I have lived within the city of St Albans since the mid-1980s and have been made aware of the area’s connections with the “Peasant’s’ Revolt” via the placard in the Abbey Gateway, describing how it had been besieged during the revolt. I was also aware the Mrs Thatcher’s “Poll Tax”, and its subsequent replacement had been compared with the Peasants’ Revolt at the time.
My knowledge of this period was limited to the little I could remember from history lessons at school (it seemed to be frowned upon) and reading “1066 and All That”. This, amusing, book describes the uprising as the “Pheasants Revolt” but says it’s “a Good Thing”. I was interested to see a review of the paperback version of the book, which I have since bought and read.
I found the book very interesting, it describes the events of 1381 very clearly and has an interesting chapter (number seven) on what happened in St Albans (including Kingsbury) and Bury St Edmunds. The main points, that are made clear in the book, are that this wasn’t really a revolt by Peasants (generally the rebels were middle class townspeople), they weren’t demanding anything especially radical (most of the reforms took place over the following centuries) and that the feudal system was pretty unpleasant if you weren’t a Lord or a Bishop (or a henchman of one of these).
Chapter Seven mentions Kingsbury, a particular area of grievance at the time. Local people held that when King Offa founded St Albans Abbey, in 793, he “also established a borough close by called Kingsbury”. The Charter concerning to this was lost (the townspeople thought it was hidden in the Abbey) and Kingsbury had been bought by an earlier Abbot and “levelled”. It was thought that the St Albans rebels were looking for this, although Juliet Barker suspects that they were referring to a later Charter, granted by Henry III in 1253, which the Abbot had overturned in 1358.
The author describes the degree to which the Abbot and Monastery fleeced the local population; the townspeople were obliged to pay for all sorts of things that should have been theirs by right – grazing, flour milling and right of way. For a brief period these rights were restored, on the basis of letters signed by the King at Mile End, however the book describes how the Abbot and Barons achieved a revocation of the letters and restored their tyranny.
I really enjoyed this book, my only criticism would be that a glossary of terms would be really useful, the word “Demesne” appears throughout the text, for instance, not one that we are familiar with! It is nice to see our area of Kingsbury mentioned in a popular book, although the inhabitants of St Michael's seem to have kept a lower profile at this time.