Peasants’ Revolt of 1381

Peasants’ Revolt of 1381
   The Peasants’ Revolt was an uprising of laborers, urban workers, and peasants that occurred in southern England in the 14th century. It was the culmination of tensions caused by several social factors. The depopulating effects of the BLACK DEATH had given tenants and laborers greater economic power with regard to the landholding class. Landlords, caught between the financial difficulties caused by a dearth of workers and shrinking markets, pushed statutes through Parliament in 1349 and 1351 that would protect their rights by establishing wages at the levels they were before the outbreak of plague.
   The ill-will this freezing of wages generated was increased soon after by further legal measures. Between 1377 and 1381, Parliament imposed a series of taxes levied by head count, called poll taxes. The burden of most parliamentary subsidies usually fell on those who had the most wealth, but the poll taxes were levied on both rich and poor without regard to a person’s ability to pay. The poll tax of 1381 was imposed to help fund England’s ongoing war with France and was the heaviest tax to date. The fact that the revenue raised was in support of the war effort only exacerbated matters. From an English perspective, the war with France was a succession of failures. Edward III had presented the war as necessary to England’s future, but the lack of substantial victories led the common people to believe that incompetent military leaders and administrators were wasting their tax money.Huge numbers of peasants and other workers sought to evade this latest levy, and as a result, the government attempted to forcibly collect the tax. This highhandedness was the immediate cause of the Peasants’ Revolt.
   The uprising itself was short-lived, lasting from the end of May until the end of June. It began in Essex and Kent and spread to other areas in central and southeastern England.While many men were involved in its leadership, the most prominent were Wat Tyler, from Kent, and John BALL, a former priest. A couplet, composed by rebel leader John Ball, encapsulates the questioning of social inequality: “When Adam dug and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” Fortified by the preaching of their leaders, the rebels marched toward London in mid-June, behaving in an orderly and disciplined manner. Upon reaching the city, the rebels killed two men they identified with the spate of unjust taxes and the lack of success in the war with France. They also attacked the Savoy, the London palace of JOHN OF GAUNT, the noble most heavily involved in the war effort. The majority of the royal court took refuge in the formidable Tower of London.
   Although agitating for social change, most of the rebels remained respectful of the English monarchy. The royal court capitalized on this sentiment by sending the 14-year-old king, RICHARD II, to negotiate with the rebels in a series of talks over the course of two days. The most important of the rebels’ demands was the abolition of legal serfdom (called villeinage) and the limiting of rents. They also stipulated their inclusion in the “community of the realm”with a voice in political decision-making.With his court trapped in the Tower of London, the young king had little choice but to acquiesce to rebel demands.
   The rebels were so joyous over the victories of the first day’s negotiations that many celebrated that evening, indulging copiously in food and drink. The rebel contingent for the second day’s meeting was much reduced as a result. Some felt that the victory was already won, while many others suffered the effects of severe hangovers. The inglorious end to the negotiations of the second day remains shrouded in mystery, but it would appear that Wat Tyler brandished his dagger at a member of the king’s retinue. The Lord Mayor of London responded by killing Tyler, and the king was forced to calm the rebels by offering himself as their new leader. Exhibiting a remarkable presence of mind, Richard II led the rebels outside London where they dispersed, no doubt believing that their adventure had ended in victory. The revolt lost much of its impetus, and any real momentum that remained was quickly crushed by the subsequent actions of Richard II. According to the evidence of contemporary chronicles, the king ordered the rebel leaders hunted down, captured, and summarily executed. None of the concessions were honored. However, it would be wrong to assume that the Peasants’ Revolt had no lasting effect. The government ceased to impose poll taxes on the entire population, but most important, a large segment of English society had come to view itself as part of a larger nation, the community of the realm. The questioning of the orders of society as well as issues of equality and justice can be found in medieval literature composed in the turbulent period before the outbreak of the uprising, most notably in the works of Geoffrey CHAUCER (c. 1343–1400) and in PIERS PLOWMAN, the literary masterpiece of William LANGLAND (ca. 1330–ca. 1388).
   ■ DeWindt, Edwin Brezette, ed. A Slice of Life: Selected Documents ofMedieval English Peasant Experience. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Medieval Institute Publications, 1996.
   ■ Dobson, R. B., ed. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. London: St.Martin’s Press, 1982.
   ■ Hanawalt, Barbara A. The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.
   ■ Hilton, R. H. Bond Men Made Free: Medieval Peasant Movements and the Rising of 1381. London: Routledge, 2003.
   Diane Korngiebel

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Peasants' Revolt — The Peasants Revolt, Tyler’s Rebellion, or the Great Rising of 1381 was one of a number of popular revolts in late medieval Europe and is a major event in the history of England. Tyler s Rebellion was not only the most extreme and widespread… …   Wikipedia

  • Peasants’ Revolt — Die Peasants’ Revolt von 1381 war der größte Bauernaufstand im mittelalterlichen England. Ursachen König Richard II. trifft die Aufständischen. (Darstellung aus dem 15. Jahrhundert) …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Peasants Revolt — Die Peasants’ Revolt von 1381 war der größte Bauernaufstand im mittelalterlichen England. König Richard II. trifft die Aufständischen …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Peasants' Revolt — n. the first great popular rebellion in English history (1381), caused by the imposition of an unpopular poll tax: it lasted less than a month and failed as a social revolution * * * or Wat Tyler s Rebellion (1381) First great popular rebellion… …   Universalium

  • Peasants' Revolt — n. the first great popular rebellion in English history (1381), caused by the imposition of an unpopular poll tax: it lasted less than a month and failed as a social revolution …   English World dictionary

  • Peasants' Revolt — noun Wat Tyler s rising of 1381 • • • Main Entry: ↑peasant …   Useful english dictionary

  • Peasants' Revolt — In 1381 a rebellion in response to government efforts to collect a much disliked *poll tax, set at one shilling per man, confined largely to Kent and Essex, whose inhabitants marched on London, led by Wat Tyler. Jack Straw was named as one of the …   Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases

  • Peasants' Revolt — Peasants Re|volt, the a protest in 1381 involving large numbers of English ↑peasants, who were angry about unfair social and economic conditions and about high taxes. They formed an unoffical army, led by Wat Tyler, and marched to London, where… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Peasants’ Revolt — an incident in 1381 when the peasants (= poor farmers) of Kent and Essex marched to Canterbury and then to London to protest at their conditions of life and the harsh taxes they had to pay. They occupied several major buildings, including the… …   Universalium

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