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The Battle

Lister set up his position on heathland by some dykes, reinforced with planks, shutters, gates and a palisade, about a mile to the south of North Walsham on the Norwich road, which in 1381 was just to the west of the current main road, the B1150. Nineteenth- century histories also speak of entrenchments giving further protection to the rebels. On sighting this position, the Bishop charged on horseback. The chronicler Walsingham claimed that ‘There was no need for archers and the bows because the issue was fought out in hand to hand combat’. The rebels’ defences do not seem to have delayed the royalist advance. A hard-fought but quick encounter ensued, as the bishop carried on fighting ‘grinding his teeth like a wild boar’. The rebels soon fled, but were hampered in this by their own wagons to the rear. Lister was captured in a cornfield according to John Capgrave, a monk of (King’s) Lynn.

Walsingham’s account of the last stand of Lister and his men has been suggested  to be modelled on Tacitus’ first century account of the final battle of Boudica in 61 CE, a salutary reminder of pitfalls in using chronicle accounts as wholly ‘truthful’ reflections of what happened in 1381.

A further tradition states that further fighting took place in and next to North Walsham church, to which the rebels retreated seeking sanctuary after the main action. This includes the suggestion that the roof of the church was burnt as access was being forced. This may be a confusion with what contemporary sources claim happened at Peterborough.

We do have what must be wildly exaggerated numbers from an unpublished account by an Anthony Norris in the 18th century for the owners of nearby Westwick House. In this account the unsubstantiated figure of ‘upwards of 40,000’ is given for the rebel force, with ‘upwards of 30,000’ of these being slain. A different account by Norris, published as a leaflet which is usually available in North Walsham parish church omits any estimation of the numbers involved, but speaks of the rebels being a ‘vast body’ immediately after the main action.

 

   
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