Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Peasants' Revolt

See Peasants' War for the German Peasants' Revolt of 1524-1526
The Peasants' Revolt or Great Rising of 1381 is a major event in the history of Britain. The names of its leaders, John Ball, Wat Tyler and Jack Straw, are still familiar even though very little is actually known about these individuals.

The revolt was prompted in part by the introduction of a poll tax of one shilling per adult, which had first been levied in 1377 in order to finance military campaigns overseas - a continuation of the Hundred Years' War waged by King Edward III of England. Edward's grandson now sat on the throne as Richard II of England, and it was the boy king's intervention in the dispute that made the Peasants' Revolt a more memorable occurrence.

The poll tax was the last straw for the peasants, who had had their wages fixed for many years, and who were banned from seeking work elsewhere by the ancient manorial law of serfdom.

In June 1381, a group of common people from the eastern counties of England marched on London. The most vociferous of their leaders, Walter or "Wat" Tyler, was at the head of a contingent from Kent. Egged on by a renegade priest, John Ball, the rebels arrived in Blackheath on June 12, and the following day they crossed London Bridge into the heart of the city. Meanwhile the 'Men of Essex' had gathered with Jack Straw at Great Baddow and had marched on London, arriving at Stepney. On June 14, they were met by the young king himself, and presented him with a series of demands, including the dismissal of some of his more unpopular ministers and the effective abolition of the feudal system. At the same time, a group of rebels stormed the Tower of London and summarily executed the Lord Chancellor, Archbishop Simon Sudbury (who was particularly associated with the poll tax), and the Lord Treasurer. The Savoy Palace of the king's uncle John of Gaunt was one of the London buildings destroyed by the rioters. The king agreed to reforms such as fair rents, and the abolition of serfdom.

At Smithfield, on the following day, further negotiations with the king were arranged, but on this occasion the assassination of Wat Tyler by a leading member of the Drapers led to the dispersal of the rebel group. Most of its leaders were pursued, captured and executed, including John Ball. Following the collapse of the revolt, the king's concessions were quickly revoked, and the tax was levied.

Despite its name, participation in the Peasants' Revolt was not confined to serfs or even to the lower classes. Although the most significant events took place in the capital, there were violent encounters throughout eastern England, but those involved hastened to dissociate themselves in the months that followed.

External links