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St. Albans and the Dissolution of the Monasteries

Wat Tyler gets bedazzled and be-deaded by the king and his retinue.

Recently, Juliet Barker gave a talk at a history weekend in England on The Peasants’ Revolt. Short summary for those of you not familiar with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. It took place in the reign of Richard II at the end of the 14th century. By that time, the population of England had been decimated by successive waves of plague. As a result, social lines had been shifting. The aristocrats had a “how are you going to keep them down on the farm” after all the other serfs had died problem. Some farm laborers, serfs and freemen, were looking for higher wages elsewhere. Then, John of Gaunt, the king’s uncle, tried to raise taxes for national defense via a poll tax. He actually set it up to be fairer to the poor but as a result, the nascent middle classes got squeezed and carried the heaviest burdens. The middle stratum saw itself caught between the landed class that wanted labor to go back to the way things used to be before the shortage of labor brought on by the plague, while at the same time paying for their defense network. There’s more to it than that and Barker doesn’t delve too deeply into all of the political and social causes that lead to the revolt. If you’re interested, you can read her book or check out Tony Robinson’s documentary on the subject on YouTube.

Barker says that it’s a myth that the revolt started in Essex. It was nationwide. The peasants had a lot of scores to settle. What I found most interesting was the story she told of William Grindcobb of St. Albans. Back then, the priories were landlords and also had tenant farmers and serfs working of them at subsistence wages. The prior of St. Albans had denied his tenants the use of hand mills to grind their flour, confiscated the hand mills and required all tenants to grind their grain at the priory’s more expensive flour mill. It also denied Grindcobb his claim of land and that he was a free man. Essentially, the priory turned him back into a serf. Grindcobb was a literate man with some degree of advanced education. He petitioned the king regarding his right to land and freedom. The king ruled in his favor. Grindcobb presented his documents to the prior. As a result, Gridncobb, and several other petitioners, were executed by the priory as an example to other potential upstarts.These nonviolent rebels were hung and the priory had ordered them not cut down before the corpses had rotted. But the bodies were cut down and buried. So, the priory ordered the corpses dug up and rehung. Barker says the queen eventually put a stop to the desecration of the bodies by the priory of St. Albans.

In the lead up to Wolf Hall, I’ve been trying to figure out why the Dissolution of the Monasteries didn’t pique the ire of more average people. The monasteries were some of the only places where charity was distributed in England in the 16th century. They were also some of the only places where education was offered. This was especially the case for women who went through a sort of educational wasteland after the Dissolution. But now that I’ve heard about how the priories had the ability to abuse the general workforce, I’m not surprised that so few people stuck up for them. In protest, there was the Pilgrimage of Grace in the north but, in general, people didn’t seem to be too upset to see the monks go or to see their property confiscated. Henry VIII may have acted out of revenge and greed but many people may have felt the monasteries had it coming. They had grown rich off the labor of ordinary English people and they didn’t feel they were accountable to anyone but the Pope in Rome. So, they lost their property. Karma and all that.

Not that anything like that could happen now.

Besides, Richard II lied to the leaders of the Peasant’s Revolt, went back on all his promises, and had the leaders executed. From what I can remember, Wat Tyler et al got all deferential and awed by the power of the king when they finally met to issue their demands. While Tyler and his rebels were star struck by the celebrities, the king moved in for the kill and the aristocrats regained the upper hand.

Stupid lefties.

7 Responses

  1. If they only had Duck Dynasty ( http://www.wildfowl-photography.co.uk/identification/types-of-duck.htm ) or a Reality Idol show ( http://www.itv.com/britainsgottalent ) to lull the masses.

    • We get the circuses; where the hell is the bread?

      • Anglo civilization doesn’t go in for bread. The Road to Wigan Pier describes how electronic media are used to take the edge off material privation.

  2. If Denis Leary is right, that prior of St. Albans and his henchmen are now wearing orange plaid bell-bottoms while listening to Andy Gibb’s “Shadow Dancing”. 😈

    Seriously, how dare that prior, and the others like him, call themselves men of God?

    I think the worst thing to happen to my faith was its becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. That gave it vested interests in a wicked social order, and the habits of moral corruption thus instituted were easily transferred to other wicked social orders. 👿

  3. Medieval artists weren’t much for facial expressions. Wat Tyler looks as if he is merely facing a tedious minor inconvenience. 😛

  4. O.T.

    Clarissa, a Hispanics professor at the University of Illinois, has recently learned that her university is about to get a 30% cut in funding due to the new republican Governor Bruce Rauner’s budget which was introduced last week. The university president seems to want the majority of cuts to fall on the humanities due to the mythology that there are jobs for STEM graduates but not for humanities graduates.

    I think that you’re a lot better qualified to answer her on this question than I.

    “When I say that the Illinois Board of Higher Education wants to eliminate the Humanities programs at our university, people immediately assume that the goal here is to promote STEM disciplines.

    That is not the case, however. The IBHE is not promoting STEM at the expense of Humanities. It is, rather, promoting online vocational training at the expense of everything else. This is not a Humanities vs STEM conflict. This is education vs online vocational training conflict.

    People, it’s time to forget the outdated Humanities vs STEM debates. We are not each other’s enemy. The real enemy are those who believe that people who are not very rich deserve nothing but online courses on how to work in sales, cut hair, or repair cars.

    All I can do is repeat that this is the official position of our state’s Board of Higher Ed: public universities where students meet professors in the classroom to learn literature, physics, math, and history should not exist. Only the very rich deserve this sort of education.

    And mind you, I don’t have any access to any secret information delivered through the back channels. This is all being announced very openly. The only reason why you don’t hear about this anywhere is because nobody cares.”

    http://clarissasblog.com/2015/02/21/forget-the-outdated-stem-vs-humanities-conflict/

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