Peasants' Revolt

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The peasant uprising of 1381 was the largest peasant uprising in medieval England .


King Richard II meets the insurgents.
(Illustration from the 15th century)
William Walworth kills Wat Tyler, Richard II watches and then speaks to the insurgents.
(Illustration around 1390)

The causes of the uprising lay in various social upheavals and crises in England at the time. Since the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the local manor has been the basic element of the social order in the countryside, particularly in the south and the Midlands. The peasants were the local lords and landowners subject to duty and duty. Overall, the village communities were largely self-sufficient and the only non-locally produced goods traded in the markets were salt, iron and some consumer goods. In the 14th century there was an increasing penetration of the money economy into the village world and thus a loosening of the social order. The reason for this was the increasing importance of supraregional trade and supraregional markets. This money economy initially worked primarily to the advantage of the landowners. Only when there was a labor shortage as a result of the great plague wave of 1348/49 did wages rise. The landlords tried to deal with the labor shortage with increased work obligations and taxes. This led to the refusal to work and peasants to flee to other landlords. Stricter penalties had little effect and the farmers relied on the provisions of the Doomesday Book to prove that their forefathers were free. In order to counter the impending social disorder, labor legislation was passed from 1349. In 1351 the Statute of Laborers came into force, and further ordinances followed later. The aim of these laws was to stabilize the old order and, above all, benefited the haves. They fought the rise in wages and the fall in taxes. Prices and wages were fixed, handouts to those able to work were prohibited, and the mobility of migrant workers was restricted. The sermons of John Ball , the “great preacher of Kent”, who proclaimed human rights and equality for all and found enthusiastic listeners among the peasants, contributed to increasing general discontent among the peasant population .

Due to the long war with France , the English crown was in constant financial need. In 1381 a poll tax was introduced, which imposed the payment of one shilling on every adult male. This tax also affected the sections of the population who had previously remained exempt from general taxes and formed the immediate external trigger for the uprising.

Course of the uprising

When the third tax was collected in late May 1381, the first acts of insurrection took place in the counties of Kent and Essex . The Kent insurgents, led by Wat Tyler , captured the city of Canterbury , which on June 10th was completely in their power. Together with the Essex insurgents, the peasants gathered in Blackheath on June 12 , from where they moved to London the following day and gained access to the capital.

On June 14, the insurgents met with King Richard II in Mile End . The demands of the rebels were: abolition of serfdom , punishment of the "traitors", free buying and selling rights and limitation of the lease fee. A day later, at another meeting between the king and the insurgents in Smithfield, these demands were extended to include society as a whole: abolition of serfdom and manorial rule , equal participation of all in the exercise of power, abolition of the labor law, church reform, and free usage and hunting rights. While the demands of the first meeting are characterized by their commercial and agricultural character, Smithfield's demands have a radical, almost socially utopian note.

During the conversation there was a scuffle in which Wat Tyler was killed by the supporters of the king, possibly by William Walworth († 1385), the mayor of London . The shocked rebels were surrounded by vigilante groups and withdrew to their counties after the king granted them safe conduct. During the uprising, nobles (including the Archbishop of Canterbury , Simon Sudbury , and the Chancellor of the Exchequer of England, Robert Hales ) were killed by the insurgents on the grounds of alleged betrayal of King Richard II. The Tower of London was stormed. Also the palace of John of Gaunt, the 1st Duke of Lancaster , the Savoy Palace , was destroyed and burned down. His son, who later became Henry IV , narrowly escaped.

However, Richard II's promises were not carried out. After he had brought the insurrection to an end himself, when the situation had calmed down, he let Parliament acquit him for the promises he had made and documented. When the peasants asked him to - as promised - abolish serfdom, he is said to have only said: "You are servants and you will remain servants." The leaders were executed.


The proverb coined by the preacher John Ball goes to the uprising. When Adam dug and Eve spun, who was the nobleman? back, which was also spread in Germany, including in several songs.


  • Karl-Friedrich Krieger: History of England I. From the beginnings to the 15th century , vol. 1, 3 vol., 4th edition, CH Beck, Munich 2009; ISBN 3-406-33004-5 ; P. 198ff.
  • Herbert Eiden: "You will remain in bondage ..." Causes and course of the English peasant uprising of 1381. THF, Trier 1995; ISBN 3-923087-31-4 .
  • Oliver Steinke : The betrayal of Mile End. Edition AV, Frankfurt 2003; ISBN 3-936049-18-1 .
  • Rodney Hilton: Bond Men Made Free. Medieval Peasant Movements and the English Rising of 1381 , 2nd Edition, Routledge, New York, NY 2003; ISBN 0-415-31614-6 .

Web links

Commons : Peasants' Revolt  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Kurt Kluxen : History of England . Ed .: Alfred Kröner-Verlag. Stuttgart 1976, ISBN 3-520-37402-1 , chap. The change of rulership, p. 149 ff .
  2. Kluxen, chap. 6 The last Plantagenet Richard II., P. 108f
  3. Henry De Beltgens Gibbins: Industry in England: Historical Outlines . S. 169 ( ).
  4. Rebecca Gablé: From perplexed and lion hearts .