I HAVE a bit of a soft spot for the medieval period. Don’t you too hanker after the simplicity of those bygone days of knights, maidens and Whitsun Ales?
All the food was organic, everyone was religious, and social media’s invention lay many centuries hence. Damsels needed rescuing and the manly ideal – equal parts murderous maniac and emotional softy – reigned supreme.
Granted, it wasn’t all roses – more a pocketful of posies. Dying of an abscess at the age of 34, or snuffing it with the whole of your village after some fleas hopped on rattus rattus somewhere in China and spread the Black Death around Europe doesn’t sound entirely positive, even if rather familiar.
What’s more, during the good old days of medieval serfdom people like you and me were bound to a plot of land by the will of our landlord. We were allowed to subsist on whatever we grew, but we had to fork over a substantial amount of the excess to our local liege.
Travel, too, was restricted. Only with the lord’s permission could we leave the village. Other basic rights, such as marrying, changing occupation or disposing of property were, too, possible only with the say-so of our social superiors. To make matters even worse, the diet of turnips and beans with a bit of your family pig on high days and holidays must have been tiresome.
Mercifully, we have left that all behind, along with toxic notions of acting chivalrously (read: toxic masculinity). Yet look around and you would be forgiven in thinking that some of the hallmarks of our feudal past are making a comeback.
For example, taxes. We now labour under an oppressively onerous tax burden, with some lucky souls in effect paying a 93 per cent top tax rate. Some of the rest of us will be grateful to keep two-fifths of our income. When we die, if we’re fortunate enough to have some cash left in the bank, the government will take their cut of that too. More than ever we work for the state, not for ourselves. Gargantuan and needlessly complex, the tax system is designed to be abused and circumvented by those who know how, leaving the little people to stump up a king’s ransom only for the Treasury to flush it straight down the toilet.
Travel, too, is not what it was. Councils across the land are deciding to hinder the movement of their ungrateful subjects: Oxford’s wise leaders are divvying up the city into segments, with travel between them restricted. The plans, according to an Oxfordshire county council travel chief, will go ahead whether people want it or not. Similar machinations are afoot in Canterbury. Cambridge is poised to levy a £5 toll on anyone idiotic enough to drive in or out of the city between 7am and 7pm.
In previous days, our suffering was justified spiritually. Our hardships here on earth would pay some kind of dividend when we eventually got upstairs. Today, our god is Gaia: our sufferings are in her name and everything done is to protect The Planet™. While the high priests are more likely to be found glued to the M25 than at an altar, they are inspired by a similarly religious fervour. Climate reparations will be a future tithe. If not environmentalism, gendermania or racial hysteria will work just as well.
I recognise I am not the first to latch on to the idea of a return to feudalism: Joel Kotkin has written a book on the topic. And indeed the parallels are startling once you begin to think about it. Ever more of us are unable to purchase homes, and so rent from a landlord. The stratification of society – economically, culturally, socially – increases daily. The massive transfer of wealth that took place during the crime of lockdown merely accelerated this process, entrenching the power of a hyper-affluent few. That very un-medieval concept – the middle class – is taking a hammering.
The world view of the new aristocracy is plain. We miserable souls, burdened as many of us are with the original sin of having any combination of white skin, male genitalia and a preference for the opposite sex, must atone. Indelibly marked by the sins of our Western ancestors, we must make good our innate evil; giving up the civilisation and the proceeds of centuries of hard-earned prosperity is a good start.
Hence the World Economic Forum agenda is parroted dutifully by each elected representative (and in the case of the UK, the unelected ones, too). We will own nothing and we will be happy. And if we’re not? They don’t say, but I imagine it sounds a bit like ‘rough chit’.
It is 641 years since Wat Tyler led the Peasants’ Revolt. Lord knows how long it will be until another such champion makes himself known. Given that the original was beheaded, it is not a wholly appealing act to follow. Perhaps a rebellion at the ballot box will take place – but with faith in our democratic system (Our Democracy™) plumbing an all-time low, don’t be surprised if apathy reigns supreme.
Yet something has to give, or so one would think. At least back in the mists of time we had concepts such as noblesse oblige, a belief that has gone the way of chivalry, the dodo and the telephone box. It seems that every decision made by those in power is directly aimed to be as detrimental as possible for the people of this country.
So, where’s our Wat Tyler?
This article appeared in Frederick’s Newsletter on December 16, 2022, and is republished by kind permission.