Peasant Discontent

Causes of Peasant Discontent

  • Poll Tax: The poll tax introduced in 1380 was a flat-rate tax, which meant it hit the poorest hardest. Each person, regardless of their wealth or social status, had to pay the same amount. This was seen as deeply unfair by many and led to increasing resentment against the ruling classes.

  • Serfdom and Villeinage: The peasants were unhappy with the system of serfdom, in which they were bound to the land of their lord and required to give him services in kind. Villeinage was another form of servitude, which required payment of fees and fines to the lord for various rights.

  • Food Shortages and Famine: Poor harvests, cattle diseases and overpopulation had resulted in food shortages and famine in the 14th century, leading to widespread suffering among the peasants.

  • Black Death and Labour Laws: Following the Black Death, which killed many workers, those who survived found they could demand higher wages due to the labour shortage. However, the government introduced laws to freeze wages at pre-plague levels, causing much anger among the peasant population.

Key Events During the Peasant Revolt

  • Wat Tyler’s Rebellion: The rebellion led by Wat Tyler in 1381 was the most significant peasant uprising. It started in Essex and spread rapidly across much of southeast England. Peasants demanded an end to serfdom and the poll tax, and the execution of “traitors” in the king’s counsel.

  • The London Uprising: Rebels entered London, executing several key officials and burning down important buildings, including John of Gaunt’s Savoy Palace and the Fleet Prison.

  • Meeting at Mile End and Smithfield: Richard II met with the rebel leaders at Mile End and agreed to their demands. However, negotiations broke down at a second meeting in Smithfield, and Wat Tyler was killed.

Consequences of the Revolt

  • Pressure for Reform: The revolt led to a heightened awareness of the injustices faced by the peasant class and put pressure on the government for reforms.

  • Retreat from Concessions: Although Richard II initially agreed to the rebels’ demands, the royal council later revoked these concessions.

  • Increased Repression: The aftermath of the revolt saw an increase in repression as the government sought to prevent further uprisings. Many rebel leaders were executed. However, the poll tax which had triggered the revolt was abandoned.

  • Peasant Identity and Resistance: Despite the defeat and increased repression, the revolt marked a significant point in the class struggle, helping the development of the peasant identity and resistance against the feudal system.