Henry Baber/Peasant's Revolt of 1381
This was not in fact the Peasants Revolt, but a revolt by the newly emerging Middle Classes. Henry Baber was a Bailiff who lived at Manningtree on the border of Essex and Suffolk. He was quite an important person, and was like most of the other leaders of this protest certainly not a peasant. These emerging businessmen were generally connected with the newly emerging woolen trade. Sheep had been grown for centuries, but until the 1330's most of the wool was taken straight over to Antwerp, Bruges or Ghent where it was made into textiles. Our farmers had received very little for the wool, but the sellers of these finished textiles had made large profits. In the 1330's the wars in Burgundy which covered much of modern day Belgium had led to many highly skilled textile weavers coming to England, and we had begun to make textiles here. For the first time a cash economy was possible, and one that reached down to a significant number of the peasants. The earliest growth of these industries was in Suffolk and Norfolk, and especially along the River Stour. The earliest Baber's I can find were men from Cavendish who had very little land, but a lot of cash and a horse. These men were very unusual as most men had little land, money and no horse, and even smaller group of clergy and landowners had lots of land and money, as well as a horse. I believe these landless men with cash and horses were engaged in arranging outworking in the cloth industry, taking wool to being spun, yarn to be dyed, and cloth to be fulled. The rivers of East Anglia were vital to these new processes, but East Anglia is very dry, with less than 30" of rain a year. These rivers were soon unable to cope with the demand for water mills and weirs to form washing sites. These same rivers also provided transport using boats fashioned like Cambridge punts. Very shallow drafted, but able to carry much more than a string of pack horses. These punts took the cloth down to places like Manningtree to be passed to London or Europe by ship. The Burgundians and French were soon aware of their losing out in this trade. They tried to put up barriers to our trade, and this along with other grievances led to the Hundred Years War. It is instructive to consider that the first operations of that war in 1339 were concentrated on the area between Peronne Cambrai and Guise, centres of the weaving industry. Wars cost money, it only seems right that a war fought mainly about the woollen trade should be paid for by the woollen trade. Therefore slap taxes on wool exports. In order to make sure this tax was paid, henceforth the wool and textiles going for export must go via London to be taxed. This is what in fact happened, but of course for all those people who had previously been taking their wool over to France from lots of little East Anglian ports, this was a confounded nuisance. Worst than that the London woollen merchants ended up making more money than the local producers. This was a cause of considerable trouble for many decades. Enter people like Henry Baber, who was almost certainly involved in this same woollen trade. These same people had of course to be able to add up and even read. They also travelled about, and in the course of this travel they soon picked up odd new religious ideas. They began to want to read the bible themselves. As many of you know, the bible can be read in many ways, and if you take it literally and read for yourself, you often come to a different conclusion than the one your parish priest our local Bishop might wish. These textile workers were often Lollards. They often had very powerful supporters like John of Gaunt and officials like Geoffrey Chaucer. Henry Baber has fascinated me for years. Why was my 3 x great grandfather called Henry Hervey Baber, when non of his forbears had ever been names Henry? Why was Henry H Baber so fascinated by Wycliffe and the Lollards? Was this because his father and especially is uncle who lived in East Anglia and who were closely connected to the Hervey family had discovered the link to Henry. The Hervey family was full of historian's and also have a very deep East Anglian pedigree. I haven't found it yet, but somewhere out there, I think I will find the reason why. Thanks for bringing up the tale of Henry Baber. He fled for a few years, and is listed as having forfeited his lands, but as far as I am aware he escaped a nasty end, unlike so many others. Regards Nick Balmer
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