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There is no question in connexion with the causes of the outbreak more interesting than that of the responsibility of Wiclif, or rather Wiclif's doctrines. Wiclif has, no more than the insur gents, been fortunate in his reporters. We have, till within the last year or two, known all that has been known of him only from his adversaries, and they unhesitatingly pronounce him the arch
But then these were men utterly scared by his teaching. For we must not forget that of all Wiclif's doctrines, the one which in his own generation attracted most attention was that of ecclesiastical disendowment. Readers of Hallam wlil remember his full account of the causes for the accumulation of property in the hands of the many ecclesiastical orders. It was asserted in Edward the Third's time, that one-third of the whole property in the kingdom was in the possession of the clergy. What then must have been their hatred of a man who preached that their true condition was one of apostolic poverty! This was actually Wiclifs doctrine, and he inculcated it at once with the incisiveness of the cultivated scholar and with the vehemence of the earnest missionary. Hearken then to the voice of the monastic writers --almost choked with outraged feeling-as they charge this heretic with the main, if not the sole, responsibility for the fearful upheaval. Wiclif, in the sight of Walsingham and of Knighton, prepared the way for Ball, the socialist preacher. Knighton, indeed, in what is surely a very unfortunate comparison coming from his pen, says that Wiclif was Ball's forerunner, as John the Baptist was that of Jesus Christ. It was said that Ball had in his dying confession declared that he derived his opinions from Wiclif. But in all this due allowance has to be made for the vehemence of deadly hostility. This much is beyond doubt: Wielif had advised that ecclesiastical property should be confiscated to the uses af the State. He argued that this course would be to the material advantage of the State, since the wars with France made increased revenues indispensable, and that it would be to the spiritual advantage of the Church, since their excessive wealth had a corrupting influence on the clergy. Wiclif seems to
have been rarely, if ever, consciously humorous. But there is a touch of grim satire in the proposal that confiscation should be carried out in the interests of the owners of property, which must have been very exasperating to them. They would naturally complain that they were at one and the same time being plundered and preached at. Attacks upon property in one direction are suggestive of attacks upon property in other directions. John of Gaunt had for a time acted as Wiclif's friend. He, and others of the nobility, who were leaders in the government in 1377 had felt that Wiclif's theory might help them to an escape from their pecuniary difficulties. Hence the strange alliance in that year! But they seem quickly to have seen they were playing with edged tools. “Dominion founded on grace” was after all a doctrine inconvenient to profligate noblemen and unscrupulous politicians, such as John of Gaunt and some of his fellows, as well as to wealthy ecclesiastics. And no doubt their instinct was a true one. Wiclif was not in any sense a direct or conscious instigator of the Riebellion—as the heated ecclesiastics of the time said he was; but indirectly he helped it on. He had, with the force characteristic of all leaders, in whom there is the not too frequent combination of intellect and of feeling, of light and of warmth, inculcated theories, which, when severed from his own subtle provisoes, and put into rough practice by indignant multitudes, were to have tremendous consequences quite unforeseen by himself.
Consider, then, all this accumulated material for a great national crisis--hypocrisy eating like a canker at the very fountainhead of the spiritual life of the country-deep-ingrained selfishness among the ruling classes—the doctrines of the greatest religious teacher of the age which, if not socialistic, could at least be easily mistaken by ignorant admirers to be so—the far-stretching disturbance of the ordinary relations of capital and labour ensuing upon three successive pestilences--the utter ignorance of economical laws leading to a perpetual conflict between capital and labour--and then failures in foreign wars resulting in a poll tax, as a last resource in extreme emergency, falling with cruel impartiality upon rich and poor—and then add to all this a Minority, a young king surrounded by courtiers either self-seeking or incompetent—and what can the crisis be but a convulsion, at once extensive and formidable ?
When we come to speak of the Revolt itself, we are at once met by certain most singular and striking features. It is a rising of the people that has few parallels, if any, in history. The peasantry of France had risen in 1358: but that rising—the rising of the Jacquerie, as it was called-was a desperate revolt of the utterly down-trodden. It was simply a fierce expression of suffering that had become intolerable. Desperate it was in every sense; without organisation, without programme-marked by atrocities on the part of rebels and of those who put them down. It was also confined in area, and shortlived. Shortlived indeed this of 1381 was—but this rather because the rebels were deluded by the treachery of the Government into the belief they had gained the end of their revolt, than because they were actually reduced or forced into submission. The French rising, again, was a rising of a single class, the peasantry—the English of many different classes, with many different cries, though, as it would seem, with one common organisation. It is true that cruelties were committed on both sides in both revolts. But those committed during the English sink into insignificance when compared with those committed during the French.
In a word, the one revolt was the outbreak of the utter depression of an ignorant peasantry—the other of the growing intelligence of many different classes rising in resistance to encroachments on their liberties by a demoralized gentry. The one revolt took place at a time of complete prostration, misery and destitution : the other in "times, all things considered, of unexampled prosperity."*
Very different, again, is the Revolt of 1381 from that of 1450, commonly called Jack Cade's. The latter was much more limited in its extent, and was of a more strictly political character than
* Rogers' History of Prices, i., p. 80.
the earlier Rising. Jack Cade, indeed, was a pretender to the throne with supporters among the gentry, who were opposed to the party, who they asserted exercised an undue and sinister influence at Court. Wat Tyler, on the other hand, was a man of the people, and did not pretend to be anything else. There is, indeed, one point of resemblance between the two Risings: failure in war with France and heavy taxation were the immediate cause in either case.
How must we account for the combination which is implied in the fact that the Insurrection spreail over Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, Essex, Hertford, Middlesex, Herts, Sussex, Kent and Somerset? To begin with, the Labourers' Statutes make frequent mention of Covines and Congregations, thus implying that the lony struggle between Capital and Labour had had for one of its consequences combination and cooperation among the operatives.
Probably, too, most of us underrate the extent to which means of traffic was developed in those far-back days, and the amount of intercourse that actually existed between one part of the country and another. We owe infinite gratitude for information on this subject to Mr. Thorold Rogers. He considers that the principal means of communication was found in the itinerant priests. They were of course a privileged or ler in their religious capacity. They acted commonly as scribes. Mr. Rogers notices that "any change in the form of writing," in those days, "is as sudden as it is universal,” and that this is so, because the scribes -these itinerant priests--are a niigratory class.
“ Common carriers,” too, he tells us, “ traversed the road between Oxford and Newcastle, between Oxford and Southampton, and took the responsibility of carrying money as well as goods."
Many other facts might be cited relating, for example, to the care taken in the preservation of roads and bridges, which tend to the same conclusion of larger intercourse between the different parts of the country than we are in the habit of supposing. The following, as of great local interest, I will venture to quote.
One of the ordinances of the Holy Cross Gild of Birmingham, was
“ Allso there be mainteigned
and kept in good reparaciouns two great stone bridges and divers ffoule and dangerous high wayes, the charge whereof the towne of hitselffe ys not hable to mainteign. So that the lacke thereof will be a greate noy. saunce to the kinges maties subjectes to and from the marches of Wales, and an utter ruyne to the same towne, being one of the fayrest and most profitable townes to the kingos highnesse in all the shy re."
In addition to these indications of extensive intercourse between one part of the country and another, we must take into account the constant pilgrimages; pilgrimages, which when they were no longer prompted by the old spirit of genuine piety do not seem to have become less numerous. The author of “Piers the Plowman" sarılonically remarks that pilgrims
"Went forth in here way with many wise tales,
And hadden leve to lye all here lyf after." If we do not incline to so severe a view as this, we can account for the continued frequency of pilgrimages by supposing that a custom, which had ceased to be an act of religious self-sacrifice, remained as an entertaining fashion.
The revolt then was widespread; and this implied organization which would have been impossible, excepting in times when men in different counties had learnt how to communicate with each other with something like expedition. The organization is in any case surprising, if we regard the classes from which the rebels were drawn-but the earlier covines, and the general mental activity of the age, along with the above considerations are, perhaps sufficient to account for it.
But we must hasten on to the events of the revolt itself. The poll tax, to which reference has already been made, was inquisitorial ; it was to support a presumed leader, who was, in at least many parts of the country, exceedingly unpopular; it to pay for an unsuccessful war; and its collection was marked by a dastardly outrage upon a young girl. The father, one John Tyler, of Maidstone, that is of a county