Ch 04 The Decline of Feudalism

CH 04-The Decline of Feudalism

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CHAPTER IV: THE DECLINE OF FEUDALISM

SECTION 6: THE PEASANTS’ RISING AND REVOLT

 FACED WITH ATTEMPTS TO DRIVE THEM BACK INTO SERFDOM, THE PEASANTS HAD TWO WEAPONS:

 

(THEY COULD ALSO HAVE RUN AWAY FROM THEIR MASTER, BUT THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN DIFFICULT WITH A FAMILY):

1.           ORGANISE

2.           REVOLT


THE STATUTE OF 1377 REFLECTS THE TERROR OF THE LORDS.

“DO MENACE THE MINISTERS OF THEIR LORDS IN LIFE AND MEMBER, AND, WHICH IS MORE, GATHER THEMSELVES IN GREAT ROUTS AND AGREE BY SUCH CONFEDERACY THAT ONE SHOULD AID THE OTHER TO RESIST THEIR LORDS STRONG HAND: AND MUCH OTHER HARM THEY DO IN SUNDRY MANNER TO THE GREAT DAMAGE OF THEIR SAID LORDS AND EVIL EXAMPLE TO OTHER.”


MANY VILLAGES MUST HAVE HAD LOCAL ORGANISERS LIKE WALTER HALDERBY IN SUFFOLK WHO WAS CHARGED IN 1373 BECAUSE HE:

“TOOK OF DIVERS (COMMON) PERSONS AT REAPING TIME, SIXPENCE AND EIGHTPENCE A DAY, AND VERY OFTEN AT THE SAME TIME MADE VARIOUS CONGREGATIONS OF LABOURERS IN DIFFERENT PLACES AND COUNSELLED THEM NOT TO TAKE LESS THAN SIXPENCE OR EIGHTPENCE.”

 

THE STATUTE OF LABOUR HAD FIXED THE WAGES OF REAPERS AT TWOPENCE OR THREEPENCE A DAY.

 

FROM NAMELESS PIONEERS, THE GREAT SOCIETY ROSE, A NATIONWIDE BODY THAT COLLECTED MONEY TO PAY MEMBERS FINES AND PREPARED A PROGRAMME OF DEMANDS THAT GAVE A UNIFIED CHARACTER TO THE RISING OF 1381.

THE PEASANTS’ DEMANDS WERE THE ABOLITION OF SERFDOM AND THE COMMUTATION OF ALL SERVICES AT A FLAT RATE OF FOURPENCE PER ACRE.

 

THE RISING HAD A BACKGROUND OF PRIMITIVE COMMUNISM, STRONGLY CHRISTIAN IN CHARACTER.

 

IT WAS SPREAD BY POOR PARISH PRIESTS AND FRIARS OF WHOM LANFORD WROTE :

 

"PREACH MEN OF PLATO AND PROVE IT BY SENECA
THAT ALL THINGS UNDER HEAVEN OUGHT TO BE COMMON."

 

(LUCIUS ANNAEUS SENECA WAS A ROMAN PHILOSOPHER, DRAMATIST AND HUMOURIST IN LATIN LITERATURE. HE WAS EXECUTED BY NERO TO WHOM HE WAS TUTOR AND ADVISOR)

 

OF ALL THE PREACHERS OF COMMUNISM, ONLY ONE - JOHN BALL, PREACHER - CONTINUES AS A REMEMBERED HISTORICAL FIGURE. HE DEDUCED THAT THE EQUALITY OF MEN DESCENDED FROM ADAM:

“THINGS CANNOT GO WELL IN ENGLAND, NOR EVER WILL, UNTIL EVERYTHING SHALL BE IN COMMON.”

BALL WAS A LEADER AMONG MEN AND THE ‘REBELS’ OF 1381.  

BY THE SPRING OF 1381, THE ‘GREAT SOCIETY’ HAD EVOLVED FROM A MERE ORGANISATION INTO ONE THAT WAS PREPARING AN ARMED REVOLT ON A NATIONAL SCALE.

IT WAS CAREFULLY PLANNED. APART FROM THE ECONOMIC CAUSES OF THE REVOLT, SPECIAL GRIEVANCES ALSO EXISTED: THE LONG WAR WITH FRANCE, HARSHER TAXES, GREED AND CORRUPT NOBILITY OF WHICH JOHN OF GAUNT WAS ONE.

 

THERE WAS A NEW CLASS OF TAX FARMERS AND MONEYLENDING MERCHANTS, LIKE JOHN LYON AND JOHN LEY, BOTH OF WHOM WERE EXECUTED DURING THE REVOLT.

MUCH OF THE MONEY RAISED IN TAXES NEVER REACHED THE TREASURY. FURTHER TAXATION FOLLOWED AS A MEANS OF ATTACKING THE NEW PROSPERITY OF THE VILLEINS.

 

(VILLEINS WERE PEASANTS BETWEEN FREE PEASANTS AND SLAVES – THE MAJORITY)

“THE WEALTH OF THE NATION” PARLIAMENT DECLARED
“IS IN THE HANDS OF THE WORKMAN AND LABOURERS.”

IN 1380, A POLL TAX HAD BEEN IMPOSED TO TAKE AWAY THIS WEALTH: FOURPENCE OR ONE SHILLING A FAMILY. THIS PRECIPITATED THE ‘REVOLT’.

 

TAX COLLECTORS WERE ATTACKED AND KILLED, ROCHESTER AND CANTERBURY CASTLES TAKEN. BY THIS TIME, THE REVOLT WAS GENERAL AND ALL OVER THE HOME COUNTIES AND EAST ANGLIA.

 

REBEL ARMIES CAMPED EITHER SIDE OF LONDON. THE MARCH ON LONDON HAD BEGUN. THEY MET AT LONDON BRIDGE AND ALDGATE.

JOHN OF GAUNT’S PALACE WAS BURNT, BUT IT WAS DEMANDS, NOT DAMAGE THAT PREVAILED. HOWEVER, ARCHBISHOP SUDBURY - CHANCELLOR, RESONSIBLE FOR THE POLL TAX - WAS TAKEN OUT OF THE TOWER AND EXECUTED.

 

THERE WAS A MASSACRE OF FLEMINGS LIVING IN LONDON, BUT THIS WAS PROBABLY THE WORK OF LONDONERS IN WHAT WAS AN INTERNAL LONDON FEUD.

 

AFTER THE MILE END MEETING, THE MAJORITY OF THE PEASANTS WENT HOME SATISFIED THEIR CAUSE WAS WON.


OTHERS REALISED THE GOVERNMENT WAS PLAYING FOR TIME AND STAYED TO SEE THE PLEDGES CARRIED OUT.

THE PEASANTS COULD COMBINE FOR LONG ENOUGH TO TERRORISE THE RULING CLASS BUT HAD NO MEANS OF EXERCISING PERMANENT CONTROL OVER GOVERNMENT POLICY. A PEASANT STATE WAS IMPOSSIBLE.

THE KING MET THE REBEL LEADERS AT SMITHFIELD, AND THEIR SPOKESMAN, WAT TYLER, WAS STRUCK DOWN BY ONE OF KING RICHARD’S FOLLOWERS. AN IMMEDIATE CLASH WAS ONLY AVERTED BY THE KING RE-AFFIRMING THE PROMISES MADE.  THE REBELS THEN LEFT.

 

LONDON WAS THE CENTRE OF THE REVOLT, BUT A LINE WAS DRAWN FROM BRISTOL TO YORK. MANORS WERE STORMED, LORDS AND LAWYERS KILLED.

 

THE MONASTRIES THAT WERE SLOWEST TO SUPPORT SUFFERED MOST. ST ALBANS WAS SACKED. AT BURY ST EDMUNDS, THE HEADS OF THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE AND PRIOR WERE SET UP IN THE MARKET PLACE.

 

THE "SQUIREARCHY" WENT INTO HIDING THEN GATHERED IN LONDON TO SEEK REVENGE.

THE KING’S PROMISES WERE REPUDIATED. TRUSTING THE LORDS AND RULERS HAD BEEN A MISTAKE.

 

THE ROYAL ARMY BEGAN A BLOOD BATH. HUNDREDS WERE SLAUGHTERED WITHOUT TRIAL.

WHEN THE PEASANTS PLEADED THE PROMISES AT MILE END, THE RESPONSE WAS:

 

“SERFS YOU ARE AND SERFS YOU WILL REMAIN.”


THOUGH THE RISING FAILED, THERE WAS NO RETURN TO THE OLD CONDITIONS. THE LORDS HAD BEEN SCARED, BUT THE PEASANTS AND PRIESTS PAID WITH THEIR BLOOD.

 

WAGES WERE FIXED BY STATUTE. A NEW POLL TAX ONLY APPLIED TO LAND OWNERS, AND A PERIOD OF PROSPERITY RETURNED.

PEASANT AGRICULTURE WAS REPLACED BY THE OPEN FIELDS SYSTEM, AND, THOUGH SHEEP ENCLOSURES REMAINED AND CAUSED HARDSHIPS, THE PERIOD WAS ONE OF SLOWLY FALLING PRICES MASKED BY A LOWERING OF THE WEIGHT OF SILVER IN THE COINAGE. REAL WAGES WERE CONSEQUENTLY HIGHER AND TENDED TO RISE.

 

THESE FAVOURABLE CONDITIONS WERE NOT THE RESULT OF THE REVOLT SO MUCH AS A GENERAL ECONOMIC TREND, BUT THE REVOLT DID GIVE THE PEASANTRY A NEW INDEPENDENCE AND SENSE OF POWER AND COMMON INTERESTS AS A CLASS.

 

AFTER 1381, IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE RULING CLASS TO TREAT THEM WITHOUT A CERTAIN RESPECT SPRINGING FROM A REAL FEAR.

 

AFTER 1381, THE SERF BECAME A FREE PEASANT FARMER OR WAGE LABOURER. 

 

(FOR THE CONTINUED STRUGGLE, WE NEED TO REFLECT ON THESE TIMES, LEARN FROM THEM AND ADOPT  DECISIONS TO RESOLVE TODAY’S IMPERIALIST DISASTERS OF POVERTY, EXPLOITATION, CORRUPTION AND WARS. SHOULD IT BE FLIGHT OR ORGANISE AND REVOLT?)

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