Tag Archives: death

The Peasant’s Revolt

So that was the Black Death. An estimated 25-30 million people in Europe died from bubonic plague—maybe a third to a half of the population. Under those circumstances, the feudal system was what the experts call ‘unsustainable.’ Serfs were expected to keep the food supply going full steam with only a partial crew on each manor. The way it was supposed to work was serfs paid their rent by giving the lord of the manor their harvest and keeping some for themselves. With smaller harvests, the serfs saw their portion get cut. They were working harder for lower pay.

Did I mention? Serfs had to pay taxes to the king, too—so there goes another chunk of the food they’d hoped to live off of that year. If you’re a serf, you’re starting to get plenty torqued. It was at this moment the geniuses who run the English government thought, “Now’s an ideal time to collect those unpaid poll taxes.”



It was too much. Serfs and peasants from all over England got together—they gathered a bigger crowd with each manor they passed—and marched on London to tell whoever would listen that they weren’t paying the poll tax. A guy named Wat Tyler emerged as the peasants’ leader. They broke into the Temple and destroyed tax records. They killed the Lord Chancellor and Lord High Treasurer and other officials. Finally, 14-year-old King Richard II rode out to meet the mob and somehow talked them out of killing him, too. Richard promised a bunch of reforms. He kept the peasants there long enough for the London militia to arrive and arrest or break up the crowd. Wat Tyler was killed.

I include this episode merely to show the effects of the bubonic plague, its terrible death toll and the cheesed-offedness of the serfs. The Peasants’ Revolt didn’t accomplish anything much that wasn’t going to happen anyway. Richard (or his handlers) didn’t keep his promises, but the feudal system was already over, kaput, done, stick a fork in it. Why? The Laws of Supply and Demand, gang. It eventually dawned on the serfs that they were in short supply—a limited resource—which increased the demand for them. Lots of farm fields, only a few farmers. There was nothing to keep serfs tied to one lord’s manor anymore. They could set up on their own and negotiate terms. A voluntary exchange of labor for wages. The beauty of the free market.

“That’s nice, Manders. What’s it got to do with reading and writing?” That’s an excellent question and I’m glad you asked. It turns out not only were people fed up with feudalism, they’d begun to question the way the Church was run, too. One guy in particular thought that more people ought to read the Bible.

I love this little illumination of Richard II in his ship meeting the peasants (although it looks more like an army to me)—https://www.worldhistory.org/image/11780/richard-ii–the-peasants-revolt/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peasants%27_Revolt
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inner_Temple
Laws of Supply & Demand:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9aDizJpd_s

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

The Dance of Death

The bubonic plague left a big mark on Europe’s psyche (people’s imaginations). With death everywhere it was impossible not to think about the fact that we’re given only a brief time on Earth. Artists portrayed Death as a skeletal figure who led the living—young, old, rich, poor—in a merry dance before dragging them off to their doom. Le danse macabre in French, der totentanz in German, the dance of death was a popular subject. The brilliant artist Hans Holbein drew a series of Dance of Death woodcuts before he became Henry VIII’s court painter.

https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/hans-holbeins-dance-of-death-1523-5
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danse_Macabre
https://www.amazon.com/Dance-Death-Dover-Fine-History/dp/0486228045
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/955496.The_Dance_of_Death
https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/psyche

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All creatures

I spent some time fretting about the animals which were sacrificed to make parchment/vellum. I am a softy when it comes to animals. I won’t even squash bugs in my house—I toss ’em back outside. I care very much about animals’ suffering. The problem is, we live in a fallen world. Suffering and death are an unavoidable part of it. If I choose to eat a chicken salad sandwich, it means one of G-d’s creatures had to die violently. Even if I switch to a vegetarian diet, animals will still suffer and die.

The Heavenly Father put us in charge of the animals. The Bible tells us it’s right and proper that animals are a resource for us to use (Genesis 1:25/26). BUT, we have a responsibility to animals. All life should be respected. If we take good care of animals while they’re alive and then make their deaths as easy as can be managed, we’ll be serving G-d. If an animal must be slaughtered, we ought to use every last bit of it. This is not a frivolous thing to think about. Our humanity, our soul, demands that we think about this stuff and act on it.

How do you get bugs out of the house alive? I have a fool-proof method. You’ll need a tall drinking glass or a goblet (the kind of glass with a stem) and a postcard that’s big enough to cover the whole rim of the glass. When the bug is on a flat surface, put the glass upside-down over him. Try to catch him by surprise. Take your postcard and slowly, slowly slip it under the glass and the bug. When the postcard completely covers the rim of the glass, pick everything up as one unit. Hold the postcard tight to the rim of the glass with the bug trapped inside. Take it outdoors and put it on the ground. Take the postcard. Run back into the house and lock the door.


I once trapped and released a bat this way. I took him outdoors and coaxed him onto a tree branch. The little jerk peed in my glass.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgqKfGRT0PM

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.