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History of Farmer Protests in Europe: From Peasant Uprisings to Changing Societal Norms

Jeong Se-jeong, history teacher at Jang Ki-jung

Planning/Organization = Reporter Jang Geun-wook

On the morning of the 26th (local time), farmers are protesting with tractors blocking roads in downtown Brussels, the capital of Belgium, where the European Commission (EC), the headquarters of the European Union (EU), is located. This is a protest held by farmers in protest against EU agricultural policies and coincided with a meeting of EU member state ministers that day. /AP Union

Farmers’ protests in France have been going on for a month. According to AP, the French farmers’ group ‘National Farmers Federation (FNSEA)’ declared that farmers would use tractors to block all main roads to Paris and took to the streets at 2pm (local time) on the 29th of last month.

The dissatisfaction that French farmers had been building up for a long time exploded. They have complained that the European Union’s (EU) strong environmental protection regulations are reducing agriculture and that the French government is neglecting competition with cheap imported goods. However, starting from the 18th of last month, when the government announced that it would gradually abolish agricultural diesel tax exemption benefits for environmental protection reasons, farmers across France eventually rose up. Farmer protests spread to neighboring countries such as Germany, Poland, and Romania. On the 26th, a farmer protest took place with tractors blocking the road near the European Commission located in Brussels, the capital of Belgium.

Farmer protests have often brought about huge changes throughout history. In the past, most ordinary people in pre-modern society were farmers. As the ruling class, they supported the country by serving the country and paying taxes. If they rose up all at once, they could shake the country. Let’s take a look at the biggest peasant revolt that occurred in Europe and its meaning.

From the Black Death to war taxes… Life has become more difficult

The Middle Ages in Europe was a time that demanded obedience to God. Therefore, the church that understands God’s will has set the standard for all life. The church set moral standards, commercial rules, and even wages. At that time, farmers were called ‘serfs’, which is a combination of ‘farmer and slave’. It was called this because the lives of the majority of ordinary farming people were like slavery.

But times have slowly changed. As the Black Death spread in the 14th century, the population fell by more than half, and the countryside was devastated by long wars. Meanwhile, the lives of the surviving farmers became more difficult as they had to pay more taxes to the lords who owned the land. However, as the farmers saw the infectious disease striking regardless of social status, they felt that ‘human beings are equal before God.’ Due to the failure of the Crusades, the authority of the Pope fell. As the situation changed, the farmers also took on a completely different look.

The peasants who had silently obeyed God and the ruling class could no longer tolerate it. Peasant uprisings such as ‘Jacquery’s Rebellion (1358)’ in France and ‘Wat Tyler’s Rebellion (1381)’ in England all occurred during this period. The era called the Middle Ages began to shake greatly.

Pay the costs of war instead? Rebellion with farming tools

The Hundred Years’ War lasted for about 100 years from 1337 to 1453, with repeated truce and battles. It was a war between England and France over the French throne and control of the Flanders region in northern France. At the Battle of Poitiers (1356) in the early stages of the war, Edward, the eldest son of King Edward III of England at the time, committed arson and looting throughout the French countryside, causing great damage. When the British won the battle, French peasants had to pay for the ransom and war costs of the French king and lords taken prisoner by the British. However, due to famine and epidemics, it was impossible to pay that much tax.

In the ‘Jacquery Rebellion’ that occurred in France in 1358, several peasants surrounded a noble knight wearing armor and attacked him by striking him with axes. An illustration from the history book ‘Chronicle of Fruissart’ at the time. /Wikipedia

Eventually, in 1358, a peasant revolt broke out in the Beauvais region of northern France, which was called the ‘Jacquery Rebellion.’ At the time, ‘Jacques’ was a representative farmer’s name, and ”Jakri” was used to mean farmers. In the Beauvais region, a marble producing area, farmers were originally exempted from military and labor service if they worked as stone diggers. However, a backlash arose when the nobles announced that they would requisition unlimited labor and property from the peasants to make up for the damage caused by the war.

Peasants began to fight against knights and nobles with farming tools. There were only a few dozen ‘Zakri’ at first, but the number grew to thousands in just a few days. The rebellion quickly spread throughout northern France, including Normandy, Ile-de-France, and Champagne. Unfortunately, this momentum did not last long. The suppression force, led by nobles, massacred over 20,000 peasants in less than 15 days. Afterwards, brutal suppression took place for about two months. However, Zachry’s Rebellion greatly shook up the medieval feudal society that discriminated between farmers and nobles.

He marched in front of the king and asked, “Were there slaves during the time of Adam and Eve?”

It was the same for farmers in England. Many people died from the Black Death, and the damage from the Hundred Years’ War was severe. At the time, the Church of England owned one-third of the country, but when the Black Death broke out, there was a shortage of people to farm on so much church land. Then, they collected huge taxes from farmers and prohibited them from moving to other lands. To finance the Hundred Years’ War, the British royal family decided to impose a head tax on all citizens over the age of 15. Poor farmers are taxed the same amount as the rich. Farmers could not pay more taxes and had no choice but to become angry at the irrationality.

In 1381, the British peasants who started the ‘Wat Tyler Rebellion’ marched to the capital London and occupied the noble residence ‘Savoy Palace’. At this time, the Savoy Palace burned down, and the Savoy Hotel, a famous luxury hotel, was built in its place in 1889. A painting painted by British artist Alfred Garth Jones in 1900. /Wikipedia

A peasant uprising occurred in 1381 in the Brentwood region of Essex, England. They resisted the tax collector who came to arrest farmers who refused to pay taxes. The urban poor also rose up. As wages rose due to population decline due to the Black Death, the ‘Labor Ordinance’ enacted in 1351 forced wages to be lower than before the Black Death. More than 100,000 people participated in the peasant uprising in one month. This is called ‘Wat Tyler’s Rebellion’. It was named after a man named ‘Watt Tyler’ who emerged as a leader by uniting the growing uprising forces in each region.

Watt Tyler joined forces with reformist clergyman John Ball to demand reform from the government. The rebels even entered London, the capital of England, demanding the abolition of serfdom. However, Tyler was killed and the peasants lost their focus and dispersed, ending the rebellion. The king executed the leaders of the rebellion and severely punished the peasants who participated.

Britain was the first country in the world to abolish serfdom. Although the Watt Tyler Rebellion itself failed, the farmers’ efforts were not in vain. John Ball, who led the rebellion with Watt Tyler, said, “In the beginning, when Adam plowed the fields and Eve weaved, who was the nobleman and who was the serf?” It’s similar to what Manjeok said during the Goryeo Dynasty: “Is there a separate descendant of the Queen Mother?” As the Middle Ages began to shake, we began to move toward a new era in which everyone had the right to dignity.

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2024-02-27 18:04:58

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