The Serfs Are Getting Restive

Posted by – June 22, 2007


Here’s a fun history tidbit I gleaned from the latest Hardcore History podcast:

The Black Plague and the drastic changes it wrought on society, on supply and demand, on everything, had an incalculably deep impact on history. One thing it spurred was the English Peasants’ Revolt, aka the Great Rising of 1381, the 626th anniversary of which, coincidentally, is this month. I did some research on this important event.

On June 14, the serfs rose up and destroyed Savoy Palace and stormed the Tower of London, killing the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chancellor.

After the Black Plague hit and wiped out a significant portion of the labor pool, the remaining workers were suddenly more valuable, and started demanding their share. The nobility responded by repressing the serfs even more. The monarchy re-enforcing the per-man tax that the peasants thought they already paid, and the utter resentment of the entrenched aristocracy is what sparked the revolt. Renegade priest John Ball rallied the serfs with sermons about there being no feudal masters or bondage in Eden, all men created equal, etc.

The rising was so powerful that the King initially agreed to stunning concessions like the effective end of unpaid serf labor, but then all the rebel leaders were killed (John Ball was hanged, drawn and quartered in front of the King, a death so gruesome you have to read it to believe it) and all the tentative agreements were rescinded. “Just kidding! there will still be brutal feudalism!”


In this 14th century art, London’s mayor kills rebel leader Wat Tyler in front of the King.


Unpaid serf labor continued well into the 15th century and after in England, though serfdom was permanently undermined by the plague-related depopulation.

Too bad the revolt failed.

The monarchy continued to impose arbitrary, heavy taxes on the plebes to fund their bulls#!t foreign wars. Sound familiar? I’m not opposed to taxes, but if we weren’t positioning troops on every freaking continent to fulfill some insane vision of American Empire, imagine how much more we could afford!

European monarchs repressed their people with wars for millenia, often on pretenses as absurd as the Iraq war.

America’s founders knew what’s up. This is why they put the power to declare war in the hands of the Congress alone (a cornerstone of the Constitution that both parties have consistently ignored since the Korean war). Thomas Jefferson even wanted a standing army banned. It’s easy to see why

I’m obsessed with the founding fathers lately. They foresaw all that’s happening now, the creeping monarchism, the stripping of our liberties in the name of security, they predicted it all.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Ben Franklin

“Yes, we did produce a near-perfect republic. But will they keep it? Or will they, in the enjoyment of plenty, lose the memory of freedom? Material abundance without character is the path of destruction.” — Thomas Jefferson


I fear we ARE losing the Republic. Are we all that different from a monarchy with serfs right now? According to this commentary by Anwar Hussain: “…it is now plain for all to see that misrepresentative government and corporatism has oppressed American citizenry to the extent that their democracy has become nothing more than a corporate theocracy, a fascist feudal state in which ‘the serfs’ serve the corporate state as voiceless workers, voracious consumers, submissive citizens and pliant subjects.”

Author Cullen Murphy says We Are Rome. Check out Murphy being interviewed by Stephen Colbert; it is fascinating.

It’s past time we rediscover the core American values of our founders, which are so strongly libertarian they make most ’08 presidential candidates look like monarchists.

Don’t be servile to any politician! Remember the 1776 rebel spirit!

Nick

  • Sharon Cobb

    Good post! I am going to link this on Monday morning.