Summer of Blood: The Peasants Revolt of 1381 by Dan JonesWat Tyler and John Ball may have been immortalized in songs when they led the peasant rebellion of 1381 but the story is Richard II. He was but a child when coronated and his inherited kingdom was in a certain decline. War with France, bad weather and the uncertainty of the peasant position after the Black Death had left the monarchy a bit concerned. Hoping for revenue with the time honored way of pissing off everyone: a poll tax was introduced along with certain legal caps on wages. Locals went wild, fueled by the egalitarian preaching of Ball and the charismatic leadership of Tyler. They marched on London, maintaining a relative discipline of burning—-rather than looting. Many of the mobs enemies were put to the sword including the Archbishop of Canterbury. Richard II attempted to meet with them once, heard some of their demands about summary executions and the King sagely withdrew. A more sober parley occurred between representatives and this encounter encouraged the monarch. Richard II met Wat Tyler at Smithfield. Tyler, emboldened, insulted the monarch at which point the rebel leader was attacked and killed. If initially the populace put fear into the monarch, eventually Richard II terrified the people with a harsh retribution. Somewhere between one and seven thousand were put to the sword.
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This greatly affected the English peasants because there was a labour shortage and food was scarce. Even some thirty years later, life had not returned to normal -the settled and structured country life of the Middle Ages was disrupted, and discontent was rife amongst the poor. This was a law passed at the end of the Black Death to stop the peasants taking advantage of the shortage of workers and demanding more money. Peasants were forced to work for the same wages as before, and landowners could insist on labour services being performed, instead of accepting money commutation. This meant that the landowners could profit from shortages, whilst life was made very much harder for the peasants.
The revolt had various causes, including the socio-economic and political tensions generated by the Black Death in the s, the high taxes resulting from the conflict with France during the Hundred Years' War , and instability within the local leadership of London. The final trigger for the revolt was the intervention of a royal official, John Bampton , in Essex on 30 May His attempts to collect unpaid poll taxes in Brentwood ended in a violent confrontation, which rapidly spread across the south-east of the country. A wide spectrum of rural society, including many local artisans and village officials, rose up in protest, burning court records and opening the local gaols. The rebels sought a reduction in taxation, an end to the system of unfree labour known as serfdom , and the removal of the King's senior officials and law courts. Inspired by the sermons of the radical cleric John Ball and led by Wat Tyler , a contingent of Kentish rebels advanced on London.
The Peasants' Revolt
From the s onwards, the catastrophic plague, known as the Black Death, had swept through England, killing between a third and half of the population. These huge death tolls led to a shortage of labour, and then to major changes in the social structure as agricultural workers were able to demand better treatment and higher wages from their landlords. Resentment among these workers was simmering when, between and , a number of taxes were levied to finance government spending. This prompted a violent rebellion in June , known as the Peasants' Revolt. The rebellion would end in failure.
This tax made everyone who was on the tax register pay 5p which was a great deal of money at the time. By , the peasants had had enough. The revolt started when tax collectors were killed by angry peasants in May Then, about 60, peasants marched to London with their leader Wat Tyler. On June 14th, the king met the rebels and gave the peasants all that they asked for and asked that they go home in peace.