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‘Men versus Sheep’
Revolt of the Peasantry 1549 by Julian Cornwall
1977, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 254 pages
“…the poor man then seeing there is no remedy but either to have it, or be destitute of habitation, sells what he hath from wife and children to pay the fine thereof.”
-John Bayker, poor artificer

The Peasant Revolts of the 1500s shared elements with the later rebellions of the 1600s and 1700s of colonial forces in Plantation America. More importantly, the defeat of these revolts decided the struggle between the poor and the rich that had been waging since the Magna Carta, when the King abdicated his duty to protect his subjects from creditors and others and the final abandonment of the lower classes to the will of their greedy betters. For, when the kingless crown [as these revolts occurred during a regency] defeated the peasants, who had grievances larger than economic and who were not destitute, but formed a class of small landowners and common ground users, the most severe poor laws were in enacted and then later upheld in the main under Queen Elizabeth in 1572.
The peasant revolts were a last gasp attempt to stave off enclosures, whereby public lands used by all were seized by the oligarchs, generating a class of rootless poor who were then subject to predatory poor laws. Thus England bloomed in the wake of the Middle Ages, the king siding once and for all with the oligarchs over the people, public lands seized by the oligarchs and a large class of homeless, jobless and masterless people were brought into being in a world which saw men only as masters and servants. The poor laws that would be set in place in the wake of the uprisings of the small farmers against the wealthy sheep owners, would then be used to legalize human trafficking on a scale not seen since the Roman Empire of antiquity and literally fertilize newly discovered lands with the sorrow, sweat and flesh of the dispossessed.
The Prayer Book Rebellion, as it was sometimes called, had its genesis in the nobility destroying communities and enclosing common lands in order to make money selling sheep’s wool. This would be similar to the U.S. government selling Public Lands in modern times.
Some Dated Facts
In brackets find an incendiary element, by no means exclusively causal. Elements of class, religion and ethnicity had strong economic links. For the modern reader. Note that the early modern peasant was not a slave and could be regarded as owning property and personal weapons, much like the modern rural home/gun owner. English peasant’s feared being reduced to “slavery” like French peasants and represent the basis for the Revolutionary American militia man and modern American middle class.
1381: Wat Tyler’s Revolt [class]
1401: Passing of the act which compelled the burning of heretics at the stake [religious]
1450: Jack Cade’s Revolt [class]
1477: 2 Cornish risings [ethnic]
1489: Pickworth in Rutland enclosed class] the community eliminated to make grazing room for sheep [class]
1489: Parliament passes “An Act Against the Pulling Down of Towns” [class]
1500: Cost Of Living index 100
1517: Cardinal Wolsey’s Commission on Depopulation [class]
1520: Sculthorpe Commons Complaint [class]
1522: a civic muster reveals that Cornish peasants were well armed [ethnic[
1525: German Peasants’ War [class]
1536: northern rebellion [religious]
1539: Hingham Common Riot [class]
1539: Act of Six Articles “the whip of six strings” took religious law and made it criminal law [religious/class]
c. 1540: 45% of the population of England laborers or servants, the latter unfree laborers [class]
1544: Norfolk “Pitchfork” Rebellion [class]
1544: Currency debasement begins [class]
1546: Cost of living index 248 [class]
1547: Henry the Eighth dies [class]
1547: repeal of the six Articles and burning at the stake [religious]
1548-9: Book of Common Prayer published as a religious compromise [religious]
1549: Washerne Enclosure [class, ethnic] won by Welsh conscripts brought in to slay English rebels
1549: Riots in Overton and Canterbury [class]
1549: Kett’s Cornish rebellion [ethnic]
1549: poor laws proscribing branding and slavery of poor, homeless, masterless and jobless men as well as community ownership of common slaves [class]
1549-54: 3 northern rebellions [religious]
1569: revolt of the Northern Earls [dissident religious gesture]
Primary Sources
Editor, please forward PDFs:
Description of England, William Harrison, 1577
Discourse of the Common Weal, anonymous, 15-35-6
Robert Crowley, 1549
Supplication of the poor Commons, c. 1546
Please tally percentages of the three differing types of social stress: class, ethnic and religious
Conclusion
Cornwall, a blunt, dry economic historian, writing in matter of fact style, describes the Cornish folks as “a conquered race” restive and culturally distinct, who fought a war of ethnic distinction during the early modern phase of cultural extinction by government and the merchant class. He charts the extinguishment of the final bid for semi-autonomous ethnicity within the nascent British Empire, pointing out quite clearly that the business of nation building in England was to use diversity [Welsh levies] to crush the English middle class and mercenaries to crush the Cornish middle class. In so doing he sketches the blueprint for English and American tyranny in North America, whereby tribe is used against tribe, heathen against Christian, mercenary against militia, slave against freeman. Most telling is his description of how the elite used their servants, who were unfree people, to attack the free poor and drive them from their homes, exactly how the criminal class in modern urban America is fed, housed and clothed by the government and used to drive the working poor and middle class from real estate coveted by the elite.
To quote a banal lyric, “same as it ever was.”
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