Following the Black Death, there was much political instability in England. The people were suffering due to the high taxes placed on them to fund battles abroad.
Due to the Black Death, there was a shortage of workers and this put England under economic pressure.
A law was passed in 1351 ‘The Statute of Labourers’. This law meant that labourers had to continue to work for the same wages they received before the Black Death. They were unable to demand more money even though there was a labour shortage. The law made it a criminal offence to refuse to work and fines were imposed on those that disobeyed these rules.
In 1361, the law was strengthened. Peasant’s could now be branded (mark burned into the skin), to show ownership. Peasant’s could be imprisoned if they did not comply with the law.
The parliament of King Edward III introduced the Poll Tax. Every person over the age of fourteen was required to pay to fund war against France.
When Richard II came to the throne, he introduced another Poll Tax and demanded even more money to fund the wars. He then introduced a third Poll Tax in 1380.
All of the above contributed to the Peasant’s Revolt.
The Peasant’s Revolt started in Essex following the arrival of Member of Parliament, John Bampton. He was sent by the government to interview village officials regarding the collection of taxes as there was a shortfall.
The official from the village of Fobbing, Thomas Baker stated that no more money was available and for this the crown tried to arrest him.
Violence now broke out and the revolt started to grow. John Bampton managed to return to London, however three of his servants were killed.
The rebels marched first to Canterbury and then to London, gaining extra support as they went. They were armed with sticks, battleaxes, swords and bows & arrows. At this time, Wat Tyler emerged as the rebel’s leader.
They first went to Blackheath to listen to a speech by preacher John Ball, and it was at Blackheath that the Bishop of Rochester was sent to negotiate with them. He stated that they should all return to their homes but the rebels rejected this.
As the rebels were marching on London, on 10 June, Richard II travelled by boat from Windsor to the Tower of London for his own safety.
Richard sailed from the Tower of London to Greenwich on 13 June to meet with the rebels, but as Richard refused to come ashore the rebels would not negotiate and this meeting failed.
The rebels advanced into the city later that day, their numbers swelling as Londoners joined the cause.
Many properties were attacked, looted and burned; Fleet Prison was opened and Clerkenwell Priory was destroyed.
The rebels attacked the Savoy Palace, home of John of Gaunt. They rampaged through the palace finally setting the building alight.
On 14 June, the looting, burning and killing continued. Richard left the Tower of London to negotiate with the rebels at Mile End in East London and he agreed to all their demands.
While he was at Mile End, the Tower of London was stormed by the rebels and Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, Sir Robert Hales, Lord High Treasurer and John Legge, Tax Collector were taken and beheaded at Tower Hill.
As the king had agreed to their demands many rebels returned home, but the hardcore remained, not believing the king to be sincere.
On 15 June, the king met the rebels again, at Smithfield’s. The rebel leader Wat Tyler was insolent to the king and an argument broke out between him and the royal servants. The Mayor of London, William Walworth stepped forward and stabbed Wat Tyler, then a squire finished him off.
Richard addressed the crowd again and told them that their demands were to be met and he would give clemency to all if they returned to their homes. The revolt had all but ended.
On 30 June Richard ordered the peasants to return to their previous conditions of service. He followed this on 2 July by revoking all agreements made during the revolt, however to keep the peace no further Poll Taxes were imposed.