Now Is the Time

Written by Melvyn Bragg
Review by Jenny Barden

This magnificent novel of epic scope focuses on the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381: England’s largest popular uprising and the closest the country has ever come to revolution. The story gains steady momentum through empathetic introduction to the key players, reaching a tumultuous climax in the raging violence that overtook London for three weeks, emptied prisons, laid waste to palaces, and came within a whisker of toppling Church and State, curtailed only by the unwavering devotion to the king that was, in the end, the rebellion’s undoing.

The characters are brought to life in all their human frailty, inspired by faith, fervour, the search for justice and right, greed and opportunism, or the fear of losing everything. We see the insecurities of the fourteen-year-old Richard II, with his stammer and preference for speaking French, living in the shadow of his illustrious father, the Black Prince, dependent upon his mother, Joan, who in turn is obsessed with her jewels. We follow the natural leadership of Wat Tyler, bowman patriot, who gives voice to the ‘true commons’: the ordinary folk weakened by 33 years of plague, oppressed by bondage, servitude and crippling taxation, and we hear the inspirational poetry of the radical preacher John Ball. Constantly but smoothly shifting in focus, the story zooms in on intimate detail and out to the wider perspective giving insight at all levels of society, from the blinkered tyranny of the nobility and the self-serving unscrupulousness of the Mayor of London and his merchant friends, to the stoicism of Tyler’s wife, the courage of his daughter, and the indomitability of his lover, Johanna Ferrers, which leaves the novel on a note of hope.

Along with Credo, Now is the Time will surely confirm Melvyn Bragg as one of the best historical fiction authors of our generation.