Friday, 22 May 2009

Revolution in the air..

The anger in the air is palpable. The ordinary people hold the political class in contempt.
The government is failing, as war and economic catastrophe are dealt with in increasingly unconvincing fashion by second-rate public servants. There is, for the first time in a generation, a sense of revolution brewing.

This is not today's Britain. It is England in 1381, the year that witnessed one of the greatest popular risings in our history: the Peasants' Revolt.

Between May and November that year, England was seized by spasms of popular rebellion, provoked by poll taxes and a disastrous war, and underpinned by the common belief that the government was a pack of scoundrels.

Towns and villages from Somerset to Scarborough rose against their rulers, beating and sometimes killing MPs, lawyers, landowners and politicians, tearing down their homes and vandalising their land.

At the heart of the rising was a march on London on Corpus Christi weekend (Thursday 13 to Saturday 15 June).

Traditionally this was a time of mystery plays and festive processions. In 1381, the main procession consisted of villagers from the Thames estuary marching along the pilgrim road between Canterbury and London, burning houses and taking political prisoners as they protested against their venal, incompetent masters.

When the protestors, led by their general Wat Tyler and the maverick preacher John Ball, reached London, they found they had significant common cause with the townsmen.
The London populace bore long-held grudges towards their own ruling elites - which included the oligarchic, super-rich merchant traders in the City as well as the hapless courtiers who governed in the name of 14-year old King Richard.

So the town mice opened their gates to the country mice, and together they all set about the cats.

At first there were organised protests, attacks on specific, symbolic landmarks: the Savoy Palace, home of the powerful and unpopular duke of Lancaster, was burned to the ground; the Temple, home of the legal profession, was sacked. Prisons were broken open and the Tower of London, where the government had holed up, was besieged.
Demonstrations became riots. A chopping block was set up at Cheapside, where the street ran sticky with the blood of the condemned.

The Archbishop of Canterbury had his head hacked off on Tower Hill. The Treasurer was murdered, as - in Suffolk - was a Chief Justice.
Some 140 Flemish merchants and their families were butchered on the banks of the Thames, in a shocking xenophobic massacre.

But for the luck of the young king, Richard II, and the fortitude of a few good men around him led by Mayor of London, William Walworth, the City would have been burned to the ground.
Tyler and his mob were eventually defeated at Smithfield, but it took nearly six months to calm the rest of the country.

The summer of discontent left a profound mark on the English political consciousness.
A few lines written, prior to the rebellion, by the Kentish poet John Gower, were suddenly recognised as an important tenet of government.
"There are three things of such a sort that they produce merciless destruction when they get the upper hand," he wrote.
"One is a flood of water, another is a raging fire and the third is the lesser people, the common multitude; for they will not be stopped by either reason or by discipline."

I have thought many times during the past months that our politicians would benefit from revisiting the events of the Peasants' Revolt.

In many ways it is a tale of mutual misunderstanding: the ordinary folk thought the worst of their politicians, and politicians saw their people as an economic resource, to be taxed and tormented as the necessities of government demanded.

This government, like the government in 1381, has been caught out by a crisis of unprecedented severity.

In the fourteenth century it was the Black Death, which killed 40% of Europe's population.
The government's reaction - to impose labour laws that stifled economic recovery but preserved the social hierarchy, was vastly unpopular, for it prevented ordinary people from improving their lives.

Now, it is the collapse in global credit which has brought a different sort of misery to millions.
No doubt there are many differences between 1381 and 2009. They were medieval, we are modern. And history never repeats itself as exactly as historians sometimes wish.

But if I were an MP today, I would make it my business to learn the course and the lessons of 1381 by heart. Then I would give thanks that there are no longer any chopping blocks at Cheapside.

Dan Jones is the author of Summer of Blood.


The Penguin said...

Those that do not learn the lessons of history....

The Penguin

Chris said...

Heh, funnily enough B.Tuchman's old standby "A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century" has been doing the rounds in my circle of history buff net friends recently.

The chapters on the French Jacquerie and the 1381 Peasant's Revolt have been getting a *lot* of comment from some normally pretty apolitical people...

K. MacEgan said...

God abhors a slave made King (Book of Proverbs, KJV).

roafscri said...

They have taken the authority we lend them and our permission to be goverened by them for granted for too long.

Harri said...

Not much change here then!

Ms Gould is rather pissed to say the least.

Its the meejas fault again.

'Young people like myself have known for some time that we need a new agenda that has, at its heart, the environment, social mobility, and a more open, transparent style of doing politics "

Sounds like the same old shit to me?

WV. well almost... Stasi?

brightonyid said...

No chopping blocks at Cheapside......YET.

Paul said...

I have just been talking to a popular local businessman. He often puts signs up outside his shop decrying the current way things are going in a rather odd but very funny way.

Recently he put up a sign suggesting that people not bother voting in the European elections as it's a waste of time.

Would you believe it that the local borough council actually rang him up and told him off for expressing an opinion, and criticising him for daring to express an opinion like that!

What business is it of theirs? Fucking Righteous bastards!

The EU is an illegitimate entity. It does not deserve our support.

microdave said...

"Would you believe it that the local borough council actually rang him up and told him off for expressing an opinion, and criticising him for daring to express an opinion like that!"

I hope he told them where to go!

Ampers said...

And don't forget the following speech!

“...It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

“Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

“Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd; your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse the Augean Stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings, and which by God's help and the strength He has given me, I now come to do.

“I command ye, therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. You have sat here too long for the good you do. In the name of God, go!”

A version of Oliver Cromwell's speech dismissing Parliament
20 April 1653

denverthen said...


OH: good luck with the court case.

Phil McVile said...

These cunts need kicking out now. If any of the main parties get in again they are going to turn on us with a vengance for having the audacity to complain about their behaviour.

We have just seen 12 years with some of the most repressive and intrusive laws in our history imposed upon us with no opposition to speak of. Expect the dose to be increased to stop us ever finding out again what the cunts are up to.

VotR said...

I agree, Parliament needs a good kicking. It's up to the public to do so, if they can find the motivation and don't just abstain because they can't be arsed to vote come election time.

Phil McVile said...

The trouble is that one of the 3 main parties are likely to win with enough returning MP's to infect the new ones with their overbearing, arrogant spiv culture. The returning ones are going to have a grudge against us and want revenge. Given that it's pretty well a one party system ideologically they're not going to face many difficulties.

Imagine Cameron/Brown/Clegg walking into No 10 on day 1. The first thought is going to be "Right you cunts (us). I'm going to show you who's in charge of the fucking show now. Build Detention Centres!". Doesn't bear thinking about does it?

Fausty said...

Superb piece, OH. One of the best blogs I've read all week.

We need to keep up the momentum to ensure that these bastards can't sweep anything under the carpet.

Voting in the EU elections (groan) is an opportunity to send a powerful shot across the bows of the main parties who have helped perpetuate the corruption in government.

If you find voting for UKIP unpalatable, then vote of an independent, but please do vote.

denverthen, what court case?

Harman_Hardwidge said...

Do you realise that incitement to overthrow the elected Government is against the law and treasonous?

I hope as many of you as possible turn up - and get stopped-and-searched, and have your fingerprints and DNA taken and get detained under new anti-terror legislation.

I understand that people are angry but there is never any excuse for unlawful protest, unlawful assembly, disrupting the Government or breaching the peace.

The Tao tells us that a cornered beast is a dangerous enemy.

caesars wife said...

thanks for that OH so much more refreshing than Bland Britain a nation of yellow bellies !!

Shibby said...

Haha, Harman's back to troll again.

Let's ignore him/her this time.

Anonymous said...

Let's hope that the Essex men take the lead as they did back in the peasants revolt.
Wasn't a Jack Straw one of the ringleaders ? Any chance of his namesake stepping in to give a hand this time around ?

The Beast of Clerkenwell said...

It would be very wrong to behead these Hoons
Far too merciful
I subscribe to the Idi Amin school of justice.
Make them club each other to death or face being hung drawn and quartered, in some cases feed them alive to crocodiles or a room full of starving rats, maybe burn them in a barrel of burning tar.

CryBaby said...

Harman, Since when was an assembly of people or a protest unlawful? On what basis can this incident be related to terrorism thereby using the anti-terror legislation?

Perhaps you would like a fucking curfew enforced for your own protection?

yellowbelly said...

caesars wife said...
thanks for that OH so much more refreshing than Bland Britain a nation of yellow bellies !!


How very dare you!!

Dick Puddlecote said...

Harman_Igor likes being told what to do. Who needs freedom when one is a Labour drone?

Permission to speak, Mr Brown.

Gigits said...

It would probably be the same again in 2009.

Except, now we have blogs...

I'm off to put my MP in the stocks (the fucker)

Old Bag said...

i dont want my MP's in the stocks, giits...thats not enough..i want they're heads on sticks!

Anonymous said...

OH hope it goes well for you in London. Would love to join you but I'm leafletting for the BNP.
All the best

Fausty said...

"Do you realise that incitement to overthrow the elected Government is against the law and treasonous? "

Do you realise that signing a nation's sovereignty away to another country or state is treasonous?


Anonymous said...

I have a block 2 feet x 18 inch x 18 inch,it's portable.It can be made into a chopping block easily.

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