Another Eastern Rising in UK politics?


Sean Thomas in The Telegraph ponders the significance of UKIP’s sensational results in last night’s local elections and whether it has anything to do with the character of eastern England:

Why is eastern England the cradle of English rebellion? That is more difficult to say. Perhaps there is something in the climate, or the soil, or the turnips, or the genetic inheritance from Jutland, that forges a stout, stubborn independence of spirit: the kind of spirit that will tolerate a deal of trouble, that prefers a quiet life, but, when finally roused to anger, can conquer an entire nation.

Whatever the answer, one thing is for sure. A whole bunch of posh, disconnected politicians are, right now, praying that Nigel Farage is more Wat Tyler than Margaret Thatcher, or Oliver Cromwell.

It may not be as far-fetched as it seems. Michael Wood, in his book The Domesday Quest, devotes a couple of chapters to eastern England and the origins of English individualism. In 1086 when the Domesday Book was compiled, this part of the country had a higher proportion of “sokemen”, ie freemen landholders, than anywhere else. These would be men and women who had greater responsibility over their own lives than many others:

certainly it is not difficult to go today to the fen villages of the twelfth-century century Danelaw charters or the thirteenth-century surveys and find a sentiment of rugged independence and free opportunity for all in the actions and sayings of the fenlanders…

The Danelaw peasantry, and especially the fenland communities, formed the most successful culture in medieval rural England. Together they reclaimed the fen and the marsh for posterity, and in doing so left many monuments – the finest parish churches in England, and the great banks of of the sea-dykes which criss-cross the fertile landscape still today. But it may be that they left another historical legacy which Domesday records – the earliest picture of what has become to be known as English ‘individualism’.

Sean Thomas could also have mentioned the rebellion against Henry VIII, the Lincolnshire Rising, which was the first of a number of rebellions known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. That one didn’t end happily.


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