As stated by previous reviewers, this book certainly tells a great tale, and as a relative newcomer to medieval history I found it a lively overview of the Peasants Revolt and the society which produced it. However, the book is weakened by an over - concentration on England, and a questionable economic analysis of the period. Firstly, the Peasants Revolt in England was only one of a succession of such events occuring across Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries, for example in Flanders 1325-28, the Seine valley 1358, Florence 1378 and the Bohemian revolt 1415-34. The period was one of profound economic and social crisis on a continental scale, yet the author makes no reference to these events, giving the impression that the English peasants revolt could almost be viewed as an example of English eccentricity.
Further, he makes the point that the revolt was essentially conservative, in that it didn't look to overthrow the monarchy, but wanted a restoration of the traditional rights of the peasantry, rights which had only ever existed in folk mythology.
It is curious how many historians treat revolutions from below against revolutions from above. Pick up virtually any book on British history, and the enormous significance of Magna Carta and the Glorious Revolution will be highlighted above all else. The treatment of Peterloo and Chartism is very different, where the absence of any specifically Marxist class analysis is seen as evidence of the essentially benign intentions of both episodes. Dan Jones view of the aims of the Peasants Revolt makes a similar mistake, and he ignores the overriding fact that a divinely appointed monarch - head of a ruling class which viewed its power as absolute - could countenance absolutely no challenge from the lower orders on any issue. Further, there was no guarantee that having been satisfied on one issue, the demands of the peasantry would not simply escalate further, as indeed they already had with each victory of the rebel movement.The statement of the King in the aftermath of the revolt should demonstrate the threat which the aristocracy percieved:
'Villeins you are, and villeins you will remain; in permanent bondage, not as it was before, but incomparably harsher....
While by God's grace we rule over this kingdom, we shall strive...to keep you in subjugation, to such a degree that the suffering of your servitude may serve as an example to posterity'(p196).
These are not the words of a particularly cruel monarch, but the expression of class which saw its power under threat.
My second point is that Jones assertation that the impact of the Black Death created the space for the Peasants Revolt is contentious. It seems more likely that the feudal system was already coming under great strain, with the expansion of the medieval economy 1000-1300 coming to an end. Robert Bartlett's 'The Making of Europe 950-1350' provides a good description of how a bloated aristocracy expanded into eastern europe, continually seeing its power eroded as it went. The central contradiction between the need to expand production, which required greater freedom on the part of the peasantry and trading classes, and aristocratic power eventually came to a head, leading to a succession of revolts accross europe. The Black Death accentuated this process, but does not appear to be a not a causal factor.
However, these points should not deter anyone from buying 'Summer of Blood'. It is highly readable, and should serve as an inspiration to all of us peasants during the present economic crisis.