Now is the Time (Melvyn Bragg) - The Great English Revolt of 1381

In 1831, the greatest "grass roots" revolt of English History occurred. It is usually called the Peasant's Revolt, but actually involved much of the emerging middle class and some gentry as well.

Little is known of most of it's leaders partly because they were so successful in their dedicated destruction of all the records of their oppressors.
Wat Tyler has been a blank canvas appropriated by revolting people from that time to the present.

Melvyn Bragg invents and speculates, as is the practice of all "historical fiction" (a dangerous oxymoron). His Wat Tyler is pure of heart and family and naive almost to the point of stupidity as he is drawn into leadership.

The narrative is centered on Wat's path from tradesman to dismemberment but includes the imagined perspective of others such as the 14 year old King, Richard II, and his mother, Joan of Kent to illuminate wider themes of the times.

 I think that Bragg's discomfort at the lack of evidence for his portrayal of Tyler makes his invention wooden and unconvincing.

The most powerful aspect of this unsatisfying book is the portrayal the King's corruption by his mother and the court into spectacular betrayals of his word and his people by placing his seal on rights and pardons on one day, then sending out torture and slaughter to retrieve and destroy the records of his oath.

We often give thanks for governments that respect the rule of law, but forget that laws can enslave just as arbitrarily and brutally whether passed democratically or by a despot.

I recommend a more demanding but more satisfying tome: England, Arise: The People, the King and the Great Revolt of 1381

See also: Now is the Time - fictionalising the peasants revolt

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