Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Peasants’ Revolt

The people were tired of having no rights and being forced to pay high taxes. On Thursday 30th May the men of Fobbing, Corringham and Stanford attacked JPs in session at Brentwood. They were led by Thomas Baker of Fobbing. Similar events occurred in Kent.

John Ball, the priestly demagogue who inspired the rebellious peasants in 1381, preaching to the rebel host led by Wat Tyler (left foreground); banners proclaim the rebels’ loyalty to King Richard II.

The Kent rebels led by Wat Tyler and the Essex rebels led by John Ball and Jack Straw rose 100,000 strong to invade London. Their demand of the king was “We will be free forever, our heirs and our lands.” Richard II agreed but then in a face to face meeting, the king had Wat Tyler stabbed through the throat and he died.

The peasants’ final stand was the Battle of Billericay on 28 June, 1381. Some five hundred peasants fled to Norsey Wood where they were slaughtered by royal troops.


The cumulative effect of economic, social, political, and military strains in fourteenth-century England is seen most graphically in the Peasants’ Revolt (1381). It was exceptional in its intensity, length, and broad appeal, but not in its fundamental character, which was revealed in other conspiracies and insurrections in the years that followed. Widespread violence was sparked off in 1381 by yet another poll tax, this one at 1s. a head, three times the rate of 1377 and 1379. People responded with evasion, violence towards the collectors and the justices who investigated, and, ultimately, in June 1381, with rebellion. Agricultural workers from eastern and south-eastern England were joined by townsmen and Londoners; the grain and wool-growing countryside of East Anglia had felt the full impact of the contraction and dislocation of the economy and the social contradictions of an increasingly outmoded feudal society. Moreover, the rebels were disillusioned by the political mismanagement of the 1370s and the recent dismal record in France, and they feared enemy raids on the coast. Although heretics played no major role in the rebellion, radical criticism of the doctrines and organization of the English Church predisposed many to denounce an establishment that seemed to be failing in its duty.

Pressure on the government and an appeal to the new king (‘With King Richard and the true-hearted commons’ was the rebels’ watch-word) held out the best hope for remedy of grievances, and the populace of London offered a pool of potential sympathizers. The rebels accordingly converged on London from Essex and Kent (where Wat Tyler and a clerical demagogue, John Ball, emerged as leaders). They threw prisons open, sacked the homes of the king’s ministers, ransacked the Tower, and tried to frighten Richard II into making far-reaching concessions which, if implemented, would have broken the remaining bonds of serfdom and revolutionized landholding in Church and State. But the rebellion was poorly planned and organized and more in the nature of a spontaneous outburst of frustration. By 15 June the rebels had dispersed to their homes.

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