Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Peasants' Revolt~ sans Twitter, Facebook etc.

Backtracking a century or six: the coming weekend marks the 630th anniversary of The Peasants' Revolt in England. Without the aid of Twitter, Facebook, the Royal Mail, telephone or cellphone, tens of thousands of peasants in England managed to achieve solidarity sufficient to rebel against their nobelmen masters, march on England's capital city and cause chaos.

The Black Death, a devastating pandemic, had ravaged England and Europe in 1348/9 greatly reducing the labour force available to the Lords of the Manors and other noblemen of feudal England. Labourers, who were little more than slaves, began to demand improved terms and conditions: higher wages, fewer hours. Some even asked for their freedom from serfdom. The government attempted to curb this by pegging wages and restricting the mobility of labour. Additional cause of resentment was the poll tax ("poll" in this contect meant "head") every person was subject to this taxation. The then monarch King Richard II, only 14 years old, was largely "under the thumb" of a corrupt group of officials, which might well have been the crux of the problem - or maybe not. Who knows? I shall not accord any quarter at all to a member of royalty!

Uprisings began in the south and east of England. In early summer of 1381 leaders emerged: Wat Tyler, John Ball and Jack Straw. They led a march of tens of thousands on London arriving on 12 June.

The rebels stormed the Tower of London and executed the Lord Chancellor, Archbishop Simon Sudbury, and the Lord Treasurer, peasants looted the city and set fire to numerous buildings. Wat Tyler was stabbed to death by the Lord Mayor William Walworth in a confrontation at Smithfield, thus ending the revolt. Nobles quickly re-established their control with the help of a hastily organised militia of 7000, and most of the other leaders were captured and executed, including John Ball and Jack Straw, who was beheaded.

The Peasants Revolt did not succeed in its aims, but it did show the nobles that the peasants were dissatisfied and quite capable of wreaking havoc. The Revolt was, eventually, instrumental in bringing an end to serfdom, and in the even longer term, helped to form a radical tradition in British politics.

Here's a snip from the ephemeris for June 1381:

It's interesting that on 12 June 1381 Moon was in Aquarius - sign of rebellion, with aggressive Mars in Gemini, in wide trine to Moon.

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