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tate was very low and mean, those who composed it being in general called Villains; a word which did not then bear any very honourable idea, though not so bad a one, perhaps, as it hath since acquired.
The part which the fourth estate seem anciently to have claimed, was to watch over and control the other three. This, indeed, they have seldom asserted in plain words, which is possibly the principal reason why our historians have never explicitly assigned them their share of power in the constitution, though this estate have so often exercised it, and so clearly asserted their right to it by force of arms; to wit, by fists, staves, knives, clubs, scythes, and other such offensive weapons.
The first instance which I remember of this was in the reign of Richard I. when they espoused the cause of religion, of which they have been always stout defenders, and destroyed a great number of Jews.
In the same rcign we have another example in William Fitz-Osborne, alias Longbeard, a stout asserter of the rights of the fourth estate. These rights he defended in the city of London, at the head of a large party, and by the force of the arms abovementioned; but was overpowered, and lost his life by the means of a wooden
machine called the gallows, which hath been fatal to the chief champions of this estate; as it was in the reign of Henry III. to one Constantine, who having, at the head of a London mob, pulled down the house of the high-steward of Westminster, and committed some other little disorders of the like kind, maintained to the chief justiciary's face, that he had done nothing punishable by law, i. e. contrary to the rights of the fourth estate. He shared however the same fate with Mr. Fitz-Osborne.
We find in this reign of Henry III. the power of the fourth estate grown to a very great height indeed; for, whilst a treaty was set on foot between that king and his barons, the Mob of London thought proper not only to insult the queen with all manner of foul language, but likewise to throw stones and dirt at her. Of which assertion of their privileges we hear no other consequence than that the king was highly displeased; and indeed it seems to be allowed by most writers, that the Mob, in this instance, went a little too far.
In the time of Edward II. there is another fact upon record, of a more bloody kind, though perhaps not more indecent: for the bishop of Exeter being a little too busy in endeavouring to preserve the city of London for the king his
master, the mob were pleased to cut his head
I omit many lesser instances, to come to that glorious assertion of the privileges of the Mob under the great and mighty Wat Tyler, when they not only laid claim to a share in the government, but in truth to exclude all the other estates. For this purpose, one John Staw, or Straw, or Ball, a great orator, who was let out of Maidstone-gaol by the Mob, in his harangues, told them, that as all men were sons of Adam, there ought to be no distinction; and that it was their duty to reduce all men to perfect equality. This they immediately set about; and to do it in the most effectual manner, they cut off the heads of all the nobility, gentry, clergy, &c. who fell into their hands.
With these designs they encamped in a large body at Blackheath, whence they sent a message to king Richard II. to come and talk with them, in order to settle the government; and when this was not complied with, they marched to London, and the gates being opened by their friends, entered the city, burnt and plundered the duke of Lancaster's palace, that of the archbishop, and many other great houses, and put to death all of the other three estates with whom they met, among whom were the Arch
bishop of Canterbury and the Lord Trea
The unhappy end of this noble enterprise is so well known, that it need not be mentioned. The leader being taken off by the gallantry of the Lord Mayor, the whole army, like a body when the head is severed, fell instantly to the ground; whence many were afterwards lifted to that fatal machine, which is above taken notice of.
I shall pass by the exploits of Cade and Ket, and others. I think I have clearly demonstrated, that there is such a fourth estate as the Mob, actually existing in our constitution ; which, though, perhaps, for very politic reasons, they keep themselves generally, like the army of Mr. Bayes, in disguise, have often issued from their lurking-places, and very stoutly maintained their power and privileges in this community.
Nor hath this estate, or their claims, been unknown to the other three; on the contrary, we find, in our statute-books, numberless attempts to prevent their growing power, and to restrain them at least within some bounds; witness the many laws made against ribauds, roberdsmen, drawlatches, wasters, rogues, va
grants, vagabonds; by all which, and many other names, this fourth estate hath been from time to time dignified and distinguished.
Under all these appellations they are frequently named in our law-books; but I do not perfectly remember to have seen them mentioned under the term of the fourth estate in all my reading; nor do I recollect that any legislative or judicial power is expressly allowed to belong to them. And yet, certain it is, that they have from time immemorial been used to exercise a judicial capacity in certain instances wherein the ordinary courts have been deficient for want of evidence; this being no let or hinderance to the administration of justice before the gentlemen who compose this fourth estate, who often proceed to judgment without any evidence at all. Nor must I omit the laudable expedition which is used on such occasions; their proceedings being entirely free from all those delays, which are so much complained of in other courts. I have indeed known a pickpocket arrrested, tried, convicted, and ducked almost to death, in less time than would have been consumed in reading his indictment at the Old-Bailey. These delays they avoid chiefly by hearing only one side of the question; conclud