UK: England, Arise:The People, the King and the Great Revolt of 1381
Little, Brown, October 2014: ISBN: 978-1-4087-0335-9
Audiobook: Hachette Audio, 2014: read by Carole Boyd (Linda Snell of BBC Radio 4’s The Archers) Paperback: Abacus, September, 2015: ISBN: 978-0-349-12382-0
1381: The Year of the Peasants’ Revolt
Belknap Press, November 2014: ISBN: 9780674368149
Juliet says: "First of all I should explain that, despite the different titles and jackets, this is exactly the same book between the covers – text, pictures and all! I’m quite happy for you to buy it twice, once in the UK and once in the US, but you might not feel quite so happy to discover you’ve shelled out twice for the same book.
One of the most exciting things about writing a book like this is that you start out thinking you have a reasonable amount of knowledge on the subject – only to find that almost everything you think you know is wrong. When all your preconceptions are shared by everyone else, even most academics, then it’s even more exciting. I thought the Peasants’ Revolt was a bloodbath – a ‘summer of blood’ (Dan Jones) ‘characterised by murder and mayhem, beheadings and betrayal ... and a general riot of destruction and death’ (Melvyn Bragg). Turns out it was nothing of the sort – not only were the rebels not ‘peasants’ (they included wealthy townsmen, gentry and even MPs) but in fact more people were executed for taking part in the revolt than were killed by the rebels during its course. What’s more, the rebels were extremely well organised, coordinated their actions and carefully targeted their violence at corrupt officials (except when they indulged in the popular medieval English sport of murdering foreigners). As for the trio of giants celebrated throughout history as the leaders of the revolt, Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Balle, well, I’m afraid that the sad truth is that next to nothing is known about them. What I have uncovered, however, is a host of other people we’ve never heard of before – ordinary men who stepped up to the mark in their own localities – whose lives and motives make fascinating and sometimes tragic reading.
This is a book of two halves. The first is a snapshot of what English life was really like in town and countryside in 1381 which helps to set the scene for the Great Revolt and explains how and why it happened. The second is a detailed account of the revolt itself, following its course across Essex and Kent then spreading throughout the south east and East Anglia and as far afield as Yorkshire and Somerset. And as anyone who’s read any of my books before will expect, it’s full of entertaining stories which bring the people and period to extraordinary life, from Margery Starre who danced around the bonfire of the Cambridge University archives shouting ‘Away with the learning of clerks! Away with it!’ to the sad tale of John Giboun, who’s evidence was used to convict and hang his own son."
What the cover says: ‘In the summer of 1381 England erupted in a violent popular uprising as unexpected as it was unprecedented. But even at this critical moment, contemporaries dismissed vast swaths of people as 'the commons', or treated them as an amorphous mass. England, Arise paints a picture of medieval life that illuminates a volatile England on the verge of extraordinary social changes. Sceptical of contemporary chroniclers' accounts, Juliet Barker draws on the judicial sources of the indictments and court proceedings that followed the rebellion to offer a new perspective on the so-called Peasants' Revolt. Looking afresh at the facts, England, Arise introduces us to the loyal rebels who believed they were acting in the king's best interests, and suggests that the boy-king Richard II sympathised with their grievances.
Barker uncovers how and why a diverse and unlikely group of ordinary men and women from every corner of England – from the humblest serf forced to provide slave labour for his master in the fields, to the prosperous country goodwife brewing, cooking and spinning her distaff, and the ambitious burgess expanding his business and his mental horizons – 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. Written with pace and verve, England, Arise is an important and fascinating reassessment of the revolt itself and an engrossing, original portrayal of life in medieval England."
Reviews of England, Arise/1381:
'Here is a seriously good book, scholarly but a terrific read, quietly sorting out myth from probable truth, leaving the crisis of the 14th century as clear as it is likely to become.’
Edward Pearce, Tribune
‘What a golden age for history-lovers it has been over the past few years, with some stunning works of scholarship, written with page-turning skill and which have often challenged some long-held preconceptions. Juliet Barker’s latest work deserves a spot in that list, with this superb analysis of the real story behind the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 … It is Barker’s triumph that she turns … half-remembered stories into a compelling narrative of a struggle against injustice, a portrait of a society in turmoil, and of a battle for freedoms which, if won, would have, in her words, “anticipated the French Revolution by four hundred years”.’
Trevor Heaton, Eastern Daily Press
‘In this brilliant account Juliet Barker puts literacy and the written word at the heart of the rebellion … she gives a richly detailed account of the England of 1381 based on painstaking detective work, and resurrects from obscurity the ordinary men and women who enflamed the country for a few weeks in June.’
Ben Wilson, The Times
‘Juliet Barker’s fine and thoughtful book … brilliantly picks through the toxic brew of grievances that would, in 1381, boil over [but] in tracing their local particularities – seeing the revolt as a ‘many-headed hydra’ – that this serious and valuable book is at its most compelling.’
Helen Castor, Literary Review
‘Juliet Barker’s thorough, clear-eyed and intelligent new volume adds much to the field: [it is] packed with vivid pen portraits of the rebels and the men they hunted, and with several interesting new arguments about key figures and moments in the rebellion … most of all, she succeeds in painting a vivid and exciting portrait of a country in angry upheaval.’
Dan Jones, Sunday Times
‘Juliet Barker’s timely and comprehensive new history of the Great Revolt of 1381 … shows that, without doubt, the turmoil of 1381 cannot be left off anyone’s list.’
Paul Kingsnorth, New Statesman
‘Barker brings order to the patchwork of uprisings – “a confused series of events happening simultaneously in many places”, lamented Walsingham – not as they unfolded through time, but region by region. Hers is a thickly descriptive account, recovering the names and lives of the rebels, and the circumstances that forced them briefly on to the historical stage ...it is a considerable achievement, a meticulous anatomy of this most resonant of uprisings.’
Thomas Penn, The Guardian
‘an accessible and informative read ... an engaging and thought-provoking account of the Great Revolt’ Helen Lacey, History Today
British historian Juliet Barker, in her 2005 book Agincourt, took an incredibly familiar and much-studied subject and, through a combination of painstaking research and clear, strong prose, worked the minor miracle of making it seem entirely new, and she worked a similar miracle in her massive volume on the lives of the Brontes. So it should come as no revelation that her new book … is a stunning performance – but even so, the sheer heft and confident inquiry of the thing out-does even Barker’s own previous excellent work … [it is] by far the best history of that rebellion ever written.’
Steve Donaghue, Open Letters Monthly: an Arts and Literature Review