This is the history of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.
Richard II was the son of the Black Prince and only a boy when his grandfather Edward III dies and he came to the throne. The country was facing bankruptcy as the Hundred Years War dragged on (the French were raiding the South coast and the Scots were raiding the north of England) and government was haphazard and dominated by John of Gaunt, the young king's uncle. The social order had been seriously weakened by the Black Death; labour was scarce but the law forbade labourers from charging too much for their services whilst compelling them to work. During a parliament in Northampton (when King Richard stayed at a manor in nearby Moulton) a poll tax was declared: even the poorest labourers had to pay. The scene was set for rebellion.
The revolt seems to have started in Essex around Brentwood or possibly Fobbing where poll tax collectors were said to have looked up a young girl's skirts to see if she was a virgin (and thus exempt from paying). But the unrest soon spread to Kent; Abel Ker lead the rioters to sieze Rochester Castle and march on Maidstone; at Maidstone Wat Tyler took charge. Inspired by the Lollard preacher John Ball the Kentishmen marched on London. H
ere they confronted the boy King Richard on three separate occasions: first at Rotherhithe where he refused to get out of his barge. After this the rebels stormed across London Bridge (the Londoners let the drawbridge down), destroyed the Savoy Palace and beseiged the Tower.
Then Richard rode to Mile End where the Essex rebels had encamped to talk to them in the hope of providing a diversion so that the most hated people in the Tower could escape. This failed but at Mile End he was presented with a charter requesting that all men should become free (ie not bound serfs), that there should be a land rent limit and that no one should be required to work. He granted this, and then said they could catch and punish traitors.
They spilled across London "catching traitors". They entered the Tower (some one let the drawbridge down) and killed the Treasurer and the Archbishop of Canterbury; Henry of Derby, later Henry IV, was saved by being hidden by a guard. One man was dragged from sanctuary at Westminster Abbey and killed. There was rioting and looting.
Finally Richard met the rebels at Smithfield. Wat Tyler rode out to meet him; the Mayor of London accused Wat of insulting the King by his coarse manners and stabbed him. The boy King then took charge, riding out to the stunned commoners and leading them away from Smithfield while the Mayor and his men found enough armed men to force the Kentishmen to leave London.
The rebellion continued across Britain for a fortnight, largely in the South East (including Cambridge, St Albans and Huntingdon) but as far afield as Bridgwater and York. John Ball fled north, writing letters as he went, until he was captured at Coventry. One of his letters mentions Piers the Plowman!
This book was an absolutely gripping read.
April 2010; 211 pages
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57