Book Review: The True Story of Jack Cade

The True Story of Jack Cade, by Joseph Clayton. (Frank Palmer. London. 1s. net.)

 It it a great pity the volume under notice is not the work of a Socialist; one acquainted in some degree with the materialist conception of history. As a careful monograph upon the doings of a little known personage it has distinct value and is certainly corrective of the travesty of Cade set up by the immortal William, in “Henry VI.” But—the inevitable but — Socialists would have welcomed a fuller reference to the material causes of the insurrection in preference to the simple narration of events. The evidence adduced by Mr. Clayton would appear to indicate that it was far from a rising of labourers, although the author himself is manifestly of the contrary opinion. Of Cade’s ancestry and position little is known, but as Mortimer (as some called him) was “a good name for the rallying of the gentry,” and as the squires took the lead in calling the men to arms, employing the parish constable for the purpose; and as further, Sir John Cheyne, Robert Poynings (uncle to the Countess of Nottingham), eighteen squires, seventy-four country gentlemen, many a yeoman and some five ordained church ministers, followed the camp to Blackheath, we are compelled to believe that Jack Cade’s rebellion was another of those instances, dotted throughout history, where the toilers were called upon to break one another’s heads in the interests of their lords and masters. This view is lent considerable colour by the fact that the period dealt with was that known as tbs “Golden Age of Labour,’’ when in spite of the infamous Statute of Labourers, the wages of labour rose above the attempted restriction by legal enactment The celerity with which the men of Kent disbanded and returned to their homes is also a noteworthy fact.

 One hint we are given of a material basis for the rising, as thus : “Kent, too, had its grievances. Piracy swept the English Channel unchecked, and the highways were infested with robbers Moreover, its trade was passing. Formerly there had been no better wool than that of Kent, but now the sheep of Lincolnshire and Shropshire, and of the Cotswolds, was found to give a better article.” (Italics ours.) To which we would add Verb Sap.

 One makes the interesting discovery in perusing the volume, that at least two of the “immediate demands” of the modern labour crowd were anticipated in the fifteenth century. We refer to Payment of Members and Graduated Income Tax. Ye gods! Nearly five hundred years ago and yet some people treat them seriously. Shall we call this condition of mind political atavism or does it masquerade under the plausible patronymic of “possibilism”?

W. T. Hopley

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