Book Review: The Great Revolt
The Great Revolt
Written by Paul Dowswell
Published by Boomsbury
Publication date: 6th August 2020
Summary (from Goodreads):
Thrilling historical adventure set during the English peasants’ revolt of 1381, by Paul Dowswell, the author of Ausländer, and Wolf Children. It’s 1381 and the king, Richard II, has imposed a new tax on the people. In the village of Aylesford, Tilda and her ploughman father were already struggling to make ends meet. As serfs they have no rights to move freely or earn wages for their work. Tilda is desperate for a better life than the village can offer, so when the villagers begin to rebel she is swept up in the excitement. Tilda and her father travel to London with the others to petition the king, but the peaceful rebellion they hoped for soon ignites into violence, mayhem and treachery. Tilda’s fight for a better life is only just beginning… This page-turning adventure sheds new light on a period of history which is covered in the KS3 curriculum, and will have readers gripped from start to finish.
“Everyone knows they are greedy bloodsuckers. Enriching themslves while we live in rags with never enough food in our bellies…”
First impressions: I was interested in reading this straightaway as I had previously read and enjoyed Auslander and Wolf Children by the same author. I like how he shines a light on periods of history about which I don’t know very much and make me want to find out more about it! I’m ashamed to admit that I knew very little about the Peasants’ Revolution of 1381 before reading, but I have now read much more about it and found it fascinating. What better way to learn a bit of history or get kids interested in finding out more!
‘Fairness and decency has nothing to do with the world we live in, no matter what the church says,’ said another man Tilda did not recognise. ‘We have to take a stand’
The story begins by introducing us to Tilda and her father Thomas, two serfs (also known as villeins) who work the land for their local lord. Trouble begins when a local tax collector demands payment of taxes by insisting that a 13-year-old girl is older, pulling up her dress to show her body. Her father is so enraged by this that he hits the tax collector around the head with a shovel, killing him…and things begin to escalate from there. Historians have listed lots of causes of the Revolt, such as high taxes due to the Hundred Years War, the aftermath of the Black Death and local power struggles. I had no idea, when I started reading this, that the revolution spread far into the north of England and even had a battle with over 4000 troops deployed against the revolutionaries, of whom over 1500 were killed!
Tilda is excited by the talk of change, but her father is more cautious. Our understanding of the situation as readers is improved by the introduction of a second narrative, Guy de Clare, scribe to the King. Through his eyes we get to see the royal court and hear some of the discussions that go on with the King and his advisers deciding how best to handle the situation. His reflections on his own childhood and privilege show the deepening divide between the rich and the poor and how the revolt is an almost-inevitable result of these fractures.
I feel that modern readers, especially young ones, will be surprised that so many of the important characters – the King, Guy and Tilda – are all only fourteen as that is still very much considered childhood nowadays, yet was considered old enough to marry and work in the fourteenth century.
The more this happens the less they’ll be able to punish us for standing up for what’s right,’ she said. ‘They can’t hang us all. There’ll be no one left to till the fields and herd the cattle.
What I liked: The focus on a specific period of history, really bringing it to life in a way that is sure to interest readers both young and old, the historical facts being accurate to avoid confusion, the use of some fantastic vocabulary (calumny anyone? Love it!). The length of the book is also just right – it gives enough detail and characterisation without becoming too bogged down in the historical facts or looking intimidating for younger readers.
Even better if: At times there is rather a lot of telling you how Tilda is feeling rather than showing you through her actions.
How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a great recommendation for any young reader interested in history and would be a brilliant starting point for anyone studying the period of history in question, The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. I liked how the facts were intervwoven skilfully with the story resulting in subliminal learning – I can definitely tell you a lot more about The Peasants’ Revolt now than I could before reading and it has made me want to find out more!
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