THE PEASANTS REVOLT
(1381)
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Causes of the Revolt

Although directly triggered by the imposition of the Poll Tax of 1380 the Peasants' Revolt was caused by labourers attempting to take advantage of the increased demand for labour and the consequent rise in wages caused by the Black Death and their discontent at landlords attempting to enforce the Statutes of Labourers.

Not only were the labourers harassed by petty demands such as special payments to landlords at festivals, dues on sales and restrictions on hunting rabbits (a rabbit on a pole was one of the emblems of the rebels) but punishments were very harsh - Breaches of the Statute of Labourers were often punished by branding.

As the monks had insisted on their rights as landlords, monasteries were attacked (Wycliffe had roused strong feelings against the clergy amongst the populace) as were lawyers who enabled landlords to force many labourers to return to the old conditions by finding faults in deeds of manumission - manor rolls and records were destroyed, lawyers were murdered and the Temple in London was attacked.

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Politically, there was a great deal of discontent with John of Gaunt's conduct of the war with the French who were regaining Guienne and, having secured mastery over the English Channel, attacked and burnt Gravesend in 1380.

Taxation imposed to pay for the war caused a great deal of resentment as a graduated poll tax imposed in 1379 failed to raise the expected revenue and was superceded by the flat-rate Poll Tax of 1380.

Although Wycliffe did not encourage the revolt himself, at least not directly, his attacks on the wealth of the clergy and doctrine of equality of all men before God (in a very heirarchical feudal society) did much to contribute to the mood of discontent. These ideas were very much diffused amongst the populace by John Ball, "The Mad priest of Kent".

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Just as their rural counterparts, the population of England's towns had many grievances as well.

Likewise, the townspeople of Cambridge were very resentful of the special privileges of the University.

They too sought to win for themselves some of the privileges of the landlords in places such as, for example, St Albans where the Abbey claimed great authority over the town and its inhabitants.

The poor wanted to limit the power of the merchant guilds and journeymen to extract higher wages from their masters - the craftsmen rose against the merchants in Winchester.

Many soldiers and sailors who had been discharged from service added to the discontent as they could not find employment because of the restrictive practices of the guilds.

In the towns, there was particular ill-feeling towards the foreigners and there were frequent attacks upon the Dutch and Flemmings.

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Essex
The revolt started in the county of Essex as the result of agricultural grievances.

The rebels marched to Mile End where they demanded the abolition of villeinage, rents of 4d. and acre and thier liberty to buy and sell at markets.

The peasants were met at Mile End by King Richard II who granted their demands - thirty clerks drew up guarantees of indemnity to the rebels from the king and the peasants dispersed home.

Norfolk
In Norfolk the rebels were led by John Lyster, a dyer. They took Great Yarmouth and murdered Flemmish wool merchants who had settled in East Anglia because of dissensions in Flanders.

The rebellion was put down by Despenser, Bishop of Norwich " in helm and cuirass, girt with his two-edged sword."

Hertfordshire
The rebellion in Hertfordshire centered on St Albans where the rebels, led by William Grindecobbe, were primarily interested in curbing the feudal rights of St Albans Abbey.

The rebels broke up the stones of the Abbey Mill where they had been forced to take thier corn for grinding.

see also:   MEDIEVAL MONOPOLY IN GRINDING CORN

Kent
In Kent, where the causes of the rebellion where probably more strongly political than elsewhere.

The leader was Wat Tyler - in all probably an Essex man with few or no connections with Dartford where the troubles started - there is no truth to the story that the rebellion started here because of the murder of a tax collector who had insulted Tyler's daughter.

The rebels marched on London and were preached to at Blackheath by John Ball. They gained entrance to the city (a great negligence on the part of the authoritites responsible for its defence) and burnt the Savoy, John of Gaunt's Palace on the Thames.

The following day they attacked the Tower of London and slew Archbishop Sudbury and the Treasurer Hales.

The King met the rebels at Smithfield and Wat Tyler was later captured in Kent and killed.

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All of the leaders and many of the followers of the Peasants' Revolt were executed with Justice Tresillan presiding over the assizes.

The concessions which had been made by the King were later withdrawn on the objections of Parliament (his answer to the petitioners was "Villeins ye are, villeins ye shall remain.").

After the revolt, villeinage slowly died out and, as they had done before, many landlords granted the demands of the villeins through fear.

Despite this, the increase in wages led to grazing (which was far less labour-intensive than agriculture) and with it, the enclosure of commons as grazing land - this innevitable led to later discontent amongst the peasants.

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MEDIEVAL MONOPOLY IN GRINDING CORN
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