The Peasants’ Revolt was a rebellion of peasants in England, in 1381. It was the biggest rebellion of the common people in medieval England. The rebels, coming from a wide spectrum of rural society, sought a reduction in the high taxes financing the Hundred Years’ War, an end to the system of unfree labor known as serfdom and the removal of King Richard II’s senior officials and law courts.
The final trigger for the revolt was the intervention of a royal official, John Bampton, in the village of Fobbing, Essex on May 30, 1381. His attempts to collect unpaid poll taxes ended with the peasants chasing Thomas Bampton out of Fobbing. The violent confrontation rapidly spread across the south-east of England.
Inspired by the sermons of the radical Lollard priest John Ball, and led by Wat Tyler, a contingent of Kentish rebels advanced on London on June 12, 1381. At Blackheath, John Ball gave a famous sermon to the assembled Kentishmen in which he preached that all humans should be treated equally, as descendants of Adam and Eve. He asked the crowd, “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?”
|15th-century representation of the cleric John Ball encouraging the rebels; Wat Tyler is shown in red, front left|
Inspired Wat Tyler and the Kentish rebels crossed London Bridge the next day. The fourteen-year-old King Richard II was completely unprepared, and only had a few hundred troops on alert.. Once in the city, they attacked civil targets, destroyed the Temple Inns of Court and set fire to law books. opening prisons, sacking homes, and killing individuals they thought were associated with the royal government. The king agreed to meet the rebels at Mile End.
|Richard II meets the rebels on 13 June 1381 in a miniature from a 1470s copy of Jean Froissart’s Chronicles.|
The following day on June 14, 1381, King Richard met with Tyler and acceded to most of the rebels’ demands, including the abolition of serfdom. Meanwhile, a group of the peasants went to the Tower of London and beheaded some of their worst enemies including the Lord Chancellor and the Lord High Treasurer.
Richard met Tyler and the rebels at Smithfield on June 15, 1381, but an argument broke out between Tyler and some of the royal servants. London’s mayor, William Walworth intervened and stabbed Tyler killing him. Richard defused the tense situation long enough for William Walworth to gather a militia from the city and disperse the rebel forces. Richard then revoked his previous grants to the rebels.
|Late 14th-century depiction of William Walworth killing Wat Tyler; the King is represented twice, watching events unfold (left) and addressing the crowd (right).|
Troubles continued to as far as East Anglia, Yorkshire and Somerset, but most of the rebel leaders were tracked down and executed, and at least 1,500 rebels were killed. This effectively ended the Revolt.