For some time the agricultural labourers of Kent had been in a state of unrest. In 1381 thousands of them assembled, led in Essex by Jack Straw, and in Kent by Wat Tyler. According to some accounts 100,000 ill-armed Kentish men, were mustered on Blackheath. With great success they gained access to the Tower of London, and roamed the city killing and looting and demanding an end to the restrictions on labourer’s wages. In the ensuing events both leaders were murdered, and a royal army of 40,000 men marched through Kent, hanging, drawing and quartering all who might conceivably have taken part in the rebellion.
In the aftermath of humiliating defeat in the Hundred Years War, conditions for the agricultural workers had not improved. After an event in which the King’s principal councillor, William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, was killed in May 1450, Henry VI blamed the people of Kent, and threatened to take reprisals against them.
A large army of workers, including many gentry, made their way to Blackheath (Kent). When Cade’s men ambushed an advance guard sent by Henry, the government promised to consider their complaints. Most of the insurgents were granted a pardon and allowed to depart, but Cade and a few ringleaders were hunted and killed on 12 July 1450.
Discontent was not far from the surface, and it was not long before other troubles arose. In a “File of Indictments No 47 taken at Tonbridge and Deptford in the county of Kent in the 29th year of reign of Henry VI before Edmund, Duke of Somerset”, many local residents were mentioned, and the following account appeared: -
It is to be inquired for the King whether Thomas Skynner late of Yalding, “skynner” (po sec), pleads not guilty, John Grigge late of Yalding “clovyer”, Stephen Grigge late of Yalding “webbe”, Richard Doke late of East Peckham, lab (po sec . . . pardon),Roger Mustell late of Yalding, lab, William Roger, jun. Late of Yalding “fleecher” (po sec), John Roger late of Yalding lab (po sec), Thomas Rolf late of Yalding “wheler” (po sec), William Horsele late of East Peckham lab, Thomas Bourner late of East Peckham “bocher” (po sec), William Souter of East Peckham lab, John Payn late of East Peckham “smyth” (po sec pardon), together with other evil-doers arrayed for war, on 21 and 22 April 1451 at Brenchley, lay in wait to spoil, assault diverse lieges of the King viz, Thomas Tebbe and William Sandhurst, one of the constables of the hundred of Brenchley.
Doke, Souter and Payn were granted pardons in November 1451, having submitted to the King “naked to the waist and with ropes round their necks”. There are no details as to the fate of the remainder.