England, Arise: The People, the King and the Great Revolt of 1381 by Juliet Barker - review by Helen Castor

Helen Castor

The First Poll Tax Riots

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


Little, Brown 506pp £25 order from our bookshop

In the summer of 1381 the University of Cambridge found itself in a deep and frightening crisis. Simmering tensions between town and gown had taken a violent turn, and on 15 and 16 June protesters stormed the houses of the university’s masters and officials, ransacking their coffers for the parchment and papers on which were recorded the grants of the university’s rights. In the midsummer sun, this invaluable archive was heaped up in the market square and set alight. When the flames died down, a woman named Margery Starre scattered fistfuls of ash into the air, crying, ‘Away with the learning of clerks! Away with it!’

This rebellion against academic privilege isn’t, perhaps, what we imagine when we think of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. And that is the point of Juliet Barker’s fine and thoughtful book: that the familiar narrative of the revolt – even its name – conceals the complexity of the unprecedented events

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