Yesterday was the 634th anniversary of the bloody suppression of the Peasants’ Revolt. Wat Tyler (an Essex boy made glorious) made the critical mistake, repeated by many since, of believing the ruling class. They came to Smithfield to demand a more fair and just society from the King, who appeared to acquiesce, only to attack the peasants when their backs were turned. Parallels for today are too obvious to mention.
Thanks to the sterling efforts of a small group of people, a splendid memorial to the Revolt was unveiled yesterday, adjacent to St Bartholomew-the-Great church.
I had the unwarranted honour of being asked to say a few words at the unveiling as a warm-up act for Ken Loach (not sure If I was invited because I’m a peasant, or because I’m revolting). I mentioned how I learned about the Revolt from my dad who saw in it fundamental, eternal truths. We gathered in West Smithfield on the day the government announced the latest wave of attacks on the working class and our freedom to organise and resist. It’s not hard to imagine Cameron using the same language used against the peasants in 1381 – ‘Peasants you are and peasants you shall remain.’
There’s always a danger when we commemorate our history that we romanticise it and freeze it in aspic. We mustn’t spend too much energy on the fight for a better past! If we want to truly remember the Peasants’ Revolt, we should follow their example.