Written by Vladimir Moss



     What we know today as the socialist or communist revolution has deep roots in history. The period 1350 to 1450 is especially fertile in this respect.

     The first of these proto-democratic revolutions took place in Rome against the Roman papacy. « Under Clement VI (1342-52), » writes Bertrand Russell, « Rome, for a time, sought to free itself from the absentee Pope under the leadership of a remarkable man, Cola di Rienzi. Rome suffered not only for the rule of the popes, but also from the local aristocracy, which continued the turbulence that had degraded the papacy in the tenth century. Indeed it was partly to escape from the lawless Roman nobles that the popes had fled to Avignon. At first Rienzi, who was the son of a tavern-keeper, rebelled only against the nobles, and in this he had the support of the Pope. He roused so much popular enthusiasm that the nobles fled (1347). Petrarch, who admired him and wrote an ode to him, urged him to continue his great and noble work. He took the title of tribune, and proclaimed the sovereignty of the Roman people over the Empire. He seems to have conceived this sovereignty democratically, for he called representatives from the Italian cities to a sort of parliament. Success, however, gave him delusions of grandeur. At this time, as at many others, there were rival claimants to the Empire. Rienzi summoned both of them, and the Electors, to come before him to have the issue decided. This naturally turned both imperial candidates against him, and also the Pope, who considered that it was for him to pronounce judgement in such matters. Rienzi was captured by the Pope (1352), and kept in prison until Clement VI died. Then he was released, and returned to Rome, where he acquired power again for a few months. On this second occasion, however, his popularity was brief, and in the end he was murdered by the mob.»[1] 


     Meanwhile, the Hundred Years war and the Black Death were devastating Western Europe. About half the population died across Europe; between 75 and 200 million are thought to have died between 1347 and 1351, while outbreaks continued into the nineteenth century[2]. About 80% of those contracting the disease in England died; the poor were particularly vulnerable. It was a time for apocalyptic pessimism - and an opportunity for repentance.

     However, the papacy had undermined the very idea of repentance by its abuses; so the spiritual opportunity was lost, and the West moved still further towards revolution. In England, writes Robert Tombs, “the population had been reduced by famine and plague from about 6 million in 1300 to about 2.5 million in 1350. The pressure that had forced up rents and prices and depressed wages had gone. Surviving tenants threatened to leave unless rents were reduced and feudal obligations dropped. The new laws, though vigorously applied by local landowners as Justices of the Peace, were defied or evaded. There was an immediate leap in real wages as food prices fell. Employers had to supplement fixed wages with bonuses, free food, lodgings and allotments of land. Food traditionally given to harvest workers improved – even the poor refused ‘bread that had beans therein, but asked for the best white, made of clean wheat, nor none halfpenny ale, in no wise would drink, but of the best and brownest.’ Those who were denied better terms simply went elsewhere…”[3]

     Invasions of the south coast by the French and Castilians, a Welsh uprising and a Scottish invasion increased the people’s anger, leading in the end to the Peasants’ Revolt of June, 1381. Charles George writes: “Although the pretext for revolt was a tax grievance against the government of Richard II’s minority, and was linked therefore to the heavy and unpopular burden of the Hundred Years’ War, the motives of the insurgents went deeper. Their anger, like that of the German peasants one hundred and fifty years later, was directed against primary mechanisms within the social system: the customary manorial services to the lord, the restrictive aristocratic forest laws, the wealth of the Church. These demands for the freer sharing of the land and game of England, for greater security and opportunity for the farmer in the village through fixed rents, and the animus expressed against institutional Christianity represented more than a temporary disaffection resulting from the fortuitous bad luck with nature and disease and the stupid wars of the century. The English historian, G.M. Trevelyan, puts the case strongly, perhaps, but interestingly:

     “’Nothing is more remarkable than the change in the temper and mental activity of the lower orders during the fourteenth century. Professor Davis has summed up the reign of Henry III with the words: “Of all the contrasts which strike us in medieval life, none is so acute as that between the intellectual ferment in the upper class and the oriental passivity of their inferiors.” But in the reign of Edward III the peasants could no longer be accused of “oriental passivity”, and the “intellectual ferment” in their ranks reminds us of a modern labor movement. Village unions strike for higher wages, villains demand freedom in return for 4d. an acre rent, and men ask each other in every field that deep-probing question –

When Adam delved and Eve span

Who was then the gentleman?’”[4] 

     These words were spoken by John Ball, “the crazy priest”, as Froissart calls him, in his address to the rebels at Blackheath. He went on, using amazingly modern, almost socialist language: “From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty. I counsel you therefore well to bethink yourselves, and to take good hearts unto you, that after the manner of a good husband that tilleth his ground, and riddeth out thereof such evil weeds as choke and destroy the good corn, you may destroy first the great lords of the realm, and after, the judges and lawyers, and questmongers, and all other who have undertaken to be against the commons. For so shall you procure peace and surety to yourselves in time to come; and by dispatching out of the way the great men, there shall be an equality in liberty, and no difference in degrees of nobility; but a like dignity and equal authority in all things...” [5]

      At his first meeting with the rebels the fourteen-year-old King Richard II agreed to abolish serfdom, “whose breakdown the Black Death accelerated, making those still constrained by it all the more aggrieved”[6], and set a flat-rent rate of four pence an acre. 

     The rebels appeared to have won; nor did the king succeed in saving the Archbishop of Canterbury Sudbury, who was executed on Tower Hill. However, he agreed to a second face-to-face meeting with the peasants at Smithfield on June 15.

     “Before he left,” writes Simon Schama, “he went to the great shrine that Henry III had built at Westminster and prayed to the king whom the Plantagenets had made their guardian saint, Edward the Confessor. When he reached Smithfield, he saw that the rebel leaders were on the west side of the field, the royal party on the east. Wat Tyler rode over to Richard, dismounted, briefly and unconvincingly bent his knees, but then rose, shook the king’s hand and called him ‘brother’. ‘Why will you not go home?’ Richard asked. Tyler is said to have responded with a curse and a demand for a new Magna Carta, this time for the common people, formally ending serfdom, pardoning all outlaws, liquidating the property of the Church and declaring the equality of all men below the king. As revolutionary as all this sounds (and undoubtedly was), all the demands, other than the pardon for outlaws, would, in fact, return as elements of English royal policy in the centuries to come. But that was for the future. When Richard replied in the affirmative (with the crucial loophole, ‘saving only the regality of his crown’), it was hard to know who was more flabbergasted – the rebels or the royals.

     “Perhaps taken aback by the unexpected concession, for a moment no one did anything. A silence fell over the field, broken by Wat Tyler, calling for a flagon of ale, emptying it, then climbing back on his mount, a big man on a little horse. And it was at that moment that history changed.

     “Someone on the royal side was evidently unable to take the humiliation a moment longer. It was a royal esquire, a young man of the king’s own age, who shouted that Tyler was a thief. Tyler turned his horse, drew his dagger and rounded on the boy. The spell was broken. A mêlée broke out, and [the Mayor of London] Walworth, who must have been beside himself with mortification, attempted to arrest Tyler. There was fighting, Tyler striking the mayor with his dagger, Walworth cutting Tyler through the shoulder and neck. He rode his horse a little way back, blood pouring from him, then fell to the ground where the king’s men were on him, finishing him off. 

     “It was the moment of truth. Once they had discovered Tyler’s fate, the rebel side might have attacked then and there. But before they could, Richard himself pre-empted the action with a show of astonishing courage and resourcefulness, riding straight to them shouting, famously, ‘You shall have no captain but me.’ The words were carefully chosen and deliberately ambiguous. To the rebels it seemed that Richard was now their leader just as they had always hoped. But the phrase could just as easily have been meant as the first, decisive reassertion of royal authority. In any event, it bought time for Walworth to speed back to London and mobilize an army that, just the day before, had been much too scared to show itself. At Smithfield the process of breaking the now leaderless army began cautiously and gently, with promises of pardons and mercy. Once back in London and Westminster, though, the king and council acted with implacable resolution. On 18 June, just three days after Smithfield, orders were sent to the disturbed counties, commanding the sheriffs to do whatever it took to restore the peace…”[7]

     The mystique of the anointed king had saved the day. As Shakespeare’s Richard II put it in his play of the same name (III, ii, 54-57):

Not all the water in the wide rough sea

Can wash the balm from an anointed king;

The breath of worldly men cannot depose

The deputy elected by the Lord.

     In any case, the real target of the rebels had been the landowners, not the king. “Their watchword was: ‘Wyth kynge Richarde and with the trew communes’.”[8]


     “This brief uprising,” writes Tombs, “had been more than just another rural disturbance. It had been a mass demand for rights and freedom, and had shown a striking degree of political sophistication on the part of the ‘trew communes’. It was the first time that popular political and social ideas had been recorded in writing – England had an unusually high level of literacy thanks to its developed commercial activity. Political messages were transmitted in English through rhymes, sermons, handbills, posters, prophecies – and ministers of the Crown were killed by angry mobs because of them…”[9] 

     Indeed, the literacy of the English was to be an increasingly important factor in the country’s life. For it was precisely in this, the second half of the fourteenth century, that were produced Wycliffe’s translation of the Vulgate Bible and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, constituting the real beginnings of English literature as the world knows it. But the English we are talking about here is known as “Middle English” to distinguish it from the (to modern ears) largely incomprehensible Old English of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods. “This ‘Middle English’,” writes Tombs, “was very different from ‘Old English’. The influx of a ruling class of non-native speakers after 1066 had led to simplification of the language, which lost much of its grammatical complexity – three genders, four cases, two conjugations. The alphabet too became simpler, and more Latin-based. There was no common spelling, and there were differences of dialect and accent, though grammar was largely uniform. Alone of the Germanic tongues, it had received a massive influx of words from Latin and French, which doubled its vocabulary. Between 1250 and 1450, of 17,000 new words identified, 22 percent were derived from French, and most others from Latin. English often acquired several words for the same concept. They were sometimes used in tandem to make meaning sure, or just for rhetorical purposes, as in ‘aiding and abetting’, ‘fit and proper’, ‘peace and quiet’. In due course they could acquire nuances of meaning, as with ‘kingly’, ‘royal’ and ‘regal’, or ‘loving’, ‘amorous’ and ‘charitable’, from English, French and Latin respectively. Linguistic flexibility was greatly enhanced by bolting together grammatical elements from each language. Prefixes and suffixes made word creation easy: for example, the Old English ‘ful’ added to French nouns (beautiful, graceful); or French suffixes with Old English verbs (knowable, findable). It has been argued that this made it really a new language. But the basics remained, and remain, Anglo-Saxon: in modern written English, the hundred most frequently used words are all derived from Old English.”[10] 

     Although the peasants seemed to have lost the battle, their ideas continued to spread. But to the rescue of the monarchy came the charismatic theologian and Master of Balliol College, Oxford, John Wycliffe (ca. 1320-84). Motivated by his love for the poor and disgust at the behaviour of rich churchmen, Wycliffe became a champion of royal power.

     In his Tractatus de Officio Regis, he argued that God favoured kingship, since three kings had visited the manger at Bethlehem. The king was the vicar of God. He should study theology and suppress heresy and have full jurisdiction over the clergy. If the Pope tried to diminish his authority, he should be denounced as the Antichrist… For “however unjust, the king was vicar of God and above all human laws. If necessary he was obliged to reform the church, correcting the worldly pursuit of the clergy for honours and offices, punish their simony and remove them from temporal dominion. The clergy were to live in an apostolic manner surviving on tithes and alms offered by the faithful.”[11]

     “Wycliff,” writes Nicolson, “advanced the difficult idea that the king was superior to the Church since he reflected the godhead of Christ, where the priest reflected his manhood only. He argued that the king was above the law (solutus legibus) and that it was the moral duty of the citizen to obey the authority of the crown in every circumstance… Richard II was deeply imbued with Wycliff’s teaching and asserted that ‘the laws were in his mouth or in his breast and he alone could change the statutes of the realm’.”[12]

     Wycliffe founded an order of “poor priests”, the Lollards (literally ‘”mumblers”), that preached to the poor. He called the Pope the Antichrist, and said that all popes that had accepted the Donation of Constantine were apostates. Most controversially, he asserted that the doctrine of transubstantiation was a deceit and a blasphemous folly. This led John of Gaunt, who held power during the minority of Richard II, and befriended him as long as possible, to order him to be silent. Moreover, Wycliffe also had socialist tendencies - Pope Gregory XI condemned eighteen of his theses in his Oxford lectures, saying that they were derived from Marsilius of Padua.

     “The Peasants’ Revolt,” writes Bertrand Russell, “made matters more difficult for Wycliffe. There is no evidence that he actively encouraged it, but, unlike Luther in similar circumstances, he refrained from condemning it. John Ball, the Socialist unfrocked priest who was one of the leaders, admired Wycliffe, which was embarrassing. But as he had been excommunicated in 1366, when Wycliffe was still orthodox, he must have arrived independently at his opinions. Wycliffe’s communistic opinions, though no doubt the ‘poor priests’ disseminated them, were, by him, only stated in Latin, so that at first hand they were inaccessible to peasants.

     “It is surprising that Wycliffe did not suffer more than he did for his opinions and his democratic activities. The University of Oxford defended him against the bishops as long as possible. When the House of Lords condemned his itinerant preachers, the House of Commons refused to concur. No doubt trouble would have accumulated if he had lived longer, but when he died in 1384 he had not yet been formally excommunicated…”[13]

     Richard II, meanwhile, entered into conflict with parliament, who, as Tombs writes, “were forced to swear that all acts to restrain royal power were illegal – a renunciation of Magna Carta… He insisted on the sacred nature of kingship – courtiers had to prostrate themselves, and he may have planned a re-coronation using the newly ‘discovered’ holy chrism given by the Virgin Mary to Thomas Becket. He even dreamed of becoming Holy Roman Emperor.” In 1399, however, he was deposed by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke. This “changed the basis if kingship, for Henry, though Richard’s cousin, was not his heir. He therefore claimed the throne by God’s grace (proved by having succeeded), by necessity, and, in Chaucer’s words, ‘by free election’…”[14]

     The epitaph Richard chose for his tomb at Westminster sounds impressive: “He threw down all who violated the royal prerogative; he destroyed heretics and scattered their friends.” But the truth is that by his fickleness and injustice he tarnished the royal name. He betrayed his promises to the peasants, and turned out to be a real tyrant. The foundations of the monarchy continued to be undermined – “the world is changed and overthrown,” lamented the poet Gower. Nevertheless, “when Parliament recognized Bolingbroke as Henry IV they were careful to maintain the fiction of Divine Right by asserting that he had succeeded ‘through the right God had given him by conquest’.”[15] “Right of conquest” is a much weaker argument than “right by royal anointing”. But the Divine right of kings had to be maintained somehow…


     The problem for the late medieval kings was that in opposing (with justification) the overweening power of the heretical papacy, they had deprived themselves of ecclesiastical sanction, which made the people less inhibited from rebelling against them. Secularist defences of royal as opposed to papal power, like that of Marsilius, only made the problem worse in the long run. For even if mixed with theological arguments, they could only convince the listeners that papal authority was less than the kings’, not that the kings’ power was holy in itself. The problem derived from the loss of the concept of the symphony of powers in western society. Unlike in the East, where Church and State were both considered holy and supported each other, in the West since the eleventh century there was always a competition between the two powers that ultimately discredited both.  


     But let us look more closely at Wycliffe’s most influential idea, anticipating the Protestant Reformation by more than a century: his undermining of the authority of the Church by exalting that of the Bible, of which he became the first major translator into English since Bede.

     “His main argument,” writes Melvyn Bragg, “was to distinguish the eternal, ideal Church of God from the material one in Rome. In short, he maintained that if something is not in the Bible there is no truth in it whatever the Pope says – and, incidentally, the Bible says nothing at all about a Pope. When men speak of the Church, he said, they usually mean priests, monks, canons and friars. But it should not be so. ‘Were there a hundred popes,’ he wrote, ‘and all the friars turned to cardinals, their opinions on faith should not be accepted except in so far as they are founded on scripture itself.

     “This was inflammatory and cut away the roots of all established authority, especially as he and his followers like John Ball coupled this with a demand that the Church give away all its worldly wealth to the poor. The Church saw no option but to crush him. For Wycliffe went even further. He and his followers attacked transubstantiation, the belief that, administered by the clergy, the wine and bread turn miraculously into the blood and body of Christ; he attacked clerical celibacy, which he thought of as an institutional control system over the army of the clergy; he attacked enforced confession, the method, Wycliffe argued, by which the clergy could trap dissidents and check errors in thought; and indulgences, the purchase of which were said to bring relief from purgatory but also brought wealth to the Church; pilgrimages, as a form of idolatry; and mystery plays, because they were not the word of God. Wycliffe took no prisoners.

     “His prime and revolutionary argument, one which, if accepted in any shpe or form would have toppled the Church entirely, was that the Bible was the sole authority for religious faith and practice and that everyone had the right to read and interpret scripture for himself. This would have changed the world and those who ruled the world knew it. He was to become their prime enemy. It is ironic that his main arguments had to be written in Latin – the international language of scholarship and theology – though there are English sermons by him and his followers.”[16]

     It is ironic, too, that his main argument on the private interpretation of Scripture is refuted by Scripture itself. For St. Peter says: “No prophecy is of any private interpretation” (II Peter 1.20). And St. Paul says that it is the Church that it the ultimate authority, “the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Timothy 3.15). This is in no way to diminish the authority and truth of Holy Scirpture. The point is: Holy Scripture is written by and for the Church, which precedes it in time and is the witness to its truth, rather than the other way round. But of course, the true Church is meant here, not Roman Catholicism…

     In spite of the riskiness of his challenge to the Church, Wycliffe gained support from other scholars. “What sustained them,” opines Bragg, “was the state of the Church as they saw it every day. It was intolerable to these Christian scholars. It was often lazy and corrupt. Bible reading even among the clergy appears to have been surprisingly rare, for often they did not have the Latin. When, for example, the Bishop of Gloucester surveyed three hundred and eleven deacons, archdeacons and priests in his diocese, he discovered that a hundred and sixty-eight were unable to repeat the Ten Commandments, thirty-one did not know where to find these Commandments in the Bible and forty could not repeat the Lord’s Prayer. To men of true conscience, integrity and faith, men like Wycliffe and his followers, this state of decay and lack of care in what mattered most, this debilitated belief and betrayal of vocation, had to be got rid of and defeated. The chief weapon, the natural weapon for a scholar, was a book, the Bible, in English.

     “A full Bible in English was unauthorized by the Church and potentially heretical, even seditious, with all the savage penalties including death which such crimes against the one true Church exacted. Any translation was very high risk and had to be done in secrecy.

     “Wycliffe inspired two Biblical translation and rightly they bear his name. Both versions are made from the [fourth-century] Latin Vulgate version and follow it so closely that it can be incomprehensible. Wycliffe prepared the first translation but the burden of it was undertaken by Nicholas Herefore of Queens College, Oxford. He would have needed the help of many friends as well as recourse to a great number of books. It was not only the translation itself, a mammoth task, which face them: the Bible had to be disseminated too. Rooms in quiet Oxford colleges were turned into revolutionary cells, scriptoria, production lines were established turning out these holy manuscripts and from the number that remain we can tell that a great many were made. One hundred and seventy survive, a huge number for a six-hundred-year-old manuscript, which tells us that there must have been effective groups of people secretly translating it, copying it, passing it on. Later, hundreds would be martyred, dying the most horrible deaths, for their part in creating and distributing to the people the first English Bible.

     “It is difficult to appreciate the extent and the audacity of this enterprise. Wycliffe was leading them into the cannon’s mouth. All of them knew it and yet behind the obedient honey-coloured Latinate walls of Oxford colleges, the medieval equivalent of the subversive samizdat press which bypassed Stalin’s controls in Russia was organized, and effectively…

     “By the standards of the day it was a bestseller and at first the Church merely condemned Wycliffe. They complained that he had made the scriptures ‘more open to the teachings of laymen and women. Thus the jewel of the clerics is turned to the sport of the laity and the pearl of the Gospel is scattered abroad and trodden underfoot by swine…

    “The Bible, through English, now called out directly to the people. This could not be tolerated. On 17 May 1382, in Blackfriars in London,… a synod of the Church met to examine Wycliffe’s works. There were eight bishops, various masters of theology, doctors of common and civil law and fifteen friars.

     “It was a show trial.

     “Their conclusions were preordained and on the second day of their meeting they drafted a statement condemning Wycliffe’s pronouncements as outright heresies. Wycliffe’s followers were also condemned. The synod ordered the arrest and prosecution of itinerant preachers throughout the land. Many of those caught were tortured and killed.

     “Perhaps most significantly of all as far as the English language is concerned, the synod led, later, to a parliamentary ban on all English-language Bibles and they had the power to make this effective.

     “Wycliffe’s great effort was routed. He had taken on the power of the Church and he had been defeated. His Bibles were outlawed. The doors of the Church, from the greatest cathedrals to the lowliest parish churches, were still the monopoly of Latin.

     “On 30 May, every diocese in the land was instructed to publish the verdict. Wycliffe became ill. He was paralysed by a stroke. Two years later he died on the last day of 1384…”[17]

     Now some of Wycliffe’s ideas – particularly his denial of Transubstantiation (contrary to the clear witness of Holy Scripture) - were indeed heretical. Nevertheless, it is difficult not to admire, not only the scholarship, but also the courage and zeal of this mighty contender for the people’s right to read the Word of God. Moreover, in 1383, just before his death, he displayed an insight into the truth of Eastern Orthodoxy over Roman Catholicism that appears to have been lost completely in the West since the twelfth century: "The pride of the Pope,” he said, “is the reason why the Greeks are divided from the so-called faithful... It is we westerners, too fanatical by far, who have been divided from the faithful Greeks and the Faith of our Lord Jesus Christ..."[18 


     In Bohemia another revolution broke out under the leadership of the Czech cleric Jan Hus, a follower of Wycliffe (Richard II’s queen was Bohemian and had supported Wycliffe at Oxford).

     “Like his English inspiration,” writes Bridget Healy, he “attacked indulgences and condemned the vices and failings of the clergy… Hus advocated communion in both kinds – that the communion wine, Christ’s blood, should be given to the laity as well as the clergy – and emphasized the importance of preaching the Gospel. From the perspective of Czech history, locating the start of the Reformation in Wittenburg in 1517 is a provocative act, for it was not Luther but Hus who achieved the first lasting religious reform of the early modern era.”[19]

     Hus was excommunicated and burned at the Council of Constance in 1415, the same Council that ordered Wycliffe’s bones to be dug up and burnt. However, the Czech Hussite rebellion continued, and was put down only with the greatest difficulty and after much bloodshed in 1434.

     On two occasions (in 1418 and 1452) the Hussites applied to join the Patriarchate of Constantinople. However, Constantinople rejected the Hussite Articles of Faith.

     The more radical Hussites were called Taborites. They recognized no ruler except  God: "All must be brothers to each other and no one must be subject to another." And so taxation and royal power had to be eliminated, along with every mark of inequality.[20]

     In one Taborite manuscript we read: “Everyone must gird himself with a sword, and let not brother spare brother, or father – son, or son – father, or neighbour – neighnour. Kill all of them, one after the other, so that the German heretics should run away in droves and we should exterminate and greed and lust for profit of the clergy in this world. In this way we shall fulfill the seventh commandment of God in accordance with the words of the Apostle Paul: ‘greed is idolatry.’ And we must overthrow the idols and kill the idolaters, so as to wash our hands in their filthy blood. That is what Moses taught us by example in his books, for what is written there is written for our instruction.”[21]

     “The Taborites,” writes T.L. Frazier, “set about constructing a theocratic society in their territory in southern Bohemia. In theory, there was to be no human authority, for all were brothers and sisters. Of course, the theory was ‘modified’ somewhat to allow for the necessity of government. The older brothers obviously needed to look after their younger siblings. It was also supposed to be a classless society, and a primitive version of communism was attempted. Private property, rents, taxes, and dues were abolished. Peasants from all over Bohemia and Moravia sold all their worldly possessions to contribute to the common purse. In the first part of 1420, chests were set up by the Taborite clergy in which the people were expected to deposit all their money. But here, too, reality didn’t always conform to theory. The leadership concentrated so much on common ownership that they took no thought of motivating people to produce anything.

     “Rather than construct a functioning economy for their newly established Kingdom of God, the Taborites turned to simple banditry whenever the communal chests were empty. As the people of God, they reasoned, they had a right to all of God’s wealth found on the earth. Conversely, those who were not of the people of God, that is, all who were not Taborites, had no claim to the resources of the earth. Thus raids on the property of non-Taborites were rationalized and became common.

     “According to Taborite plans, after all of Bohemia was subjected to Taborite control, the purification of the rest of the world would follow through conquest and domination. This belief was deeply engrained in the Taborite movement. Norman Cohn writes: ‘As late as 1434 we find a speaker at a Taborite assembly declaring that, however unfavorable the circumstances might be at present, the moment would soon come when the Elect must arise and exterminate their enemies – the lords in the first place, and then any of their own people who were of doubtful loyalty or usefulness.’”[22]

     Taborism is a form of the ancient heresy of chiliasm or millenarianism, - the idea that the Kingdom of heaven will be achieved here on earth, by the efforts of men and in the conditions of the fall. In the opinion of some, this is the heart of the revolutionary movement and modern secularism in general. Certainly, there is a red thread of utopian, millenarian thought connecting the rebellions of 1381 in England, of 1415-1437 in Bohemia, of the Anabaptists in the 1520s in Germany, of the Levellers in England in the 1640s, of the Jacobites in France in the 1790s, of many nineteenth-century revolutions, and of the Russian revolution in the twentieth-century, not to speak of our own, twenty-first century rebellion against all the foundations of Christian society.


March 20 / April 2, 2019.

St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.





















[1]Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, London : Allen Unwin, 1946, pp. 504-505.

[2] Sophie Gallacher, “The Black Death was always blamed on rats, but we were wrong”, Huffpost, January 16, 2018,

[3] Tombs, The English and their History, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015, pp. 119-120.

[4] George, 500 Years of Revolution: European Radicals from Hus to Lenin, Chicago, 1998, pp. 13-14.

[5] Brian Macarthur, The Penguin Book of Historic Speeches, London: Penguin, 1995, p. 37.

[6] Tombs, op. cit., p. 122.

[7] Schama, A History of Britain, vol. 1, pp. 217-218.

[8]Tombs, op. cit., p. 122.

[9]Tombs, op. cit., p. 123.

[10]Tombs, op. cit., p. 130.

[11] Janet Coleman, “Property and poverty”, Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought, c. 350 – c. 1450, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 647.

[12] Nicolson, Monarchy, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962, pp. 192-193. Another influence on Richard was, according to Nigel Saul, “the ideas of the Roman – in other words, the civil – lawyers. In general terms, civilian thought emphasized the scope of the King’s will. To the civilian, a King’s power should be unlimited because his rule was just. At a number of points, correspondences are to be observed between Richard’s governance and a popular civilian-influenced tract, Giles of Rome’s De Regimine Principum (c. 1277-9)” (“Richard II: Author of his own Downfall?”, History Today, vol. 49 (9), September, 1999, pp. 40-41). (V.M.)

[13] Russell, op. cit., pp. 508-509.

[14] Tombs, op. cit., p. 137.

[15] Nicolson, op. cit., p. 195.

[16] Bragg, op. cit., pp. 83-84.

[17] Bragg, op. cit., pp. 85-86, 87, 89.

[18] Wyclif, De Christo et Suo Adversario Antichristo (On Christ and His Adversary, the Antichrist), 8; in R. Buddensig (ed.), John Wiclif's Polemical Works in Latin, London: The Wiclif Society, 1883, volume II, p. 672. In 1412 the Archbishop of Canterbury ordered all Wycliffe’s works to be burned, and sent a list of 267 heresies “worthy of the fire” to the Pope. Then, in 1415, at the Council of Constance, he was condemned as a heretic, and in 1428 it was ordered that his bones be exhumed and removed from consecrated ground. His remains were burned and his ashes scattered into the River Swith.

[19] Healy, “Martin Luther and the German Reformation”, History Today, March, 2017, 30-31.

[20] N.N. Alexeev, “Idea ‘Zemnago Grada’ v Khristianskom Verouchenii” (“The Idea of the ‘Earthly City’ in Christian Doctrine”), Put’ (The Way), N 5, October-November, 1926, p. 566.

[21] Igor Shafarevich, Sotsializm kak iavlenie mirovoj istorii (Socialism as a phenomenon of world history), Paris: YMCA Press, 1977, pp. 352-353.

[22] Frazier, A Second Look at the Second Coming, Ben Lomond: Conciliar Press, 1999, pp. 61-62.

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