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Revolting Peasants of 1381

In the midst of the most apparently solid and unchanging social structures, the cry for change is ever present. Six hundred years ago this month, in a feudal English society which gave legal and moral backing to the omnipotence of a mighty king and his ruling class of baronial landlords, a movement of resistance emerged to take on the established relationships of power. The existence of such a movement proves the essential contention of Marxist historical materialism: where there is a division between those who own and control the means of wealth production and distribution and those who do not there must be a class struggle.

Book Review: 'Montaillou - Cathars and Catholics in a French Village, 1294-1324'

A reconstruction

'Montaillou: Cathars and Catholics in a French village, 1294-1324', by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Penguin Books.

It is the turn of the 14th century; a small French village high in the mountains continues a tradition of life that has been rolling on for as long as anyone knows. There is a closely knit community of priests, minor nobility and peasantry, the latter free from the worst restrictions of feudal servility. Most peasants live as farmers, the poorer members being either shepherds (the men) or servants (the women). They are connected to, yet also cut off from, the mainstream of French social life.

Backwaters of History No.5 - Peasant Rebellion 1381

    " . . . that the offender be dragged to the gallows; that he be hanged by the neck and then cut down alive; that his entrails be taken out and burned while he is yet alive; that his head be cut off; that his body be divided into four parts and that his head and quarters be at the King's disposal."

That, with additional provisions, was the punishment known as being hanged, drawn and quartered which Mr. E. S. Turner informs us was supposed to have originated in the reign of King Edward I of England. (Roads to Ruin, by E. S. Turner. Pages 83-84.)

What is Capitalism?

At the dawn of humanity people lived in small communal groups and shared the produce of the day’s gathering and hunting amongst themselves to ensure their collective survival. With the advent of agriculture, many thousands of years later, came private property. With private property came social classes and the state. Property, in the form of land and cattle to begin with, has to be defended from those who do not own it. The state develops as institutions are created to help preserve private property.

Early agricultural society eventually develops into feudalism. At the top of the feudal system is an all-powerful monarch; below him, barons and knights; and below them, peasants and serfs. The monarch grants the barons land in return for support in times of war. At the bottom of the pyramid are the peasants and serfs who work the land. Serfs are tied to the land and have to give a certain amount of work a year to support the barons.

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