Today is 632 years since the start of the peasant’s revolt. Sod people moaning on about 1917 in Russia or the French revolution, or 1968. There all nonsense in comparison to what happened here in 1381.
First let’s set the scene.
The fourteenth century has been dubbed the worst century in history. The 1300’s started off with a sharp change in climate ruining crops for the most of the population who were either subsistence farmers or landless wage labourers. This was followed by outbreaks of Murrain disease which killed up to 50% of sheep. The food shortage was so bad that the poor started eating diseased animal carcases. The number of adult men dropped by 15%
Food prices and land rents rocketed up.
Inequalities in wealth grew. The poor were starving to death on their farms, and when they died, their better off neighbours would simply expand their land into their dead neighbour’s property.
Then in 1348 the plague stuck killing just under 50% of the population.
Farming came to a halt, some towns were wiped off the map. People saw it as a great shadow moving across the land.
The next winter there was a massive shortage in people to work the land, there weren’t enough servants to run after lords or people to tend to cattle. Peasants picked up pretty quickly that with less people around their work was worth a little bit more.
They threatened to leave manors unless their rents were reduced. People had come through not just a hard time, but one of the worst. They weren’t willing to return to living on starvation wages.
Part of the reason for people demanding a bit more money to live off, turning down the worst work and trying to build a bit of a better life was because of a physiological effect of living through a plague. It wasn’t just the bottom of the rung plebs that died. Priests, government officials, tax collectors, the rich and the poor both died from the plague. Everyone died the same. If this was some kind of punishment from god, then god was angry at everyone.
And how did the rich react to people standing up for themselves a little bit? They came down on them like a ton of bricks. Making out that people wanting a little more money was ‘Malice’ they said people should be forced to work because otherwise they were just ‘idle’. They created a Law called the Statute of Labourers in 1351 which forced people to work for the pre plague pittances. This was supported with lots of little laws saying what each class of person could and couldn’t wear, what they could eat, how many times they could have meat in a week. The real reason they did this was that the poor had the chance to earn a little more money, the rich were scared that the peasants and more well off lower orders would start to wear clothes like the lords. They were scared that a craftsman going round in a nice coat might be mistaken for a landowner.
In 1360 they introduced more laws allowing justices of the peace to round up and arrest ‘master less men’ , Labourers who moved around . An of course the whole time that wages are being kept low prices are still going up.
At this point people were pretty fuming, But it was nothing compared to how they felt after the first Poll Tax was introduced. In 1377 the young Kings uncle, John of Gaunt, imposed a new tax called the Poll Tax to cover the cost of war with France. Unlike normal taxes, this was to be paid by the peasants, as well as the landowners. Peasants found it hard to pay the tax, especially as they had to pay in cash and not in farm produce. By 1380, many were hiding from the collectors, and avoiding payment.
We see the same happen again hundreds of years later when Thatcher tried a Poll Tax, between 1989 and 1990 130,000 disappeared off the books in London. The same happened back then with nearly 36% of the population of Essex disappearing off the books. There was such high levels of evasion of this tax that a royal commission led by John Bampton was sent out to Brentwood in Essex to find out what has going on.
Something was about to give.
On 30th May the people of Fobbing, Stanford le hope and Corringham were called together and told by John Bampton that the people of Essex would be paying their full amount of Poll tax. He sent in his sergeant at arms to arrest anyone not co-operating. He was beaten up, chased out of town.
The next day the Essex rebels caught up with an killed Brampton’s servants. Word of the kick off in Essex spread like wildfire quickly reaching, Hertfordshire and Suffolk.
This was fast moving, there was no Twitter or BB messaging saying get down to PC world quick, This was people riding round on horses telling the towns to get your weapons, its on.
They took full advantage of it being the start of June, the time of big festivals and religious days used as cover to get together massive amounts of people together. Mobs started forming up all over the country.
In Kent a mob formed up because men were sent after a man in Gravesend, the people of Gravesend refused to surrender him but he was arrested and taken away anyway. The rebels formed up made a move of the castle he was held in an freed him, they killed a couple of rich people on the way their for good measure. This is where we first hear about a local leader called Wat Tyler.
Next they freed John Ball from Maidstone prison John Ball was a right nut who’d been running round for years preaching in markets, in fields, anywhere he can be heard, telling people to not pay their tithes, pointing out how the whole systems corrupt. One of his most famous catch phrases was “when Adam delved an Eve spun who then was the gentlemen?” excellent, he was saying in language everyone could understand who was in charge when we were made? No one! Thats who, no fucking one.
A few days later the Kent Rebels captured Canterbury, the rebels appointed a humble monk as the new Archbishop.
Both the Kent and the Essex rebels now set out to march on London. By the 12th June The Kent Rebels were camped at Blackheath, and the Essex Rebel were just down the road at Mile End. A message was sent into the city demanding a meeting with the King.
Edward the III had died and the person in charge was a little snot nosed boy king Richard II, clearly his uncle was pulling the strings , but they sent this boy out to meet the rebels, and he shat himself, he was too scared to even get off his barge and went back down the Thames promising another meeting in a week.
The rebels carried on, The gates of London were opened to the mob by Londoners who joined in with the attacks on the rich and the burning of wealthy buildings.
The Kent rebels got to Southwark where they started demolishing the buildings owned by the Toffs. They freed all the people from the local prison. The Essex mob attacked the Temple, burning all the legal documents inside. Lawyers were of course people that up held the unjust law in favour of the rich and any found on the streets or hiding in their rich building felt an axe across the neck.
Fleet street Prison was broken open, merchants were massacred and then the rebels came across the Savoy Palace. The property of John Gaunt the nob head who came up with the Poll Tax. The Savoy was said to be the finest palace in the country, there was meant to be more than five carts worth of gold and silver inside, as well as a very very fancy an expensive set of clothes. Sadly he wasn’t home, if he was his head would have been lobbed of. Instead the rebels went about taking apart his palace and burning everything they could.
His Gold and silver cups were smashed with axes and then thrown in the Thames, Rings were ground in mortars so that no person could ever wear them again. They didn’t want to nick this stuff, they wanted it dematerialised, completely gone from the earth. They didn’t want anyone else to ever wear a ring again while others were starving.
Of course not everyone could be busy with grinding down rings and 30 looters burnt to death as they drunk themselves into a stupor in the wine cellars.
As the rebels burnt the city and killed any traitors they could find the king hid in the Tower of London. You can imagine him sitting in his castle hearing the roar of the party and the screams of the traitors being executed, knowing that the next day his got to go out and try bargain with people his spent his whole life looking down at.
On the 14th June the King rode out to meet with the Peasants at Mile End. They demand land rents to be reduced, the Poll Tax to be abolished, pardons for all rebels, rights and privileges for Peasants and for all “traitors” to be put to death. The King agreed to nearly all demands and makes up a charter with the Seal of England on it.
The rebels from Essex seemed happy with this and began to leave London. The Kent rebels with Wat Tyler weren’t having any of it though, a crew from Kent raided the Tower of London as the meeting was taking place. The serfs apparently strolled around the place like they were knights, stroking the beards of the noble knights and asking the kings mum for a kiss before jumping onto an laying in the Kings bed.
They found hiding there the Archbishop of Salisbury, the King’s treasurer. They are dragged out onto Tower Hill, and beheaded him, sticking his head up on a pike.
The next day they had another meeting where the abolition of lordship was called for along with the division of all property including the church’s to be divided between all men and held in common. Here Wat Tyler approached the king on a hoarse and when he got off had a dagger in his hand. This is where Tyler becomes my hero, I see him being played by Alfie Moon, or maybe Grant Mitchell.
The king asked Tyler why he wouldn’t go home, Tyler said he wanted a charter. The king said Tyler could have all that the king could grant.
This wasn’t enough for Tyler.
Tyler demanded a large jug of water, and gurgled it in his mouth spitting it out in a disgusting way. Then he demanded a jug of ale which he downed straight away. He then stood close to the king chugging his dagger from hand to hand while staring at the king.
The king must have wanted to cry as this uncouth barbarian gurgled around with a blade in front of him.
If only he’d don’t it. The weight of that dagger as he threw it from hand to hand. If only he’d stuck it in that snot nosed kings face. Then we’d have been free, hundreds of years of property, class war, millions dead in imperialist adventure could have been averted. But no. Tyler didn’t thrust the knife in, instead he was provoked into a quarrel and got stabbed by the kings guards, he was taken to a hospital. The kings men came for him, took him out of the hospital brought him back to the king and he was beheaded. His head stuck on a pike and paraded in front of the rebels.
The rebellion wasn’t over, rebels in Suffolk beheaded lords and put on little plays where the heads of the lords kissed each other on the lips. Norfolk was still going but throughout June the rebels were caught up with an massacred, the Essex rebels made their last stand at Billericay.
On the 30th the King felt strong enough to go back on all his concessions. The people would not be free. The crown issued commands for people to submit to their previous conditions. The king declared to the poor at a trail in Chelmsford “Rustics you were and rustics you will be, you will remain in bondage, not as before but incomparably harsher.”
Rebels were executed throughout the country, John ball was hung drawn and quartered.
What else can be said except “We should have killed the king”
This is a very short bit written about a massive bit of our past, its full of spelling mistakes and inaccuracies, so make sure you find a proper book to read all about 1381