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Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century

William with the Long Beard

Robert Fabyan (d. 1513)

THEN John, which had turned to the French king again his own brother, seeing the fame and honour of his brother, and feebleness of his own power, made means to Eleanor his mother, by whose mediation he was reconciled to his brother, the king, and after became his true knight. When the king and his brother John were thus agreed, they rode over the land to visit the countries, and see how they were guided by the officers of the king. Among other, two there were, which showed that they would do many things to the king’s profit; the one was abbot of Cadonence, within Normandy, and that other was named William with the long beard. The abbot warned the king of the fraud of his officers, whereby he thought, by the punishment of his officers he should win great favour of the people. Then this abbot gat a warrant of the king, and at London called divers officers before him, for to yield to him their account, but he died shortly, so that his purpose came to small effect. And William with the long beard showed to the king the outrage of the rich men, which, as he said, spared their own, and pilled the poor people. It is said that this William was born in London, and purchased that name by use of his beard. He was sharp of wit and some deal lettered; a bold man of speech, and sad of his countenance, and took upon him greater deeds than he could wield: and some he used cruel, as appeareth in appeaching his own brother of treason, the which was a burgess of London, and to him had shewed great kindness n his youth. This William stirred and excited the common people to desire and love freedom and liberty, and blamed the excess and outrage of rich men: by such means he drew to him many great companies, and with all his power defended the poor man’s cause against the rich, and accused divers to the king, shewing that, by their means, the king lost many forfeits and escheats. For this, gentlemen and men of honour maligned again him, but he had such comfort of the king that he kept on his purpose. Then the king being warned of the congregations that this William made, commanded him to cease of such doings, that the people might exercise their arts and occupations; by reason whereof it was left for a while: but it was not long or the people followed him, as they before that time had done. Then he made unto them collations or exhortations, and took for his antetheme, Haurietis aquas in gaudio de fontibus salvatoris, that is to mean, ye shall draw, in joy, waters of the wells of our saviour: and to this he added, “I am,” said he, “the saviour of poor men: ye be poor and have assayed the hard hands of rich men: now draw ye therefore holeful water of love of my wells, and that with joy, for the time of your visitation is come. I shall,” said he, “depart waters from waters. By waters I understand the people; then shall I depart the people which is good and meek, from the people that is wicked and proud, and I shall dissever the good and the ill, as the light is departed from the darkness.” When report of this was brought to the archbishop of Canterbury, he, by counsel of the lords of the spiritualty, sent unto this William, commanding him to appear before the lords of the king’s council to answer unto such matters as there should be laid unto him. At which day this William appeared, having with him a multitude of people, in so much that the lords were of him adrad, for the which cause they remitted him with pleasant words for the time, and commanded certain persons in secret manner, to espy when he were void of his company, and then to take him, and to put him in sure keeping, the which, according to that commandment, at time convenient, as they thought, set upon him to have taken him; but he, with an axe, resisted them, and slew one of them, and after fled to saint Mary Bow Church, of Chepe, and took that for his safeguard, defending him by strength, and not by the suffrages of the church: for to him drew, shortly, great multitude of people; but in short process, by mean of the heads and rulers of the city, the people minished, so that, in short time, he was left with few persons, and after, by fire, compelled to forsake the church, and so was taken, but not without shedding of blood. After which taking, he was arraigned before the judges, and there, with nine of his adherents, cast and judged to die, and was hanged, and they with him the day following. But yet the rumour ceased not: for the common people raised a great crime upon the archbishop of Canterbury, and other, and said that, by their means, William, which was an innocent of such crimes as were object and put again him, and was a defender of the poor people again extortioners and wrongdoers, was by them put wrongfully to death: approving him an holy man and martyr, by this tale following: saying, that a man being sick of the fevers, was cured by virtue of a chain which this William was bound with in time of his duress of imprisonment, which, by a priest of the ally of the said William, was openly declared and preached, whereby he brought the people in such an error, that they gave credence to his words, and secretly, in the night, conveyed away the gibbet that he was hanged upon, and scraped away that blood that was shed of him when he was taken, or else when he was headed and quartered, so that they made there an hollow place by fetching away of that earth, and said that sick men and women were cured of divers sicknesses by virtue of that blood and earth. By these means, and blowing of fame, that place was the more visited by women and undiscreet persons, of the which some watched there the whole night in prayer, so that the longer this continued, the more disclander was anoted to the justices, and to such as put him to death: notwithstanding, in process of time, when his acts were published, as the slaying of a man with his own hand, with other detestable crimes, somewhat killed the great flame of the hasty pilgrimage; but not clearly till the archbishop of Canterbury accursed the priest that brought up the first fable, and also caused that place to be watched, that such idolatry should there no more be used.