184 Marc Bloch, Rodney Hilton, Ernst Werner.2 I suppose these scholars were looking to medieval revolts for con?irmation of their politics, even if Bloch in particular ended up gloomy about the chances for success.3 Doubtless, participation in a peasant revolt must have been a heady experience. But I suspect that it also had the sharp-edged, nihilistic, unhinged jouissance that emerges when people know they have fatally transgressed the rules, and now they must do what they can before brutal punishment ensues. For most people in the post-feudal Global North, there is no accessible analogy. Perhaps, at certain phases, peasant revolts had the feeling of ecstatic camaraderie, mixed with "what-have-we-to-lose?" vandalism, that one can experience in a demonstration, just before the riot police close with horses. Naturally, this comparison will only be useful for those who have taken part in mass protests that were crushed by state violence. For those who have avoided struggle in the streets, the best I can offer is this: A peasant uprising must have felt a bit like celebrating Guy Fawkes Night in the impact zone of an incoming asteroid. CADE AND THE CIOMPI This desperate defeatist ecstasy, combined with the capacity of medieval people for performative forms of cruelty, explains the off-putting violence common in rebellions – violence which often gives the impression not merely of blind rage, but of being grotesquely calculated to elicit maximum possible horror and disgust. I think of the Jack Cade Rebellion in England in 1450. A mysterious Kentish commoner (in some sources, Irish) known either as Jack Cade, John Amend-all, or by the alias John Mortimer, led a rebel army on London. The bloodshed was intense. For their abhorrence, I recall the multiple sources which record Lord Saye and his son-in-law, Sir William Crowmer, being beheaded by the rebels, after which: "as they passed the streets, [they] joined the poles together and caused either dead mouth to kiss the other many different times".4 Not only corpse desecration, but an incestuous Punch-and-Judy show; Idealists who seek inspiration in medieval insurrection will not ?ind it here. They may have better luck with an account of an uprising from Florence in 1378. The following source was a diary written by one of the disgruntled Ciompi (workers unaf?iliated to guilds), the men who lead the rebellion. In what follows, the Ciompi are referred to as "guildsmen", because the diarist's profession (wool-shearer) became a recognised guild after the revolt: (...) the insurgents left the Palace of the Prior but went and attacked the [Palace of] the Executor [of the Ordinances of Justice,] where they ripped off the banner of justice. They then burnt [the house] of Alessandro di Niccolaio degli Alessandri; then [those 2 Hilton: Bond Men; Werner: Pauperes Christi. 3 Bloch: French Rural History, 169-173. 4 Kaufman (ed.): Jack Cade, 75. See also 62, 69, 85.
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