The Peasants Revolt 1318

Kainaat Sarfaraz. 15 October, 2016.

During the middle ages, dating back as far as the twelfth century, villeins were free from their labour services to Manor Lords. This meant that instead of working part time for the lords, they rented out strips of land to harvest in along with cottages to live in from the Lords. From the money the Lords made, they could hire labourers to work on their field which was advantageous for them as villeins were always aching to get back to their own strips and labourers tend to work harder.

Following the events of the Black Death, workers were scarce. Whole villages were abandoned for the lack of men to sow and reap the fields. Pathways and lanes were covered with unkempt grass and land once full of blankets of corn, became nothing but beds of weed. Labourers realised that their worth had increased and demanded higher salaries. Most Lords paid up as they didn’t want to risk their crops failing and thus losing their money. This however, wasn’t a popular change by the Parliament. The laws demanded that wages of these labourers should not change, even going as far as to state that labour-men who when travelling in search for higher wages were to be branded on the forehead with a hot iron rod.

Now that wages were rising, villeins saw the advantages of being freemen. Though some Lords agreed to exchange their labour services for the rent, others refused to give them their freedom. They strictly enforced labour services and made sure slackers were fined in the Manor Courts. Some became bitter especially with the taxes rising due to pay for the unsuccessful wars in France. Courageous villeins fled with their wives and children as it was easy to find work elsewhere with decent pay due to the lack of workers without being questioned.

The common people of England started to become discontent with their Lords and lost respect for the wealthy Church Lords. John Ball, a travelling priest going around the town surrounding London and stirred up the common folk against their lords. He and a group of determined followers plotted a rise of the common people. In village after village, men remembered his words:

“When Adam dalf [dug the ground] and Eve span,
Who was thanne the gentilman?”

In November 1380, the Parliament had announced a poll-tax meaning there was a 4d (denarius) to pay for everyone over the age of 15. For most of the poor this meant entire days’ worth of wages. When tax-collectors came around, many people hid themselves leading to less money than expected to be gathered. In parts of Essex and Kent, crowds drove away tax collectors. The ‘Peasants Revolt’ had begun, heir leader chosen as the man, Wat Tyler.

The rebels marched to London, demanding to see the King who they believed to be their true leader. On the way there, they attacked an abundance of manor houses, destroying documents and documents of villein labour services .They also freed prisoners, including John Ball was had been imprisoned by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Maidstone.

By Wednesday, 12th June, the Essex men camped just outside London, in the fields of Mile End, whilst the Kent men camped 5 miles from London Bridge. Troops were placed on guard, but didn’t attack as the rebels outnumbered them. Though historians are not aware of the exact figure, they estimate that there were at least 60,000 rebels present on either side of the Thames.

The following day, King Richard who at the time was 14, and his advisers rowed down the Thames towards the rebels but upon seeing them, the advisers refused to let the King land and slowly moved away. Wat Tyler and other leaders decided to enter the city, the doors to which were opened by the common people by whom they were welcomed. Though there were strict orders against looting and destruction, a score had to be settled which included breaking out the prisoners in Fleet Street.

On Friday, 14th June, King Richard, along with his advisers, met with Wat Tyler and agreed to his demands. Some of these included: the renting of lands and abolition of the feudal services. Wanting proof of his promises, the peasants received written charters of freedom. This satisfied many peasants and they returned to their villages, but the leaders with an army of men remained in London and arranged another meeting with the kind. Tyler went to King Richard on a pony and more demands with the king such as the land of the Church should be divided among the people to which the King agreed.

It was a hot day so Tyler had requested a mug of water. He rinsed out his mouth and spat it out into the ground. This was a normal practice in those days but doing it in front of the king made it seem as an act of disrespect. His behaviour had caused an argument between Tyler and one of the kings guards leading to a fight to break out in which Tyler lost his life. To this day, historians are unsure if his death was due to his bad manners or if there was already a plot planned out to end him.

Upon hearing about the death of their leader, the rebels were ready to massacre the royal family, but Richard road out to the rebels and changed their minds. He repeated his promises and convinced them to returning home which was a victory for the young ruler.

Once the rebels had split up and returned to their dwellings, the King and the council broke all their promises. Any peasants still remaining in London were arrested and an oath to swear loyalty to the King’s government on the Bible had to be made by every homeowner in the city which in those days was light to break due to the strong Christian beliefs.

Royal forces then dispatched through the country, putting down any sign of resistance or another revolt. At Whaltham, the King told a gathering of peasants:

“Villeins you were and villeins you shall remain.”


Longman Secondary Histories

Further Reading:

The Peasants’ Revolt 1381 Summary