Peasants' Revolt

From Academic Kids

See Peasants' War for the German Peasants' Revolt of 1524-1526
See also: 1907 Romanian Peasants' Revolt

The Peasants' Revolt, Tylers Rebellion or 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. The names of some 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 precipitated by heavy handed attempts to enforce the third poll tax, which had first been levied in 1377 supposedly to finance military campaigns overseas — a continuation of the Hundred Years' War initiated by King Edward III of England. The third poll tax, unlike the two earlier, was not levied on a flat rate basis (as in 1377) nor according to schedule (as in 1379), but in a manner that appeared more arbitrary and hence unfair. Equally unfair, and a longer-term factor, was the way the Statute of Labourers of 1351 was enforced. The Black Death, which ravaged England in the period 1348-9 had greatly reduced the labour force and as a consequence labourers were able to demand enhanced terms and conditions. The Statute attempted to curb this by pegging wages and restricting the mobility of labour, but the probable effect was that labourers employed by lords were effectively exempted, but labourers working for other employers, both artisans and more substantial peasants, were liable to be fined or held in the stocks.

In June 1381, two groups of common people from the south-eastern counties of Kent and Essex marched on London. The most vociferous of their leaders, Walter or "Wat" Tyler, was at the head of a contingent from Kent. When the rebels arrived in Blackheath on June 12, the renegade Lollard priest, John Ball, preached a sermon which included the famous question which has echoed down the centuries "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?"[1]. Encouraged by the sermon, the following day the rebels 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. Instead of what was expected from a riot however, there was only a systematic attack on certain properties, many of them associated with John of Gaunt and (or) the Hospitallier Order. On June 14, they are reputed to have been 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 serfdom. At the same time, a group of rebels stormed the Tower of London — after likely being let in — and summarily executed those hiding there like 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. Richard II 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 killing of Wat Tyler 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.

John Gower, friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, saw the peasants as unjustified in their cause. In his Vox Clamantis, he sees the peasant action as the work of the Anti-Christ and a sign of evil prevailing over virtue.

Froissart's Chronicles devotes twenty pages to the revolt.

External links


  • R. B. Dobson, editor, (2002), The Peasants' Revolt of 1381 (History in Depth) ISBN 0333255054 A collection of source materials
  • Alastair Dunn (2004), The Peasants' Revolt: England's Failed Revolution Of 1381, ISBN 0752429655
  • P. J. P. Goldberg (2004), Medieval England 1250-1550: A Social History, ISBN 0340577452 Chapter 13 is devoted to the Peasants' Revoltde:Peasants Revolt

ja:ワット・タイラーの乱 no:Bondeopprret i England pt:Revolta camponesa de 1381


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