Flemings in the Peasants’ Revolt, 1381
Contact and exchange in later medieval Europe: essays in honour of Malcolm Vale (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2012), 59-78
Thus ends the account of the Peasants’ Revolt in a London chronicle, the British Library’s Cotton MS Julius B. II. The statement is striking: why would Flemings have ‘lost their heads’ in the Peasants’ Revolt at all, given that Flem- ings took no active part in the rebellion and had no obvious connection with the poll tax (which sparked the revolt) or with the issue of villeinage which so pre-occupied the rebels? The content of the statement is puzzling, and so is its form: records of direct speech from the fourteenth century are rare, and few individuals would have been less likely to have their words recorded than the alien victims of a riotous mob.
Nonetheless, this chronicle tells us both what the victims said (or how they pronounced what they said) and what they should have said but failed to say. Why did a rebel mob rampaging through London, beheading the archbishop and ransacking the Savoy, concern itself with Flemings talking about food? Why did a chronicler choose to record these details in his short narrative of the rebellion? How does this bloody conflict relate to peaceful commercial exchange between Flanders and England at other times in the later Middle Ages?