187 men, plug the windows with tar and hay, offer truce to selected occupants, then burn the house with the intended victims still inside. The occupants had two choices: Run out and die at the arms of their enemies, or choke to death in the ?lames. Einarr was perfectly placed to execute a brenna at Hvammr that night. He had the element of surprise, and encountered no armed resistance. But this was no traditional brenna. Quite the opposite, he guaranteed the lives of every one of the occupants. One wonders if Einarr was issuing an order by euphemism when he proposed the attack. Did he say that the people of Hvammr were to be burnt “without restraint” to make himself look menacing? Einarr otherwise suffered from a speech-impediment and was not taken seriously as a leader by the saga narrator.14 Perhaps the real order was contained in the quali?ier “so they'll remember our visit”. After all, they can only remember it if they're not dead. Nobody explicitly says they will adopt non-fatal Rules of Engagement, but there seems to be unspoken agreement on this point: “Most of the people with him didn't object to this very much” (the saga style is fond of understatement. Our author may be indicating unanimity here). That Einarr does not need to spell this out, and yet no-one gets hurt, suggests that non-fatal violence was a known tactic in medieval Iceland, even if it lacked a name. As we saw with the Ciompi, this is probably a case of avoiding escalating the con?lict too much, too soon – not an example of a humane spirit. Nonetheless, if the storming of the podestà's palace during the Ciompi uprising was one mostly non-lethal phase in an otherwise lethal con?lict, then Einarr's attack is a marginal improvement: an entirely non-lethal phase in an otherwise lethal con?lict. RAIDING AND WRITING From Florence to Hvammr, our next stop is Thanet in Kent, during the English Peasants' Revolt of 1381. We will consider a distinctive form of violence against objects, namely the destruction of the written word, especially governmental documents. We mentioned earlier that burning paperwork (sometimes actual paper, sometimes vellum) was a recurrent theme in uprisings.15 Sources for the 1381 rising record theatrical displays in this regard. On the road from Chelmsford to London, for example, legal records were impaled on sticks to form a triumphant boulevard.16 This was a deliberate sign to those who were sceptical of the rebellion that the world was turned upside down. An order built on obligations and strictures attested by documents was to come crashing down. Our Kentish example was part of this. The following is from a prosecution after the rebellion was defeated: 14 Bragg: 'Dis?igurement', 27-32. 15 In an article currently under review, I survey the extent of this practice in the Danish Peasants' Revolt of 1438-1441. See also Würtz Sørensen: 'Budstikken', 31 n3, 40. 16 Mauntel: 'Charters', 100.
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