The Peasants' Revolt

Causes of the Peasants’ Revolt

  • The Peasants’ Revolt, also known as Wat Tyler’s Rebellion, occurred in 1381.
  • One main cause was the introduction of the poll tax, which was imposed on everyone regardless of wealth.
  • The Black Death had led to a shortage of labour, resulting in an increase in wages and social mobility for peasants, sparking fear amongst the nobility.
  • Laws restricting wages and enforcing feudal obligations, like the Statute of Labourers (1351), caused resentment among the lower classes.
  • The extensive cost of the ongoing Hundred Years’ War led to heavy taxation, exacerbating economic tensions.

Key Events and Figures of the Revolt

  • The revolt began in Essex and Kent, with rebels marching towards London under the leadership of Wat Tyler.
  • On 13 June, rebels in London targeted symbols of authority, including the Savoy Palace and the Tower of London.
  • King Richard II, aged 14 at the time of the revolt, met the rebels at Mile End on 14 June, where he agreed to their demands, including the abolition of serfdom.
  • In a subsequent confrontation at Smithfield, Wat Tyler was killed by William Walworth, the Lord Mayor of London.

Outcomes and Impact of the Revolt

  • Following Wat Tyler’s death, the revolt lost momentum and was subsequently suppressed by nobles. Many of the leaders of the rebellion were executed.
  • Despite initial promises, King Richard II revoked the concessions made to the rebels, saying, “Serfs you were, and serfs you shall remain.”
  • The Peasants’ Revolt did not immediately result in substantial changes for peasants. However, it highlighted the growing economic and social tensions in medieval England.
  • Over the long term, the revolt contributed to the slow end of serfdom and the feudal system in England.

The Revolt in Historical Context

  • The revolt demonstrated the capacity for significant collective action by the lower classes in medieval England.
  • It also showed the volatility of the political and social landscape in the aftermath of the Black Death and during the ongoing Hundred Years’ War.
  • The Peasants’ Revolt offers a snapshot of the larger transition from feudalism to modern societies.