Peasant Anger and Violence in the Writings of Orderic Vitalis
Kate McGrath (Central Connecticut State University)
Ceræ: An Australasian Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 1 (2014)
Abstract This paper examines the representation of peasant anger in the writings of Orderic Vitalis. In his texts, Orderic often associates peasant anger with divine vengeance and just violence. Peasants are propelled to act because there are no other agents to help restore order; faced with the unrestrained violence of bad lords, Orderic describes peasants using their anger to ensure justice. Moreover, the low status of peasants ensures an appropriately ignoble death for such lords. Understanding the customary norms around peasant anger reflected in Orderic’s work, then, is an important part of understanding medieval models of honourable violence.
In his twelfth-century Ecclesiastical History, Orderic Vitalis (1075–c. 1142) describes a conflict initiated by the savage, unprovoked attack on his Norman monastery of Saint-Évroul by Robert Bouet, an archer of a local lord named Richer of Laigle.1 According to Orderic, Robert Bouet already had a long list of crimes to his name, including committing outrages during Pentecost.2 Then on 18 May 1135, Robert and his accomplices descended ‘like wolves’ upon the monastery’s herds.3 When the shepherds, peasants, and townspeople realized what was happening, they rushed to defend the monastery and its livestock. In the ensuing confrontation, the ‘angry folk’ captured Robert Bouet and six of his men and then hanged them.