Peasants revolted – and were slaughtered

Carsten Palmaer reads about the bloody wars of the Middle Ages

Éric Vuillard is a writer and filmmaker, born in Lyon in 1968, who has previously written nine works.
Éric Vuillard is a writer and filmmaker, born in Lyon in 1968, who has previously written nine works.

No, this is not a tea party. It’s life and death.

The rebellious peasants have marched into London, beheaded both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Archbishop, sacked the palace, and thrown open the prison gates. Then the king agrees to negotiate.

In the middle of the negotiations, the mayor of London stabs the rebel leader Wat Tyler. Chaos erupts. The king speaks to the peasants and promises them full amnesty and an end to serfdom, as long as they go back home.

Outside London, the king’s soldiers are waiting. The rioters are beheaded, hanged and dismembered by the thousands. On June 15, 1381, Wat Tyler’s head was nailed to the city gate. Order is restored. But soon it will be time again.

His previous, highly regarded book The agenda spent Eric Vuillard for the financiers who helped Hitler to power in 1933 and the well-behaved statesmen who, under stammering protests, let the Nazis take over Austria and Czechoslovakia.

Poor people’s war is a shorter – 85 pages – and straighter story, told in the same sharp images and with the same low-key fury. But now Vuillard has moved backwards in history, from the 1930s of democratic capitulation to the peasant wars of the Middle Ages.
Protagonist alongside Wat Tyler is Thomas Müntzer – German priest and rebel leader, beheaded in 1525.

The fascination for the play of coincidences and the absurd comedy i The agenda missing in Poor people’s war – on first reading, Vuillard’s text seems as fiery, direct and unambiguous as Thomas Müntzer’s sermons. If you read about it, it gets trickier:

“Müntzer is crazy, granted. Sectarian. Yes. Messianic. Yes. Intolerant. Yes. Bitter. Perhaps. Alone. In some ways”.

Historians like martyrs. They tend to forgive anyone who fights for justice, provided they don’t win.

From the beginning, Müntzer is a Protestant agitator among many, questioning both the Eucharist and serfdom. But he loses interest in the theological subtleties: “Princes shall not frighten the pious. But if that happens, the sword will be taken from them and given to the angry people”.

When the peasant army gathers in Frankenhausen, Thomas Müntzer knows that the time is not right. But for him, the time for rational consideration is over. Now you have to either stand at the head of the peasants or do like Luther and call on the princes to kill as many peasant thieves as possible.

Poor people’s war learn being written during the time when the Yellow Vests were challenging the French establishment left and right and marked by the realization that we never get our rioters exactly as we want them. Vuillard writes dense, concentrated, poetic prose that never becomes difficult to read. However, his text gains a lot from being read several times.

Historians like martyrs. They tend to forgive anyone who fights for justice, provided they don’t win. After a two-page intense fantasy about Müntzer’s execution, Vuillard turns the tables: “Martyrdom is a trap for the oppressed, the only desirable thing is victory. I’ll give it my word”.

We look forward to those words.

Source: Then24

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