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.
|General Political Discontent|
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to raise the expected revenue and was superceded by the flat-rate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".
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.
|The Progress of the Revolt|
The revolt started in the county of Essex as the result of agricultural
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
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.
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."
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
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
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.
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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