Greetings, and salutations on vellum even, to my fellow manorial slaves. There be plague in the realm!
Just did my six-monthly visit to the village market, the one held in the shade of the Baron’s castle, but there was nothing there. No skinned lamprey or skewered rabbit stewing with high and lovely rancidness in the heat of the sun, there were no regaling bards, the only other Peasants I saw were fighting over small rolls of parchment squares. The days of woe are upon us! Thank Boudicca of old that I grow my own turnips!
Met the Town Cryer on my way back to my hovel. He yelled at me from a great distance …
“Hey Serf, yeah you. Normally I don’t waste time acclaiming at you lot but today I’m delivering a new proclamation and I’m exclaiming it all across the realm, in a really loud voice. The King, queen, baron, lord, knight, duke, or whoever else last razed the land, and had their foot firmly on your yokel neck, now officially loves you for all to see!”
I confess to having had unkind hovel type thoughts upon hearing his words. They didn’t love us Serfs yesterday, predictably they will not love us Serfs tomorrow, so what is so different about today?
I summoned up the best of my speech and said the medieval equivalent of “Huh?” – I even reached forward in time and said the Elizabethan equivalent of that wonderful profanity “God’s Teeth!” – all of which flew blithely over the Cryer’s head. He stuck to the script.
“’tis true Serf. The realm is in peril. The plague be upon us. Here’s a golden coin from the Baron, buy up big on the lamprey and rabbit and parchment squares, keep his cess-pit cleaners in work cleaning his cess-pits, save his Manor, and his power over you, and his exalted way of life from ruin!”
Oh, I thought, in a Serf sort of way, once the plague passes the plan is for everything to revert back to the way they always were. Foot on the neck of the Peasants. Continue to starve-up and tax to death the minion serf-labourers. Allow the Barons and Knights to get back to doing the best of their worst – demonising the Serfs and blaming the Peasants for being lowly poor Peasants. Now where’s the goodness in that deal I thought?
The Town Cryer, being fast and mean, must have read my thoughts …
“But be warned Serf! That gold coin shall be returned in full, and then some, once the plague passes. And there be new surveillance constables lurking the land. Anybody seen in the company of Wat Tyler is dungeon bound!”
Wat was a revolting Peasant back in 1391. He wanted all these new ‘we care for you Peasants truly ruly’ proclamations to become permanent after the plague passed. He wanted the newly dropped hovel taxes to stay that way. He wanted the Barons a little poorer and the Peasants a little richer and all standing a little closer together on fiscal common ground. He wanted, back then, this new rush of empathy for all us Serfs to become fixed in the consciousness of the realm.
Perhaps, in the modern era, he might have wanted a UBI, or a Jobs Guarantee?
From the Barons: “Keep ’em housed. Keep ’em fed. Promise ’em anything to keep ’em quiet. Once the Plague has passed we’ll march right back in again and walk all over ’em. The power, and the entitlement, remains ours!”
So stuff the exhortations of the Cryer on behalf of the Barons, I’m having a meeting and a mead with Wat Tyler tonight!
From Wikipedia: (some words about what happened just after the Black Death scoured the land) – Walter “Wat” Tyler (died 15 June 1381) was a leader of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt in England. He marched a group of rebels from Canterbury to the capital to oppose the institution of a poll tax and to demand economic and social reforms. While the brief rebellion enjoyed early success, Tyler was killed by officers loyal to King Richard II during negotiations at Smithfield, London.
Subsequently Richard II revoked all the concessions he had made.
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