It was with such a charter that William Grindecobbe returned to St. Albans, and breaking at the head of the burghers into the abbey precincts, summoned the abbot to deliver up the charters which bound the town in bondage to his house. But a more striking proof of servitude remained in the millstones, which after a long suit at law had been adjudged to the abbey, and placed within its cloister as a triumphant witness that no townsman might grind corn within the domain of the abbey save at the abbot's will. Bursting into the cloister the burghers now tore the millstones from the floor, and broke them into small pieces, "like blessed bread in church," so that each might have something to show of the day when their freedom was won again.
Many of the Kentish-men dispersed at the news of the King's pledge to the men of Essex, but thirty thousand men still surrounded Wat Tyler when Richard by a mere chance encountered him the next morning at Smithfield. Hot words passed between his train and the peasant leader, who advanced to confer with the King; and a threat from Tyler brought on a brief struggle in which the Mayor of London, William Walworth, struck him with his dagger to the ground. " Kill, kill," shouted the crowd, " they have slain our captain." " What need ye, my masters? " cried the boy-king, as he rode boldly to the front, " I am your Captain and your King! Follow me." The hopes of the peasants centred in the young sovereign: one aim of their rising had been to free him from the evil counsellors who, as they believed, abused his youth, and they now followed him with a touching loyalty and trust till he entered the Tower. His mother welcomed him with tears of joy. "Rejoice and praise God," the boy answered, "for I have recovered to-day my heritage which was lost, and the realm of England." But he was compelled to give the same pledge of freedom as at Mile-end, and it was only after receiving his letters of pardon and emancipation that the Kentish-men dispersed to their homes.
The revolt, indeed, was far from being at an end. South of the Thames it spread as far as Devonshire; there were outbreaks in the north; the eastern counties were in one wild turmoil of revolt. A body of peasants occupied St. Albans. A maddened crowd forced the gates of St. Edmundsbury and wrested from the trembling monks pledges for the confirmation of the liberties of the town. John the Litster, a dyer of Norwich, headed a mass of peasants, under the title of King of the Commons, and compelled the nobles he captured to act as his meat-tasters and to serve him on their knees during his repast. But the withdrawal of the peasant armies with their letters of emancipation gave courage to the nobles. The warlike Bishop of Norwich fell lance in hand on Litster's camp, and scattered the peasants of Norfolk at the first shock: while the King, with an army of 40,000 men, spread terror by the ruthlessness of his executions as he marched in triumph through Kent and Essex. At Waltham he was met by the display of his own recent charters and a protest from the Essex-men that "they were so far as freedom went the peers of their lords." But they were to learn the worth of a king's word. "Villeins you were," answered Richard, "and villeins you are.
In bondage you shall abide, and that not your old bondage, but a worse!" But the stubborn resistance which he met showed the temper of the people. The villagers of Billericay threw themselves into the woods and fought two hard fights before they were reduced to submission. It was only by threats of death that verdicts of guilty could be wrung from the Essex jurors when the leaders of the revolt were brought before them. Grindecobbe was offered his life if he would persuade his followers at St. Albans to restore "the charters they had wrung from the monks. He turned bravely to his fellow-townsmen and bade them take no thought for his trouble. "If I die," he said, " I shall die for the cause of the freedom we have won, counting myself happy to end my life by such a martyrdom. Do then to-day as you would have done had I been killed yesterday." But the stubborn will of the conquered was met by as stubborn a will in their conquerors. Through the summer and autumn seven thousand men are said to have perished on the gallows or the field.
The royal council indeed showed its sense of the danger of a mere policy of resistance by submitting the question of enfranchisement to the Parliament which assembled on the suppression of the revolt, with words which suggested a compromise. " If you desire to enfranchise and set at liberty the said serfs," ran the royal message, "by your common assent, as the King has been informed that some of you desire, he will consent to your prayer." But no thoughts of compromise influenced the landowners in their reply. The King's grant and letters, the Parliament answered with perfect truth, were legally null and void: their serfs were their goods, and the King could not take their goods from them but by their own consent. "And this consent," they ended, "we have never given and never will give, were we all to die in one day".