Juliet Barker’s 1381

Juliet Barker’s 1381: The Year of the Peasants’ Revolt (Belknap Press, 2014) came to my attention too late to engage in my article “Gower and the Peasants’ Revolt” (2015), but I have now reviewed the book. I reproduce the opening and closing paragraphs:

During the suppression of the English Rising of 1381, prosecuting authorities recovered broadsides containing, within a mash-up of pulpit verses, what appear to be phrases from Piers Plowman. It seems that Langland’s poem, in some remediated form, was a point of reference for the insurgents. The Rising, in turn, may have motivated a tranche of revisions in the C Version of Piers Plowman: these, by no means uniformly, resolve some earlier equivocations about the legitimacy of secular power. Allusions to Piers Plowman in insurgent broadsides, and Langland’s subsequent reaction to those events, are matters of conjecture, and they would in any case represent only the surface expressions of deeper thematic links between Piers Plowman and the Rising of 1381. This is an area searchingly explored by David Aers and Steven Justice. Although Juliet Barker doubts that the insurgents knew of Langland’s poem and is no reader of it herself, her new book 1381: The Year of the Peasants’ Revolt offers a fine synthesis of the historical scholarship on the Rising and will be of interest to literary scholars, especially those as yet unacquainted with Barker’s sources.


The best single-volume treatment of the Rising remains Eiden’s ‘In der Knechtschaft werdet ihr verharren—’: Ursachen und Verlauf des englischen Bauernaufstandes von 1381 (Trier, 1995), a book absent from Barker’s bibliography and from too many others. It would reward fuller attention.

This review appeared in The Yearbook of Langland Studies 31 (2017).

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