The Underclass, Underculture  & History From Below

A Concertina Project Depicting A History Of Class Struggle And The Factors That Created The Foundations For Capitalism


A rough chronology of revolt in concertina form, providing a lens to the more underdocumented aspects of lower class resistance, on both land and at sea, from the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 onwards. Focus will be applied to the decline of Feudalism as well as the main factors that created capitalism: the gradual enclosure of common lands; the European witch hunts; the Atlantic slave trade; the 'Great Confinement'; and the various poor & labour laws. 

Below shows sections of the concertina as it progresses.

Concertina detail. 1380s. 

A depiction of arguably one of the most famous uprisings: the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. Led by Wat Tyler, John Ball and Jack Straw, the aggrieved peasantry's want for social change had been building up over a few decades since the catastrophe of the Black Death in 1348. Although the pestilence's knock-on effect and mass depopulation gave some element of power to the lower class, as their scarce labour was sought after, this was only temporary until authorities implimented the Ordinance of Labourers of 1349 in an attempt to cap wages at pre-plague levels, impose price controls, and demand that able-bodied people under 60 work; and the Statute of Labourers of 1351, which was an attempt to restrict peasants' movement and regulate the labour force in response to its shortage. However, these measures were never all that successful, and only increased the politicisation of the lower classes, culminating in an event like The Peasants' Revolt. This politicisation also occurred across Europe too, with two revolts in particular successfully holding regional government, if only briefly (Florence, 1378-82; Liege, 1384 - both workers' governments). It should be noted however, that although the English Peasants'Revolt was suppressed, Feudal serfdom ended soon afterwards. 

All this social turmoil paints an important picture of the beginnings, or at least a more concrete idea, of class struggle and consciousness during the 14th century.

Concertina detail. 1440s/50s.

After the Black Death caused the biggest death toll in recorded history, the population declined drastically and caused an increasing reliance on technology in many areas of life, compensating for the lack of human labour. These technological innovations were otherwise known as "labour-saving devices", and the printing-press is considered one such device. A revolutionary machine which replaced the scholarly scribes of costly and laborious manuscripts, it disseminated all forms of pamphleteering and books in various vernacular, both underground and mainstream, with both negatative and positive implications and outcomes, and increased the literacy rate in the process. 

Concertina detail. 1490s - 1510s.

The Bundschuh were a loose-linked number of uprisings from late 15th, early 16th century, and a forerunner to the German Peasants' War. A peasant farmer's shoe on the end of a pole was their symbol during uprisings, and which later became the emblem on their banners; you could say the hammer & sickle of their day.

Concertina detail. 1549.

Kett's Oak is symbolic for two reason: firstly, it's where landowner turned rebel leader, Robert Kett, assembled his army of disenfranchised peasants; and secondly, it's where some of the rebels were hung after Edward VI had the anti enclosure uprising suppressed.

Kett's Rebellion is significant in the history of anti-enclosure revolt, as it occurred at a time when the privitisation of common land was becoming more and more prevalent, especially since the Black Death, and the subsequent Peasants' Revolt of 1381, and Cade's Rebellion in 1450.

Concertina detail. 1637.

Jenny Geddes, a Scottish market-trader in Edinburgh, was alleged to have thrown a stool at the head of the minister in St Giles' Cathedral in objection to the first public use of the Scottish Episcopal Book of Common Prayer in Scotland. This incident is believed to have triggered the riot that led to the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, which included the English Civil War.

Concertina detail. 1839-43.

The Rebecca Riots were a series of protests undertaken by local farmers and agricultural workers in response to unfair taxes. The rioters, mostly men, tended to dress in women's clothing as a form of disguise, and primarily took their actions against toll-gates, as they were considered tangible representations of high taxes and tolls.

It is suggested that the name Rebecca was chosen from a verse in the Bible, Genesis 24:60 - 'And they blessed Rebekah and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them'. This verse was shouted many a time from the religious urban dwellers.