Tuesday, 16 June 2020


On the day in 1381, the Peasants’ Revolt that spread throughout Europe caused by levying higher taxed on a population significantly diminished by the Black Death yet having little leverage for higher wages over the scarcity of labourers, visited Cambridge with the mob under the leadership of the town mayor and one Margery Starre. The colleges of the University were ransacked with deeds and other legal documents destroyed as well as the library and archives set ablaze.
Starre raided the registrar‘s office and removed student ledgers and tossed them into a bonfire in Market Square, shouting what would become a rallying cry of the movement: “Away with the learning of clerks—away with it!”  Starre and her compatriots were not opposed to literacy and learning per se but rather to the system of oppression that charters and ecclesiastical jurisdiction represented, students and priestly professors alike aloof from the Cambridge‘s civil authorities. Starre—not much else is told of her story—was the inspiration for Geoffrey Chaucer’s character, the Wife of Bath—though expanding her conceit with the trope of the “loathly lady,” a medieval story-telling type (c.f., La Befana, Papageno’s Papagena or Princess Fiona) where a woman’s coarse nature is a curse to be broken by a hero that recognises her inner-beauty.  Starre was having none of that.