major Fleet, explaining, "My compass got a little mixed up."
Boyles’ mailbags were eventually delivered to Philadelphia the next day by another pilot. And thankfully, in a swell of patriotism, the wartime press corps chose to bury the lead of the story. The failure to refuel the plane, and Boyles inability to read a map, went unmentioned. And that should have been the end of that. But the Postmaster General was not inclined to let the story or Lt. Boyle fade into the crowded grey pages of history. Instead the Postmaster General urged Major Fleet to give Boyle another chance.
Which is why, two days later, on Friday 17 May, 1918,  Lt. "Wrong Way" Boyle took off from Washington, again. This time he was following another (more qualified) pilot, i.e., Major Fleet,  who guided the wandering pathfinder due north out of the national capital, telling him this time to follow Chesapeake Bay north, to Philadelphia.  Boyle faithfully followed Fleet for fifty miles. But then Fleet turned back.  And that was when, finally alone in the air, headed in the right direction, somehow, someway, the dashing but incompetent Lt. Boyle managed to get turned around yet again. All he had to do was not turn. And yet that is exactly what he did. And evidently, he did so almost immediately after the Fleet left him. This time Boyle ended up flying for three hours and fifteen minutes due south. Not only could he not read a map, he couldn't read a compass. Eventually he set his ship down successfully, safely, landing on Cape Charles, on the very Southeastern tip of Virginia, barely avoiding an excursion out over the open Atlantic only because he ran out of fuel first.
Determined not to fail yet again,  and having missed the Atlantic ocean by a hair's breath of petrol, Lt. Boyle bought gasoline out of his own pocket from a farmer, got directions from the farmer, took off again and this time actually made it to Philadelphia. Well, close to Philadelphia. He crash landed on the Philadelphia Country Club golf course, sending the duffers running in terror and sheering both wings off his Jenny and bending the landing gear.
When the Postmaster General Burleson asked that Boyle be given a third chance, Major Fleet replied, “The conclusion has been reached that the best interests of the service require that Lieutenant Boyle be relieved from this duty.” And so he was.  The next month he married Margaret McChord and stopped flying entirely. To everyone's relief. But it would appear that Lt. Boyd was such an incompetent pilot that he somehow managed to afflict the man who replaced him, who suffered five forced landings over the next three months. Whatever Lt. Boyle was suffering from, it was contagious and he was a carrier.
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Thursday, November 10, 2016

THE DIVINE RIGHT

I started out thinking nobody could be a worse villain than royal toady John Bampton, Minister of Parliament and Justice of the Peace. He descended on the little Essex village of Brentwood at the end of May 1381 to collect over due taxes and delivered neither justice nor peace. Within 48 hours Bampton's ministrations had set off a riot, gotten six of his own clerks and several loyal citizens beheaded by a mob and barely escaped himself, tail between his legs, back to London. Who could be a bigger villain than that?
The immediate answer was the arrogant royal toady Sir Simon de Burley. On Monday, 3 June, 1381, two sergeants dispatched by the villein de Burley entered the Thames side village of Gravesend, to arrest escaped Peasant Robert Belling. However Belling must have been more than a mere peasant because he offered to buy his own freedom. But Sir de Burely demanded his rights of lordship, and had Belling thrown into the dungeon of Rochester Castle. Three days later a mob showed up outside Rochester Castle and the warden thought it better to free Belling rather than have his tiny garrison murdered. Was this rebellion really caused by the villain Sir Simon de Burley?
Between the Black Death, which had killed over half of all English peasants during 1348-49, and the Hundred Years War with France (they were right in the middle of it) , the long suffering and few remaining peasants of England were, by 1381, fed up with having to feed and clothe and supply weapons and soldiers for their arrogant masters in the nobility In early June 60,000 peasants from Essex in the northeast, and 40,000 from Kent in the southeast, were marching on London, determined to have their complaints heard by the King himself.
The English nobility were shocked and stunned. Because of the war in France and the never ending Scottish threat, there were few soldiers left in England. And those that were, were not trustworthy, as the warden of Rochester Castle had shown. 
And worse, the King, chosen to rule by divine right , was the 14 year old Plantagenet blue blood Richard II, a tall and gangly youth with a “white, rounded and feminine” face. He was a smart lad, but had a nasty stammer, and his noble “handlers” were not sure he could lead them out of this crises, whoever was to blame for starting it..
The nobility's first nomination for the responsible villain was the “mad priest of Kent” the heretical Father John Ball. He had often challenged the very foundations of feudalism, asking , “When Adam dug and Eve spun, where was then a gentleman?”  Ball dared to argue “all men by nature were created alike.” It was not God who chose Kings, said Ball, but “naughty men.” 
Sir Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England, had locked up Ball in Rochester Castle (above).  As the Kent rebels moved west, they looted the Archbishop's properties in Canterbury, blaming him for the taxes piled upon them.  But this was also where a third villain joined the rebellion, who would give his name to the entire revolt: Wat Tyler. And once having reached Rochester, he freed both Berling and Father Ball.
Here was the nobility's real villain, then, and a proper villain too, being a free resident from a village. It was said Tyler was a member of the roof tiler's guild, or a blacksmith. It was said he had served in the King's army in France. And it was said a tax collector tried to strip his 13 year old daughter, to prove she was old enough to pay the 1 shilling poll tax, the third in four years, laid on every person over 14 years of age, and that Tyler then beat the man's brains out. 
Whatever the truth,  it is fact that on 7 June, 1381, Tyler was elected to lead the rebels up the Old Kent Road to London. And from that day the Peasant's Revolt became Wat Tyler's rebellion. Four days later, 11 June, 1381, the crowd reached the high ground at Blackheath, 3 miles southeast of London.
This “bleak site”, named for its dark soil, was a tradition camping spot, and young King Richard II's advisers had anticipated the rebels would pause there. They loaded their royal charge onto a barge, and with four barges of soldiers as escort, set out down the Thames to overawe the “rebels” and order them to disperse. Seeing 40,000 angry peasants armed with longbows and axes, the courtiers panicked. The King did not get off the boat (above),  and the royal forces did not stop rowing back up river until they were all locked safely behind the walls of the Tower of London. 
Caught on the outside, the Lord Mayor William Walworth ordered the gate houses at both ends of the 900 foot long London Bridge, the only crossing over the Thames River, to be closed and its drawbridge raised. This should keep the peasants on the south bank.
On Wednesday, 12 June, 1381, when Wat Tyler and his 40,000 member “mob” approached London Bridge, Walter Sybyle, a fishmonger and city alderman, ordered the gates at both ends lifted and the drawbridge lowered. Pausing only to post their own men in the gatehouses, peasants streamed past the west door of St. Magnus-the-Matyr Cathedral and invaded the capital. 
Fleet and Newgate Prisons were raided and the prisoners were freed. Legal offices were ransacked, lawyers and clerks were butchered, and thousands of contracts, property records and mortgages were burned. The mobs also ransacked the homes of recent Flemish immigrants, and many were killed. And the Savoy Palace (above),  the ostentatious home of the arrogant and incompetent general John of Gaunt, was captured. “What could not be smashed or burned was thrown into the river. Jewelery was pulverized with hammers...” But a disciplined core of Tyler's force marched directly to Aldergate, in the eastern city wall. There the man entrusted by Mayor Walworth, Thomas Farington, threw that gate open as well.
Tyler's force advanced a mile outside the city walls and camped in the open fields at Mile End. And there, on the following day, Thursday, 13 June, 1381, they were met by the larger force of peasants from Essex. A hundred thousand rebels, equal to London's population, had now occupied the capital, trapped the King and his ministers in the Tower, and accepted Wat Tyler as their sole leader..
The situation was unstable. Tyler must find food and water for his massive “mob”. And so must the King's much smaller force in the tower. And with the daily markets disrupted, Mayor William Walworth must do the same for the city. The King's party panicked first, and asked for a meeting the next day, Friday 14 June 1381, at the rebel encampment at Mile End, to hear what Wat Tyler wanted.
Tyler wanted everything – the end to the slavery of serfdom, the right of peasants to buy the the land they worked, and to sell what they made and grew, the right to punish the royal advisers who had oppressed the people, and a general pardon for the peasant army. Grant these humble requests, said Tyler, and the peasant army would return to their villages. The King made a show of offering a few objections before agreeing to everything. It was the strategy Tyler expected, as he had no doubt Richard II meant to betray the promises. So Tyler had not waited for the King to betray his last promise.
While these “negotiations” were still going on,  400 rebels marched on The Tower. Again, the guards offered little more than token resistance. It was the first and last time the Tower of London fell to an invading force.
Chanting "Where is the traitor to the kingdom?” the rebels dragged their number one villain, the fat Archbishop of Canterbury, Sir Simon Sudbury,  and a dozen of other royal advisers, outside to Tower Hill, where they were all beheaded. 
It took 8 blows to carve through Sudbury's thick neck, as his battered skull still shows (above).. When Richard II saw his adviser's head being paraded on a pike,  the King abandoned The Tower, and hurried instead to his apartments in Blackfriars, in south-west London.
That night, while the heads of the murdered royal advisers were bobbing atop the southern gatehouse of London Bridge, Mayor William Walworth came to the Richard with good news. First, a large part of the Peasant army had already started for home, trusting the King to fulfill his promises.  And second, the merchants of London had raised a militia of 5,000 armed men, whose loyalty could be trusted. In the morning, Saturday 15 June, 1381, Richard sent word he wanted to meet again with Tyler, to seal their agreement. But this time, he asked, the meeting be held at at Smithfields, where he felt safer.
For 800 years Smithfields, north west of the city walls, bordered by the Fleet River and shaded by elm trees, had been the open air livestock market for the city, and occasionally an execution place for rebels like Scotsman William Wallace. But being from out of town, Wat Tyler was probably unaware of this last purpose. Late that afternoon, Wat Tyler and a few followers crossed the Fleet River, leaving his peasant mob on the eastern shore, and rode to meet the King and his 200 supporters..
Was Tyler drunk? Had he gone mad? Or did he sense, with the loss of most of his men, how this story was destined to end?  Richard II asked why the peasants had not all gone home. Tyler responded they were waiting for the promised laws to be signed by the King.  A valet named Ralph Standish then called Tyler a thief.  At the insult the Kentish villain drew his only weapon, a knife.  The Mayor drew his sword. Tyler slashed out, but the Mayor was wearing armor, as was the King. Tyler was not. Whereupon Standish ran Tyler through with his sword. 
While the struggle continued the young King spurred his horse across the Fleet River, and addressed the rebels directly, calling them his friends. He invited them to follow guides to Clerkenwell Green, where they would be fed. Trusting their King, and not being able to see what was happening to Wat Tyler, the peasants followed.
It was a trap. The peasants arrived in Clerkenwell to find themselves hemmed in by run down apartment buildings and narrow streets, all escape routes guarded by the Mayor's militia.  As darkness approached, the King appeared, followed by Wat Taylor's head atop a spike.  It had been 9 days since Wat Tylor had been elected leader of the rebellion, and with his death the shrunken army of the poor lost heart.  The peasants fell to their knees and begged forgiveness. The King granted it, but withdrew his promises to end serfdom and grant freedoms. He also knighted Mayor Wentworth and Ralph Standish. He then ordered the peasants to be escorted back across London Bridge, and allowed to return home. And then he unleashed his anger..
John Ball, whose words would inspire Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, was executed at St. Albans. His final words were, addressed not to the the King who was there to witness his agony, but to his “fellow citizens”.  He advised them to “...stand firm while you may, and fear nothing for my punishment since I die in the cause of liberty.”  
He was then hung until almost dead, taken down and slowly drawn and quartered. Over the next five years around England some 5000 rebels would be hung for their uprising. The increasingly tyrannical Richard would sneered at his subjects, “Rustics you were and rustics you are still. You will remain in bondage, not as before, but incomparably harsher” But there would not be another poll tax in England, until the 20th century.
Sir William Walworth, Lord Mayor of London, would die four years later, in December of 1385. In his will he left his wife all the income from his rents, including those of the whore houses he owned on the south shore of the Thames, rebuilt after Way Tyler's rebels burned them down. 
Seven years after the death of Wat Tyler, the arrogant Sir Simon de Burley was impeached for treason by Parliament, and executed by beheading. 
And in the 22nd year of his reign, Richard II, King of England by divine right, would be betrayed by a cousin, and would die of starvation as a prisoner in February of 1400. His death was barely noted, and he was almost completely forgotten by both the nobles and peasants of his kingdom..
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