The Peasants’ Revolt

“When Adam delved and Eve span, who then the gentlemen?” This is said to have been preached in sermon by John Ball, who along with the help of Watt Tyler are seen to be the primary leaders in the Peasants’ Revolt. Although it is referred to as the Peasants’ Revolt, in my opinion, it is should not be so. The peasants were the major part of the revolt, there were also Artisans, Londoners (when the revolts finally reached London), lower ranks of clergy and there were also some gentlemen as well, (whether they were threatened into it or not, it is still unsure.) Leading up to the revolts were a number of triggers. Of course, in the time leading up to the revolts there was the Black Death that had took place in England and took its’ toll on the peasant population and food. After the death of Edward III, England was still involved in the Hundred Years War, and King Richard took over the throne at 10 years old. Because of this the Barons, who were in charge, began imposing Poll Taxes to the peasants to help fund the war. There were three different Poll Taxes, the first tax in 1377 was 4 pence per person over the age of 14 years old. The second tax to come in 1379 was a graduated tax, which was only to be paid by richer of the population, this of course brought in less funds for the government. Then in 1380 the third tax came. This tax was to be paid by those over 16 years of age, but it was raised to 1 shilling and 12 pence. This tax is what is believed to really have sparked the revolt. The peasants were being taxed such an extensive amount that they were unable to improve their quality of life at all.
As above the two people thought to be the head of the revolts are John Ball and Wat Tyler. John Ball had a history of being a radical, even before these revolts took place. He was in prison numerous times. He was preaching very radical sermons to ordinary people which began to stir a lot of people up. The church was not happy about this at all. Wat Tyler was once a soldiersolider in France, he was very smart and a great leader figure. On the 12th of June, the groups of rebels had reached London on the Saint Crispin’s Day, surprising the government officialsofficals, so they were only able to rally a few hundred troops. On June 12, 1381 King Richard had set up a meeting with the rebels on a barge on the River Thames. When King Richard had arrived his advisors seen the size of the crowd ,which was made up of thousands and decided against the meeting. They retreated and Richard returned to the Tower in London, leaving the peasants angrier than they were before. During this time the rebels had “sacked” a number of places, 3 that are notable. The first was the sacking of Savoy Palace, the residence of John the Gaunt. Luckily he was away in Scotland, but they did burn tax records and destroyed the building. Then Lambeth Palace, again any records were destroyed. The most amazing feat they, the rebels, managed was gaining access to the Tower of London at which time King Richard was speaking at Mile End. What is so surprising about getting into the Tower is that the King had to have had some sort of bodyguard. Therefore the Rebels either had to bluff or threaten their way into it, or at least one of the King’s attendants were unloyal and allowed them in. The captured included Robert Hales and John Legge, and Simon Sudbury, archbishop of Canterbury, all three of which were beheaded by the rebels.
After these acts were done, King Richard agreed to meet with Wat Tyler at Smithfield on June 15, 1381. Even after everything that had happened so far, the commoners looked up to Richard. He, after all, was God-ordained, he is seen to be the help of the commoners. The rebels had a password to distinguish themselves between others. They asked, “Who do you hold with?” the reply was, “With King Richard and the true commons.” When King Richard met with Tyler, Tyler made very radical claims. Even more radical than what was made at Mile End. He asked for the disestablishment of the church, he wanted only one archbishop, and one priest. He wanted an end to serfdom. King Richard had agreed as long as it was just and everyone held up their end. Something was said that riled Tyler up, swords were drawn, and then someone stabbed Tyler. In his last words he yelled at the rebels to fire (they had bows), at this moment Richard went forward and yelled,”Follow me, I am your leader, i will be your king.” The rebels had just lost their leader and here is their King stepping up. The rebels then leave London, and Richard breaks every charter that he had approved by the rebels. Even though the Revolts are done, and the rebels have all gone back to where they had came from, it is far from over. There were still a few hardcore rebels that fought, an example of this is at the University of Cambridge there are no records from before 1381 because they were all burned and destroyed. The rebels until the late 1380’s are still having cases brought against them. If they are found guilty they are hanged. Even though there were thousands of rebels taking place in the revolts, there were only hundreds that were hanged after them.

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