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After the capture of the French king John II the Good in 1356 as part of the Hundred Years' War, the power in France devolved to the Estates General. However, the Estates General was too divided to provide effective government. To secure their rights, the French privileged classes forced the peasantry to pay ever-increasing taxes (for example, the taille)and to repair their war-damaged properties without compensation.

This ill-treatment resulted in a series of bloody rebellions in several regions beginning in 1358. These rebellions were known as the Jacquerie after the peasant revolutionary popularly known as Jacques Bonhomme, or "simple Jack," and they were quickly put down by the nobility.

The word "Jacquerie" became a synonym for peasant uprisings and for centuries the nobility lived in fear of a repeat performance. In popular memory the Jacquerie of 1385 is seen as a series of ruthless massacres of the nobility by the peasants, while it would seem that the rebellious serfs were more concerned with pillaging, eating and drinking the contents of castles than with the murder of their occupants. It is also often overlooked that priests artisans and small merchants often joined the side of the peasants in these uprisings.