Hey guys. Today’s post is my stop on the blog tour for The Great Revolt by Paul Dowswell, and I am bringing you a guest post from Paul himself, where he shares what inspired him to write The Great Revolt. Enjoy!
Title: The Great Revolt
Author: Paul Dowswell
Release Date: 6th August 2020
Genre: MG Historical
Page Count: 288
Publisher: Bloomsbury Education
Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54363901-the-great-revolt
Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Great-Revolt-Paul-Dowswell/dp/1472968425
Summary: Thrilling historical adventure set during the English peasants’ revolt of 1381, by Paul Dowswell, the author of Ausländer, and Wolf Children. It’s 1381 and the king, Richard II, has imposed a new tax on the people. In the village of Aylesford, Tilda and her ploughman father were already struggling to make ends meet. As serfs they have no rights to move freely or earn wages for their work. Tilda is desperate for a better life than the village can offer, so when the villagers begin to rebel she is swept up in the excitement. Tilda and her father travel to London with the others to petition the king, but the peaceful rebellion they hoped for soon ignites into violence, mayhem and treachery. Tilda’s fight for a better life is only just beginning… This page-turning adventure sheds new light on a period of history which is covered in the KS3 curriculum, and will have readers gripped from start to finish.
What inspired you to write ‘The Great Revolt’?
I have spent the last 15 years writing mainly about the 20th Century, so the opportunity to delve much further back in history to write this book was too good to miss. The people of Medieval England were vastly different from us in many ways. They lived in a world of absolutes – Heaven and Hell were as real as the Moon and the Stars, and the authority of the Monarch was beyond question. To rise up against the King was treason.
But they still did, despite the penalty being death. Sometimes this would be a barbaric form of execution know as being Hanged, Drawn and Quartered. Here a condemned man would be hanged by the neck until near death, then he would have his intestines spooled (‘drawn’) from out of him. He would die sometime during this hideous procedure, and then his body would be cut into four pieces (‘quartered’).
Despite these penalties, thousands of ordinary peasants rebelled against their lot in medieval society – an event known as the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. The immediate cause of the uprising was a series of taxes raised to pay for an unpopular foreign war. But ordinary people were also inspired by radical churchmen such as John Ball who preached what was to become the catchphrase of the Revolt:
When Adam delved and Eve span
Who was then the gentleman?
In other words, when Adam farmed the earth, and Eve made yarn for clothing, who were the Lords and Ladies in the Garden of Eden? John Ball’s point was plain enough. There were no downtrodden peasants in Eden and neither should there be in England.
With Ball’s words ringing in their ears, peasants marched from Kent and Essex to London. They believed the boy King, Richard II, had been led astray by wicked advisors – the Lords, Dukes and Earls who were the richest landowners in the country. They thought that if they could talk to the King he would see reason and they would be treated better.
The revolt happened when Richard and his court were very vulnerable. There were only a few hundred soldiers in London to defend the King as many were away in the far north fighting the Scots. When the rebels arrived in the capital, anarchy broke out. Prisoners were set free from jails, a palace was burned and people were murdered in the streets, especially Flemish immigrants who had incurred the hatred of some Londoners because they had done well in the local weaving industry.
So Richard met the leaders of the revolt and agreed to their every demand, with no intention of actually doing anything they asked. But when the peasant leader, Wat Tyler, was murdered in front of his followers, they lost heart and fled the city. And when the King’s armies returned from the North, Richard’s revenge was brutal. John Ball and other rebel leaders were hanged, drawn and quartered, and many ordinary peasants who took part in the revolt were hanged from the trees in their villages.
So what was it like to live in this Medieval world? The population of England was a mere two million. London, then as now by far the biggest city in the Kingdom, held maybe 50,000 people. Aside from the lucky few at the top of the pile, people lived in a world of uncomplaining suffering, enduring pain, cold, arduous physical labour, and, for many, constant hunger. Cruelty was everywhere – bear baiting was a common form of entertainment (bears were made to fight a pack of dogs) and public executions were common. And people believed the most extraordinary things – such as the existence of a tree that produced live geese, or in mythical creatures like unicorns and dragons.
Life was tough in any city but often worse in the countryside. To the Lord of the Manor who ‘owned’ them, medieval peasants were an asset, like their pigs or cows. They would even order couples in a childless marriage to marry other people so they might have children with them, to increase the peasant stock on an estate.
People tolerated injustices like this out of fear, and because they had been told it was God’s wish that the King and his Lords should rule over them. But when their Rulers failed to do this fairly, the misplaced faith of the peasants turned to righteous anger. And that is the story behind the Great Revolt.
Paul Dowswell is a prize-winning author of historical fiction and non-fiction. A former senior editor with Usborne Publishing, he has written over 80 books, including for Bloomsbury the acclaimed Ausländer, Eleven Eleven, and Sektion 20. Away from work he enjoys travelling with his family, and playing with his band in the clubs and pubs of the West Midlands.