Becoming Modern: The Life of the Commoners – Adaptation and Rebellion, 1400-1600 (Episode #38)

We examine how Europe’s peasant majority worked, played, and survived in the late Middle Ages and the early modern era, including the elaborate customs governing land tenure, marriage, and inheritance. We consider how, during the recovery following the Black Death, steadily growing population and rising prices put the squeeze on commoners as well as the nobility, forcing peasants to seek out more marginal lands and toil for more meager rewards, while encouraging landlords to raise rents and evict tenants. At the same time, growing armies and governments laid a heavy burden of taxes and conscription on the third estate. Finally, we examine the wave of peasant rebellions that roiled Europe in the late 1400s and early 1500s, as commoners fought back against impoverishment, rising rents, taxes, and the enclosure and sale of common lands. Suggested Further reading: Natalie Zemon Davis, “The Return of Martin Guerre”; Carlo Ginzburg, “The Cheese and the Worms”; Yves-Marie Berce, “Revolt and Revolution in Early Modern Europe”; Peter Linebaugh, “The Rainbow Sign”; Richard Wunderli, “Peasant Fires.”

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