Melvyn Bragg gave a highly informed and entertaining talk at Edinburgh book festival 2016, when he occasionally digressed from his historical tale of intrigue, romance, betrayal, injustice and ignorance. Bragg has written a timely book and we might draw parallels to today.
He spoke of the background to the story and of how much control religion had in those days (I wondered is this the control that Murdoch’s media outlets and others have today) and that people were scared to disobey the church. Since 1066 French was spoken, but English came back and the Bible was translated into English – there were writers such as Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales written in Latin, French and English. God spoke Latin apparently and the Bible was not to be touched.
The Great Plague of London killed 47.3% in one year and they thought the plague was a punishment from God. The Black Death of the 1340s reduced numbers for labour – wages were fixed and there was feudalism.
Bragg told the story of the Peasants Revolt in England in 1348. This was not a ‘peasant’ rebellion at all He said and it has been air brushed out and totally ignored mostly. This was the biggest mass rebellion ever in England and it is never talked about. There was a three to four months build up and the rebellion lasted over two weeks in London.
The Hundred Years war in France was not going well for the English and the taxes needed for the war were far too high. The people could not afford to pay the high taxes and refused to pay. This spread to Essex and to Kent.
**The Main Players in this story were –
The Preacher John Ball;
The Queen Joan, Princess of Wales, known as the Virgin of Kent was most beautiful. She had five children and became rich from the Crusades. Later she married the renowned warrior the Black Prince.
Wat Tyler - The people voted for him to lead the rebellion. He had fought in France and was a skilled artisan;
The Young King Richard; People believed the king was sacred and spoke with God.
The rebels took the enormous Rochester castle, Canterbury, Suffolk and then London. The young king met them at Greenwich and promised to give them freedom to fish and to reduce the taxes.
Born changed the game though - he said that the state must be changed and give away its wealth. The Queen sent a ring worn by the Black Prince to King Richard to spur him to take back control. Richard was no warrior and he liked music. (power does not like to give up power). Tyler trusted the King and rode to discuss with him – and they assassinated him.
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