BBC Four’s series on the Hundred Year’s War, Chivalry and Betrayal, is a quality documentary. Simultaneously, it displays the BBC’s inability to portray anything remotely connected with class-based tension without imposing its own agenda.Presenter Jenina Ramirez' points were lucid and well-argued. I agree with her that the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt was one of the landmark battles of the 14th century, pitting the might (and perceived divine right) of the rulers against the rage of the ruled. And the ruled, particularly serfs, were in uproar at the imposition of new taxes for foreign wars at a time when the taxpayer base had shrunk considerably.
I sighed warily when Ramirez defined the Revolt as class war: while possibly a valid assumption, this phrase indicates that the BBC is entering fetishistic Marxist recontextualisation mode. Sure enough, Professor Caroline Brown of Royal Holloway University of London appeared to inform us that the rulers’ surprise that ordinary people could communicate and organise, including by letter, was redolent of the West’s consternation upon learning on 9/11 that people it had disregarded were actually quite sophisticated.
The Peasants’ Revolt was a civil war triggererd by excessive inequality. It was not a pan-national terror campaign, and to compare it to one is an astounding expropriation of working people’s history.
More than this: to compare the Revolt to 9/11 is a tactic to distract us from the mounting inequalities under which we’ve been labouring since 1997. True, we all reap the benefits of an affluent society, which cannot be created without some inequality; but paying for ill-thought-out wars and EU membership plus public sector waste on top of an open-doors immigration system is unsustainable, and the house of cards is shaking even now.
The Peasants’ Revolt is far more relevant to contemporary British life than the BBC, for all its cod-proletarian rhetoric, would have its licence-payers believe.
Chivalry and Betrayal: Breaking the Bonds - BBC i-player - section on Peasants' Revolt starts 23:08