Yalding village was granted to the Norman knight, Richard de Clare, in 1067. When I was born in 1330, the village was owned by Hugh de Audley. At that time, Yalding was managed by John Giffard.
In 1347 Hugh de Audley sadly died. Yalding now became the property of his only child, Margaret. Her husband, Ralph, Earl of Stafford became Yalding's new lord of the manor.
In June, 1349, the pestilence came to Yalding. John Giffard took control of the situation and quickly arranged for the victims of the disease to be taken to a Pest House that was built just outside the village. He paid several women to look after the victims in the Pest House.
John Giffard, who was very knowledgeable about medical matters and had read several books on the subject, arranged for the victims to be bled.
The villagers came up with some very strange ideas on how to prevent the pestilence. Some suggested whipping each other in public. Others sprinkled vinegar and rosewater on the floors of their huts. These people are not very intelligent and are easily influenced by wild stories spread by freemen who had heard them in other towns and villages. However, as John Giffard was in charge of the village, he was able to force the people to do as they were told. By taking this firm action, John Giffard helped to save the lives of a large number of people living in Yalding.
One would have expected that the serfs would have been grateful for the help they had received during the outbreak of this terrible disease. Instead these foolish serfs began demanding higher wages. Although my generous father paid them one penny a day, they claimed they deserved more.
In 1350 the Earl of Stafford and several other lords persuaded King Edward III and his Parliament to pass the Statute of Labourers Act. This made it illegal to pay wages above the level offered in 1346. Despite this law, the greedy serfs continued to ask for higher wages. When my law-abiding father said no, some of Yalding's serfs ran away.
With so many people having died of the pestilence, John Giffard had difficulty finding enough people to work in his fields. After a very good harvest in 1353, my father was forced to pay the peasants three pence a day. The peasants did not know what to do with all this extra money. Some even began spending their money on colourful clothes. This was illegal and my father soon put an end to this shameful behaviour. Some serfs were more sensible and spent their money on animals and farming equipment. Others purchased their freedom and were now able to leave the village.
In 1366, John Giffard, the much loved estate bailiff, died. The whole village was shocked by the news. I have been told that a large number of serfs were crying as they worked in the fields. They were probably frightened about what would happen to them now they had lost John Giffard. Ralph, Earl of Stafford, was aware that these empty-headed peasants needed looking after and had arranged for me to have a good education at Tonbridge Priory.
Three years after the death of John Giffard, the pestilence once again arrived in Yalding. Like John Giffard, I also made sure that the victims were isolated from the rest of the village. As a result of these measures only five people from Yalding died. In 1372, Ralph, Earl of Stafford, died. His son Hugh, became the new lord of the manor. Under my wise leadership the people of Yalding continued to prosper.
In 1375 the Earl of Stafford, decided to increase the yearly rent to 18 pence an acre. As expected, some of the more unreasonable members of the village complained, but the vast majority realised he had made a sensible decision. In 1376 the Earl of Stafford attended a meeting of the House of Lords in London. King Edward III requested a new tax in order to pay for the war in France. The majority of the lords were against granting permission for this tax to be imposed on the English people. During the last few years the English army had lost most of the land it had controlled in France. Edward III was now 64 years old and was no longer the wise military commander that he had been when he defeated the French at Crecy and Poitiers. The lords were afraid that any money granted would be wasted by a king who was no longer able to successfully command a large English army.
The following year King Edward died and was replaced by Richard, his ten year old grandson. The most important member of King Richard II's government was his uncle, John of Gaunt. During a meeting of Parliament in 1379 it was agreed to grant permission for a poll tax. This was much fairer than other taxes as it was a tax on every adult rather than a tax on the rich. Lords like the Earl of Stafford agreed to pay £2, whereas the peasants only had to pay four pence.
Some of the stingy members of the village complained about the tax but eventually everybody paid. In 1380, Richard II called another meeting of Parliament and asked the members to raise another £100,000 to fight the French. Some of the lords complained about paying another poll tax. One suggested that the peasants should pay more this time. Parliament agreed to this and passed a poll tax where every adult paid 12 pence each.
This time some people in Yalding village complained about the poll tax. These greedy people claimed they could not afford to pay the tax. This was untrue as everybody in the village had animals they could sell. After I explained to these stupid people why it was important to send a new army to France, they agreed to pay the new poll tax.
In May 1381 the Earl of Stafford and I were in Scotland with John of Gaunt's army. While we were in Scotland we heard reports of a peasant rebellion in Essex and Kent. I was informed that tax officials had been murdered and that a peasant army was planning to march on the capital. I quickly returned to London to help defend my king. However, by the time I arrived back in London the peasants had left. I joined the king at Billericay and helped him defeat the rebels. We then toured the Essex villages arresting the ringleaders of the revolt.
In July I finally arrived back home in Yalding. The serfs were very sorry for what they had done. They blamed John Ball for their appalling behaviour. These stupid serfs are so daft they are easily fooled by wicked men like John Ball and Wat Tyler. One of the most ridiculous demands of people like Wat Tyier was that the peasants should have a say in how the country should be governed. This is the most absurd thing I have ever heard.
After I spoke to them they realised they had been very foolish to listen to John Ball. I held a meeting of the Manor Court and all those who had left the village to join the revolt were fined 2 shillings each.
In 1382 there was another meeting of Parliament. King Richard II explained that it was very important that the peasants never again marched on London. Some lords suggested that it would probably be wise to withdraw the idea of the poll tax. Others proposed that the lords of the manor should consider the possibility of allowing the peasants to buy their freedom. Many lords pointed out that it was becoming more and more difficult to stop serfs leaving their villages. Others argued that it would be a good way of raising money.
When the Earl of Stafford arrived in Yalding he had talks with the serfs. Nearly all of them agreed to buy their freedom. When the negotiations had finished the Earl of Stafford had received over £45. With this money he was able to buy a large number of animals. This proved to be very successful. Animals are much better workers than serfs and they never ask for freedom or an increases in their wages.
I am now 54 years old and have been the estate bailiff at Yalding for over twenty years. I have been a wise and sensible leader. Yalding is a prosperous village and although some of the peasants still moan occasionally, most of them realise that they are far better off than their parents and grandparents.
Thomas de Edenbridge,
Court Lodge, 8th June, 1384