Although the Oxfordshire Rising of 1596 may remain an obscure incident for most people, it nevertheless continues to act as a source of inspiration. Here are three examples:
The first is ‘Black Showers’, a short story based on the Oxfordshire Rising by S. J. Bradley (Bradley 2019) in Resist, a collection of fictionalised accounts of popular uprisings throughout British history (Page 2019). The story concentrates perhaps too much on the grisly aspects of arrest, torture and execution but is completely correct, I think, in showing how those arrested were starving country folk in thrall to a violent and one-sided system of government. The story is followed by a valuable afterword by John Walter (Walter 2019) which brings his original historical research up to date (Walter 1985). As Walter says,
Where the historical record fails to record the emotional timbre of the story (though their anger comes through clearly in the examination of the would-be rebels), the fiction writer’s imagination can remind us of their fear – and of their bravery (Walter 2019).
The second example is Robinson in Ruins, a documentary arts film narrated by Vanessa Redgrave and made by the artist Patrick Keiller (Keiller 2010). This a film about the meaning of landscape; much of it is set within a few miles of my home. There is extensive coverage of the Oxfordshire Rising of 1596 and of Hampton Gay and Enslow Hill.
Keiller’s interests are not entirely mine but there is considerable overlap. He shot the film in 2010 and is much concerned with the impact of global warming on the Oxfordshire countryside and with the aftermath of the Cold War on the land. He therefore investigates Greenham Common in nearby Berkshire, Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire (both once nuclear-armed airfields) and the cluster of sinister weapons and research facilities on the Oxfordshire–Berkshire borders.
However, Keiller very clearly sees the physical landscape of the film as a metaphor for an economic landscape. Keiller’s landscape is dominated by the Ministry of Defence and American corporations whereas mine is more about unequal social relations and the power of new money flowing from the City of London. Both of us are looking at pollution and at agribusiness. A powerful sequence in the film shot near the village of Beckley (Robert Burton from Beckley was executed for his part in the Oxfordshire Rising) shows combine harvesters at work in a field of wheat while the narrator reminds us than less than half of England’s cereal crop is actually destined for human consumption. Much of the rest goes to feed livestock which one guesses actually means ‘hamburgers and milkshakes from US-owned franchises’.
I am glad I have found Robinson in Ruins. It offers me something I can take care to avoid copying but the film confirms my instinct that the way forward with the Oxfordshire Rising is through metaphor. It is the underlying economic and cultural conditions that matter and from time to time they burst out in public protest whether at Greenham Common or in 1596 at Enslow Hill.
A third example is The Robinson Institute, Keiller’s exhibition at the Tate in 2012 based on at least some of the same body of work. I did not see this, but a book of the exhibition is still available and I plan to obtain a copy (Keiller 2012).
BRADLEY, S. J. 2019. ‘Black Showers’. In Ra PAGE (ed.). Resist: Stories of Uprising. Manchester: Comma Press, 35–47.
KEILLER, Patrick. 2010. Robinson in Ruins. [Film]. Available at: https://player.bfi.org.uk/rentals/film/watch-robinson-in-ruins-2010-online [accessed 8 April 2021
KEILLER, Patrick. 2012. The Possibility of Life’s Survival on the Planet. London: Tate Publishing.
PAGE, Ra (ed.). 2019. Resist: Stories of Uprising. Manchester: Comma Press.
WALTER, John. 1985. ‘A “Rising of the People”? The Oxfordshire Rising of 1596’. Past & Present 107(1), [online], 90–143. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1093/past/107.1.90 [accessed 29 March 2021].
Figure 1. Patrick KEILLER. 2010. Film poster for Robinson in Ruins. Available at: https://patrickkeiller.org/robinson-in-ruins-2/ [accessed 9 April 2021].
Figure 2. Patrick KEILLER. 2012. Cover of The Possibility of Life’s Survival on the Planet, published to accompany the 2012 Tate Britain exhibition The Robinson Institute. Available at: https://patrickkeiller.org/the-possibility-of-lifes-survival-on-the-planet/ [accessed 9 April 2021].