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England, Arise: The People, the King and the Great Revolt of 1381

by Juliet Barker

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1104189,330 (4.05)4
Written with the fluency readers have come to expect from Juliet Barker, 1381: The Year of the Peasants' Revolt provides an account of the first great popular uprising in England and its background, and paints on a broad canvas a picture of English life in medieval times. Skeptical of contemporary chroniclers' accounts of events, Barker draws on the judicial sources of the indictments and court proceedings that followed the rebellion. This emphasis offers a fresh perspective on the so-called Peasants' Revolt and gives depth and texture to the historical narrative. Among the book's arguments are that the rebels believed they were the loyal subjects of the king acting in his interests, and that the boy-king Richard II sympathized with their grievances. Barker tells how and why a diverse and unlikely group of ordinary men and women from every corner of England--from servants and laborers living off wages, through the village elite who served as bailiffs, constables, and stewards, to the ranks of the gentry--united in armed rebellion against church and state to demand a radical political agenda. Had it been implemented, this agenda would have transformed English society and anticipated the French Revolution by four hundred years. 1381: The Year of the Peasants' Revolt is an important reassessment of the uprising and a fascinating, original study of medieval life in England's towns and countryside.… (more)

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Showing 4 of 4
A good relevatory read on a topic I knew little about, which I suspect is true of many. This book will likely overturn much of what you thought you knew and give the scholarly backing for so doing. Well worth a read. ( )
  expatscot | Sep 28, 2018 |
As complete an account of an important period of English history. Most significant is the renaming of it as The Great Revolt instead of The Peasants' Revolt because it was led by, and involved, the emerging middle classes of the period. As such, there are parallels with the present day when I can well see the middle classes rising up in revolt as they see their share of wealth and privilege diminishing. ( )
  stephengoldenberg | Apr 6, 2016 |
Juliet Barker is a great writer but her story in this book is mostly finished in the middle of this book. Omitting the second half would have made a stronger title. She shows clearly how the poll tax revolt of 1381 was caused by botched management of raising the necessary taxes, first by squeezing the people not during the harvest season but during the extra lean times in spring and secondly by not allowing tax assessors flexibility and judgment on who would be able to bear the tax. As always with a poll tax, it inflicts great harm on the weakest in society without raising much revenue. A good tax policy targets those that have the money and does not bully those already struggling with life. One puzzling aspect of these peasant and citizen revolts is what outcome they actually expected. Short of declaring independence or selecting a different king, there simply was no scenario in which they could prevail even in the medium run. In fact, the revolt collapsed quickly with the decapitation of the leadership.

It is interesting to learn that the famous characters of Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Ball owe their popularity to later embellishments and literary treatment. As Barker points out the actual historical sources about them are scarce and provide little backup for the legends (as, for instance, featured recently in a BBC documentary about John Ball by Melvyn Bragg). Contrary to self-perception, the English quite like being subjects and rebellions tend to work only from the top-down. ( )
  jcbrunner | Oct 30, 2015 |
Less pitchforks & torches and more systemic revolution, when examining the lead up to the events of 1381 Barker identifies a class of people who existed between a traditional state of villeinage and the free trades, and whose lives were highly stressed by feudal traditions being ratcheted up by the financial demands of an English state whose play for predominance on the Continent was coming undone. What is striking is that while we really know very little about alleged leaders of the revolt such as Wat Tyler and Jack Straw, Barker suspects that there had to be a cadre in this revolt knew how to work the machinery of local governance to hit where it hurt. While not the end of Feudal England, this "Great Revolt" was certainly an indication that the climax had been passed. I was impressed, but I'll let those more knowledgeable about the period pick out the flaws. ( )
  Shrike58 | Jan 6, 2015 |
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Written with the fluency readers have come to expect from Juliet Barker, 1381: The Year of the Peasants' Revolt provides an account of the first great popular uprising in England and its background, and paints on a broad canvas a picture of English life in medieval times. Skeptical of contemporary chroniclers' accounts of events, Barker draws on the judicial sources of the indictments and court proceedings that followed the rebellion. This emphasis offers a fresh perspective on the so-called Peasants' Revolt and gives depth and texture to the historical narrative. Among the book's arguments are that the rebels believed they were the loyal subjects of the king acting in his interests, and that the boy-king Richard II sympathized with their grievances. Barker tells how and why a diverse and unlikely group of ordinary men and women from every corner of England--from servants and laborers living off wages, through the village elite who served as bailiffs, constables, and stewards, to the ranks of the gentry--united in armed rebellion against church and state to demand a radical political agenda. Had it been implemented, this agenda would have transformed English society and anticipated the French Revolution by four hundred years. 1381: The Year of the Peasants' Revolt is an important reassessment of the uprising and a fascinating, original study of medieval life in England's towns and countryside.

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