Peasants' Revolt Timeline

Peasants' Revolt Timeline

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  • c. 1100 - c. 1400

    Serfdom and manorialism is at its height in medieval Europe.

  • 1377 - 1381

    Richard II of England imposes three consecutive poll taxes on his subjects.

  • Jun 1381

    The Peasants' Revolt in England.

  • 15 Jun 1381

    Richard II of England meets and disbands a mob in London to end the Peasants' Revolt.

Peasants' Revolt

Peasants' Revolt. This rebellion in 1381 was the first large-scale popular uprising in England. It began in Essex, in the village of Fobbing. Kent soon followed, and the rebels moved rapidly to London. There were also significant risings in East Anglia, Bury St Edmunds, and St Albans. The rapidly changing economy, in the aftermath of the Black Death, provides one explanation for the rising the inadequacy of the government, the church, and the failure of the war with France another. The spark to the revolt was provided by the third poll tax, which was to be levied uniformly at 1 shilling a head, and so bore particularly hard on the poor. Commissions to investigate the low level of returns provoked the Essex uprising. The rebellion took a dramatic and strongly political turn in London, where the rebels took and executed the archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Sudbury, the treasurer, and others. Radical demands were made by Wat Tyler, one of the peasant leaders, at Smithfield: serfdom was to be abolished there was to be no law save the law of Winchester (an obscure request) outlawry was to be abandoned lordship was to be divided between all men. There should be only one bishop, and one prelate the wealth of the church should be distributed among the people. Wat Tyler was killed at this meeting. Resistance elsewhere in the country was short-lived. Perhaps the one lasting achievement of the revolt was that very few poll taxes were levied again in England for some 600 years.

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German Peasant Revolt

When the peasants of Europe began to read the scriptures for themselves during the Reformation, their ideas of justice started to change. What right had feudal overlords to enslave and fleece them, who were their equals in Christ?

Increasing resentment against the heavy exaction of the feudal system, crop failure in Stühlingen, Germany, the writings of Luther and new Bible-derived notions of the equality of man precipitated the tragic Peasant's Revolt of 1524-1525. On this day, August 24 1524, a leader named Hans Müller gathered a few Stühlingen peasants around him. Calling themselves the "Evangelical Brotherhood," these men swore to emancipate the peasants of Germany.

Their twelve-point platform anticipated the liberties which would actually be achieved throughout Christendom after many more years of struggle. It was based on Zwingli's teachings. Among its demands were the right for local congregations to choose and dismiss their pastors. Tithes should be collected justly and used for the modest support of pastors, the rest given to alleviate the poor. Serfdom must end what right did men have to hold other members of the Body of Christ in thrall and work them like animals? The oppressive rents charged the peasants must be eased. Death taxes must be eliminated, for they robbed widows and orphans.

The peasants agreed to be corrected by scripture if any of their demands should be shown to be in error. Luther at first took a middle ground between the nobility and peasants, acknowledging that many of their demands were just. However, little was done to remedy the peasants' complaints. The violence which followed might have been avoided if the masters had been willing to redress the serfs' grievances in good faith. Led by men such as Thomas Muntzer, who wanted to "destroy the godless," the peasants revolted. Luther became frightened by the spreading rebellion and urged in violent terms that the revolt be put down.

The war-skilled rulers crushed the revolt everywhere with great cruelty. Over 100,000 peasants died and the misery of those who remained worsened. The victors destroyed their farming implements and homes and increased their tax burdens. As a consequence, the strongest groaned under increased oppression and the weak simply perished. The peasant revolt remains one of the sore spots in church history.


Economics Edit

The Peasants' Revolt was fed by the economic and social upheaval of the 14th century. [1] At the start of the century, the majority of English people worked in the countryside economy that fed the country's towns and cities and supported an extensive international trade. [2] Across much of England, production was organised around manors, controlled by local lords – including the gentry and the Church – and governed through a system of manorial courts. [3] Some of the population were unfree serfs, who had to work on their lords' lands for a period each year, although the balance of free and unfree varied across England, and in the south-east there were relatively few serfs. [4] Some serfs were born unfree and could not leave their manors to work elsewhere without the consent of the local lord others accepted limitations on their freedom as part of the tenure agreement for their farmland. [5] Population growth led to pressure on the available agricultural land, increasing the power of local landowners. [6]

In 1348 a plague known as the Black Death crossed from mainland Europe into England, rapidly killing an estimated 50 per cent of the population. [7] After an initial period of economic shock, England began to adapt to the changed economic situation. [8] The death rate among the peasantry meant that suddenly land was relatively plentiful and labourers in much shorter supply. [9] Labourers could charge more for their work and, in the consequent competition for labour, wages were driven sharply upwards. [10] In turn, the profits of landowners were eroded. [11] The trading, commercial and financial networks in the towns disintegrated. [12]

The authorities responded to the chaos with emergency legislation the Ordinance of Labourers was passed in 1349, and the Statute of Labourers in 1351. [13] These attempted to fix wages at pre-plague levels, making it a crime to refuse work or to break an existing contract, imposing fines on those who transgressed. [14] The system was initially enforced through special Justices of Labourers and then, from the 1360s onwards, through the normal Justices of the Peace, typically members of the local gentry. [15] Although in theory these laws applied to both labourers seeking higher wages and to employers tempted to outbid their competitors for workers, they were in practice applied only to labourers, and then in a rather arbitrary fashion. [16] The legislation was strengthened in 1361, with the penalties increased to include branding and imprisonment. [17] The royal government had not intervened in this way before, nor allied itself with the local landowners in quite such an obvious or unpopular way. [18]

Over the next few decades, economic opportunities increased for the English peasantry. [19] Some labourers took up specialist jobs that would have previously been barred to them, and others moved from employer to employer, or became servants in richer households. [20] These changes were keenly felt across the south-east of England, where the London market created a wide range of opportunities for farmers and artisans. [21] Local lords had the right to prevent serfs from leaving their manors, but when serfs found themselves blocked in the manorial courts, many simply left to work illegally on manors elsewhere. [22] Wages continued to rise, and between the 1340s and the 1380s the purchasing power of rural labourers increased by around 40 percent. [23] As the wealth of the lower classes increased, Parliament brought in fresh laws in 1363 to prevent them from consuming expensive goods formerly only affordable by the elite. These sumptuary laws proved unenforceable, but the wider labour laws continued to be firmly applied. [24]

War and finance Edit

Another factor in the revolt of 1381 was the conduct of the war with France. In 1337 Edward III of England had pressed his claims to the French throne, beginning a long-running conflict that became known as the Hundred Years' War. Edward had initial successes, but his campaigns were not decisive. Charles V of France became more active in the conflict after 1369, taking advantage of his country's greater economic strength to commence cross-Channel raids on England. [25] By the 1370s, England's armies on the continent were under huge military and financial pressure the garrisons in Calais and Brest alone, for example, were costing £36,000 a year to maintain, while military expeditions could consume £50,000 in only six months. [26] [nb 1] Edward died in 1377, leaving the throne to his grandson, Richard II, then only ten years old. [28]

Richard's government was formed around his uncles, most prominently the rich and powerful John of Gaunt, and many of his grandfather's former senior officials. They faced the challenge of financially sustaining the war in France. Taxes in the 14th century were raised on an ad hoc basis through Parliament, then comprising the Lords, the titled aristocracy and clergy and the Commons, the representatives of the knights, merchants and senior gentry from across England. [29] These taxes were typically imposed on a household's movable possessions, such as their goods or stock. [30] The raising of these taxes affected the members of the Commons much more than the Lords. [31] To complicate matters, the official statistics used to administer the taxes pre-dated the Black Death and, since the size and wealth of local communities had changed greatly since the plague, effective collection had become increasingly difficult. [32]

Just before Edward's death, Parliament introduced a new form of taxation called the poll tax, which was levied at the rate of four pence on every person over the age of 14, with a deduction for married couples. [33] [nb 2] Designed to spread the cost of the war over a broader economic base than previous tax levies, this round of taxation proved extremely unpopular but raised £22,000. [33] The war continued to go badly and, despite raising some money through forced loans, the Crown returned to Parliament in 1379 to request further funds. [35] The Commons were supportive of the young King, but had concerns about the amounts of money being sought and the way this was being spent by the King's counsellors, whom they suspected of corruption. [36] A second poll tax was approved, this time with a sliding scale of taxes against seven different classes of English society, with the upper classes paying more in absolute terms. [37] Widespread evasion proved to be a problem, and the tax only raised £18,600 — far short of the £50,000 that had been hoped for. [38]

In November 1380, Parliament was called together again in Northampton. Archbishop Simon Sudbury, the new Lord Chancellor, updated the Commons on the worsening situation in France, a collapse in international trade, and the risk of the Crown having to default on its debts. [39] The Commons were told that the colossal sum of £160,000 was now required in new taxes, and arguments ensued between the royal council and Parliament about what to do next. [40] Parliament passed a third poll tax (this time on a flat-rate basis of 12 pence on each person over 15, with no allowance made for married couples) which they estimated would raise £66,666. [41] The third poll tax was highly unpopular and many in the south-east evaded it by refusing to register. [42] The royal council appointed new commissioners in March 1381 to interrogate local village and town officials in an attempt to find those who were refusing to comply. [43] The extraordinary powers and interference of these teams of investigators in local communities, primarily in the south-east and east of England, raised still further the tensions surrounding the taxes. [44]

Protest and authority Edit

The decades running up to 1381 were a rebellious, troubled period. [45] London was a particular focus of unrest, and the activities of the city's politically active guilds and fraternities often alarmed the authorities. [46] Londoners resented the expansion of the royal legal system in the capital, in particular the increased role of the Marshalsea Court in Southwark, which had begun to compete with the city authorities for judicial power in London. [47] [nb 3] The city's population also resented the presence of foreigners, Flemish weavers in particular. [49] Londoners detested John of Gaunt because he was a supporter of the religious reformer John Wycliffe, whom the London public regarded as a heretic. [50] John of Gaunt was also engaged in a feud with the London elite and was rumoured to be planning to replace the elected mayor with a captain, appointed by the Crown. [51] The London elite were themselves fighting out a vicious, internal battle for political power. [52] As a result, in 1381 the ruling classes in London were unstable and divided. [53]

Rural communities, particularly in the south-east, were unhappy with the operation of serfdom and the use of the local manorial courts to exact traditional fines and levies, not least because the same landowners who ran these courts also often acted as enforcers of the unpopular labour laws or as royal judges. [54] Many of the village elites refused to take up positions in local government and began to frustrate the operation of the courts. [55] Animals seized by the courts began to be retaken by their owners, and legal officials were assaulted. [56] Some started to advocate the creation of independent village communities, respecting traditional laws but separate from the hated legal system centred in London. [57] As the historian Miri Rubin describes, for many, "the problem was not the country's laws, but those charged with applying and safeguarding them". [58]

Concerns were raised about these changes in society. [59] William Langland wrote the poem Piers Plowman in the years before 1380, praising peasants who respected the law and worked hard for their lords, but complaining about greedy, travelling labourers demanding higher wages. [60] The poet John Gower warned against a future revolt in both Mirour de l'Omme and Vox Clamantis. [61] There was a moral panic about the threat posed by newly arrived workers in the towns and the possibility that servants might turn against their masters. [62] New legislation was introduced in 1359 to deal with migrants, existing conspiracy laws were more widely applied and the treason laws were extended to include servants or wives who betrayed their masters and husbands. [63] By the 1370s, there were fears that if the French invaded England, the rural classes might side with the invaders. [18]

The discontent began to give way to open protest. In 1377, the "Great Rumour" occurred in south-east and south-west England. [64] Rural workers organised themselves and refused to work for their lords, arguing that, according to the Domesday Book, they were exempted from such requests. [65] The workers made unsuccessful appeals to the law courts and the King. [66] There were also widespread urban tensions, particularly in London, where John of Gaunt narrowly escaped being lynched. [67] The troubles increased again in 1380, with protests and disturbances across northern England and in the western towns of Shrewsbury and Bridgwater. [68] An uprising occurred in York, during which John de Gisborne, the city's mayor, was removed from office, and fresh tax riots followed in early 1381. [69] There was a great storm in England during May 1381, which many felt to prophesy future change and upheaval, adding further to the disturbed mood. [70]

Outbreak of revolt Edit

Essex and Kent Edit

The revolt of 1381 broke out in Essex, following the arrival of John Bampton to investigate non-payment of the poll tax on 30 May. [71] Bampton was a member of Parliament, a Justice of the Peace and well-connected with royal circles. [71] He based himself in Brentwood and summoned representatives from the neighbouring villages of Corringham, Fobbing and Stanford-le-Hope to explain and make good the shortfalls on 1 June. [71] The villagers appear to have arrived well-organised, and armed with old bows and sticks. [72] Bampton first interrogated the people of Fobbing, whose representative, Thomas Baker, declared that his village had already paid their taxes, and that no more money would be forthcoming. [72] When Bampton and two sergeants attempted to arrest Baker, violence broke out. [71] Bampton escaped and retreated to London, but three of his clerks and several of the Brentwood townsfolk who had agreed to act as jurors were killed. [73] Robert Bealknap, the Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, who was probably already holding court in the area, was empowered to arrest and deal with the perpetrators. [74]

By the next day, the revolt was rapidly growing. [75] The villagers spread the news across the region, and John Geoffrey, a local bailiff, rode between Brentwood and Chelmsford, rallying support. [75] On 4 June, the rebels gathered at Bocking, where their future plans seem to have been discussed. [76] The Essex rebels, possibly a few thousand strong, advanced towards London, some probably travelling directly and others via Kent. [75] One group, under the leadership of John Wrawe, a former chaplain, marched north towards the neighbouring county of Suffolk, with the intention of raising a revolt there. [77]

Revolt also flared in neighbouring Kent. [78] Sir Simon de Burley, a close associate of both Edward III and the young Richard, had claimed that a man in Kent, called Robert Belling, was an escaped serf from one of his estates. [78] Burley sent two sergeants to Gravesend, where Belling was living, to reclaim him. [78] Gravesend's local bailiffs and Belling tried to negotiate a solution under which Burley would accept a sum of money in return for dropping his case, but this failed and Belling was taken away to be imprisoned at Rochester Castle. [78] A furious group of local people gathered at Dartford, possibly on 5 June, to discuss the matter. [79] From there the rebels travelled to Maidstone, where they stormed the gaol, and then onto Rochester on 6 June. [80] Faced by the angry crowds, the constable in charge of Rochester Castle surrendered it without a fight and Belling was freed. [81]

Some of the Kentish crowds now dispersed, but others continued. [81] From this point, they appear to have been led by Wat Tyler, whom the Anonimalle Chronicle suggests was elected their leader at a large gathering at Maidstone on 7 June. [82] Relatively little is known about Tyler's former life chroniclers suggest that he was from Essex, had served in France as an archer and was a charismatic and capable leader. [82] Several chroniclers believe that he was responsible for shaping the political aims of the revolt. [83] Some also mention a Jack Straw as a leader among the Kentish rebels during this phase in the revolt, but it is uncertain if this was a real person, or a pseudonym for Wat Tyler or John Wrawe. [84] [nb 4]

Tyler and the Kentish men advanced to Canterbury, entering the walled city and castle without resistance on 10 June. [86] The rebels deposed the absent Archbishop of Canterbury, Sudbury, and made the cathedral monks swear loyalty to their cause. [87] They attacked properties in the city with links to the hated royal council, and searched the city for suspected enemies, dragging the suspects out of their houses and executing them. [88] The city gaol was opened and the prisoners freed. [89] Tyler then persuaded a few thousand of the rebels to leave Canterbury and advance with him on London the next morning. [90]

March on the capital Edit

The Kentish advance on London appears to have been coordinated with the movement of the rebels in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. [90] Their forces were armed with weapons including sticks, battle axes, old swords and bows. [91] [nb 5] Along their way, they encountered Lady Joan, the King's mother, who was travelling back to the capital to avoid being caught up in the revolt she was mocked but otherwise left unharmed. [90] The Kentish rebels reached Blackheath, just south-east of the capital, on 12 June. [90] [nb 6]

Word of the revolt reached the King at Windsor Castle on the night of 10 June. [90] He travelled by boat down the River Thames to London the next day, taking up residence in the powerful fortress of the Tower of London for safety, where he was joined by his mother, Archbishop Sudbury, the Lord High Treasurer Sir Robert Hales, the Earls of Arundel, Salisbury and Warwick and several other senior nobles. [94] A delegation, headed by Thomas Brinton, the Bishop of Rochester, was sent out from London to negotiate with the rebels and persuade them to return home. [90]

At Blackheath, John Ball gave a famous sermon to the assembled Kentishmen. [95] Ball was a well-known priest and radical preacher from Kent, who was by now closely associated with Tyler. [96] Chroniclers' accounts vary as to how he came to be involved in the revolt he may have been released from Maidstone gaol by the crowds, or might have been already at liberty when the revolt broke out. [97] Ball rhetorically asked the crowds "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then a gentleman?" and promoted the rebel slogan "With King Richard and the true commons of England". [95] The phrases emphasised the rebel opposition to the continuation of serfdom and to the hierarchies of the Church and State that separated the subject from the King, while stressing that they were loyal to the monarchy and, unlike the King's advisers, were "true" to Richard. [98] The rebels rejected proposals from the Bishop of Rochester that they should return home, and instead prepared to march on. [90]

Discussions took place in the Tower of London about how to deal with the revolt. [90] The King had only a few troops at hand, in the form of the castle's garrison, his immediate bodyguard and, at most, several hundred soldiers. [99] [nb 7] Many of the more experienced military commanders were in France, Ireland and Germany, and the nearest major military force was in the north of England, guarding against a potential Scottish invasion. [101] Resistance in the provinces was also complicated by English law, which stated that only the King could summon local militias or lawfully execute rebels and criminals, leaving many local lords unwilling to attempt to suppress the uprisings on their own authority. [102]

Since the Blackheath negotiations had failed, the decision was taken that the King himself should meet the rebels, at Greenwich, on the south side of the Thames. [103] Guarded by four barges of soldiers, Richard sailed from the Tower on the morning of 13 June, where he was met on the other side by the rebel crowds. [104] The negotiations failed, as Richard was unwilling to come ashore and the rebels refused to enter discussions until he did. [104] Richard returned across the river to the Tower. [105]

Events in London Edit

Entry to the city Edit

The rebels began to cross from Southwark onto London Bridge on the afternoon of 13 June. [105] The defences on London Bridge were opened from the inside, either in sympathy for the rebel cause or out of fear, and the rebels advanced into the city. [106] [nb 8] At the same time, the rebel force from Essex made its way towards Aldgate on the north side of the city. [108] The rebels swept west through the centre of the city, and Aldgate was opened to let the rest of the rebels in. [109]

The Kentish rebels had assembled a wide-ranging list of people whom they wanted the King to hand over for execution. [104] It included national figures, such as John of Gaunt, Archbishop Sudbury and Hales other key members of the royal council officials, such as Belknap and Bampton who had intervened in Kent and other hated members of the wider royal circle. [104] When they reached the Marshalsea Prison in Southwark, they tore it apart. [110] By now the Kent and Essex rebels had been joined by many rebellious Londoners. [111] The Fleet and Newgate Prisons were attacked by the crowds, and the rebels also targeted houses belonging to Flemish immigrants. [112]

On the north side of London, the rebels approached Smithfield and Clerkenwell Priory, the headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller which was headed by Hales. [113] The priory was destroyed, along with the nearby manor. [113] Heading west along Fleet Street, the rebels attacked the Temple, a complex of legal buildings and offices owned by the Hospitallers. [114] The contents, books and paperwork were brought out and burned in the street, and the buildings systematically demolished. [114] Meanwhile, John Fordham, the Keeper of the Privy Seal and one of the men on the rebels' execution list, narrowly escaped when the crowds ransacked his accommodation but failed to notice he was still in the building. [114]

Next to be attacked along Fleet Street was the Savoy Palace, a huge, luxurious building belonging to John of Gaunt. [115] According to the chronicler Henry Knighton it contained "such quantities of vessels and silver plate, without counting the parcel-gilt and solid gold, that five carts would hardly suffice to carry them" official estimates placed the value of the contents at around £10,000. [115] The interior was systematically destroyed by the rebels, who burnt the soft furnishings, smashed the precious metal work, crushed the gems, set fire to the Duke's records and threw the remains into the Thames and the city drains. [115] Almost nothing was stolen by the rebels, who declared themselves to be "zealots for truth and justice, not thieves and robbers". [116] The remains of the building were then set alight. [117] In the evening, rebel forces gathered outside the Tower of London, from where the King watched the fires burning across the city. [118]

Taking the Tower of London Edit

On the morning of 14 June, the crowd continued west along the Thames, burning the houses of officials around Westminster and opening the Westminster gaol. [119] They then moved back into central London, setting fire to more buildings and storming Newgate Prison. [119] The hunt for Flemings continued, and those with Flemish-sounding accents were killed, including the royal adviser, Richard Lyons. [120] [nb 9] In one city ward, the bodies of 40 executed Flemings were piled up in the street, and at the Church of St Martin Vintry, popular with the Flemish, 35 of the community were killed. [122] Historian Rodney Hilton argues that these attacks may have been coordinated by the weavers' guilds of London, who were commercial competitors of the Flemish weavers. [123]

Isolated inside the Tower, the royal government was in a state of shock at the turn of events. [124] The King left the castle that morning and made his way to negotiate with the rebels at Mile End in east London, taking only a very small bodyguard with him. [125] The King left Sudbury and Hales behind in the Tower, either for their own safety or because Richard had decided it would be safer to distance himself from his unpopular ministers. [126] Along the way, several Londoners accosted the King to complain about alleged injustices. [127]

It is uncertain who spoke for the rebels at Mile End, and Wat Tyler may not have been present on this occasion, but they appear to have put forward their various demands to the King, including the surrender of the hated officials on their lists for execution the abolition of serfdom and unfree tenure "that there should be no law within the realm save the law of Winchester", and a general amnesty for the rebels. [128] It is unclear precisely what was meant by the law of Winchester, but it probably referred to the rebel ideal of self-regulating village communities. [129] [nb 10] Richard issued charters announcing the abolition of serfdom, which immediately began to be disseminated around the country. [131] He declined to hand over any of his officials, apparently instead promising that he would personally implement any justice that was required. [132]

While Richard was at Mile End, the Tower was taken by the rebels. [133] This force, separate from those operating under Tyler at Mile End, approached the castle, possibly in the late morning. [133] [nb 11] The gates were open to receive Richard on his return and a crowd of around 400 rebels entered the fortress, encountering no resistance, possibly because the guards were terrified by them. [134]

Once inside, the rebels began to hunt down their key targets, and found Archbishop Sudbury and Robert Hales in the chapel of the White Tower. [135] Along with William Appleton, John of Gaunt's physician, and John Legge, a royal sergeant, they were taken out to Tower Hill and beheaded. [135] Their heads were paraded around the city, before being affixed to London Bridge. [136] The rebels found John of Gaunt's son, the future Henry IV, and were about to execute him as well, when John Ferrour, one of the royal guards, successfully interceded on his behalf. [137] The rebels also discovered Lady Joan and Joan Holland, Richard's sister, in the castle but let them go unharmed after making fun of them. [138] The castle was thoroughly looted of armour and royal paraphernalia. [139]

The historian Sylvia Federico, translating Latin court documents from The National Archives, named Johanna Ferrour as the leader of this force that took the castle. Alongside her husband, [140] she is described as "chief perpetrator and leader of rebellious evildoers from Kent". [141] She arrested Sudbury and dragged him to the chopping block, ordering that he be beheaded as well as ordering the death of the treasurer, Robert Hales. It has been speculated that her name does not appear in the work of contemporary chroniclers as they may have felt that a female leader would be perceived as trivialising the revolt. [141] From then onwards, however, comments Marc Boone, women were more regularly accepted in contemporary literature as playing a role in societal violence. [140]

In the aftermath of the attack, Richard did not return to the Tower but instead travelled from Mile End to the Great Wardrobe, one of his royal houses in Blackfriars, part of south-west London. [142] There he appointed the military commander Richard FitzAlan, the Earl of Arundel, to replace Sudbury as Chancellor, and began to make plans to regain an advantage over the rebels the following day. [143] Many of the Essex rebels now began to disperse, content with the King's promises, leaving Tyler and the Kentish forces the most significant faction in London. [144] Tyler's men moved around the city that evening, seeking out and killing John of Gaunt's employees, foreigners and anyone associated with the legal system. [145]

Smithfield Edit

On 15 June the royal government and the remaining rebels, who were unsatisfied with the charters granted the previous day, agreed to meet at Smithfield, just outside the city walls. [146] London remained in confusion, with various bands of rebels roaming the city independently. [139] Richard prayed at Westminster Abbey, before setting out for the meeting in the late afternoon. [147] The chroniclers' accounts of the encounter all vary on matters of detail, but agree on the broad sequence of events. [148] The King and his party, at least 200 strong and including men-at-arms, positioned themselves outside St Bartholomew's Priory to the east of Smithfield, and the thousands of rebels massed along the western end. [149] [nb 12]

Richard probably called Tyler forwards from the crowd to meet him, and Tyler greeted the King with what the royal party considered excessive familiarity, terming Richard his "brother" and promising him his friendship. [151] Richard queried why Tyler and the rebels had not yet left London following the signing of the charters the previous day, but this brought an angry rebuke from Tyler, who requested that a further charter be drawn up. [152] The rebel leader rudely demanded refreshment and, once this had been provided, attempted to leave. [153]

An argument then broke out between Tyler and some of the royal servants. [153] The Mayor of London, William Walworth, stepped forward to intervene, Tyler made some motion towards the King, and the royal soldiers leapt in. [154] Either Walworth or Richard ordered Tyler to be arrested, Tyler attempted to attack the Mayor, and Walworth responded by stabbing Tyler. [153] Ralph Standish, a royal squire, then repeatedly stabbed Tyler with his sword, mortally injuring him. [155]

The situation was now precarious and violence appeared likely as the rebels prepared to unleash a volley of arrows. [155] Richard rode forward towards the crowd and persuaded them to follow him away from Smithfield, to Clerkenwell Fields, defusing the situation. [155] Walworth meanwhile began to regain control of the situation, backed by reinforcements from the city. [156] Tyler's head was cut off and displayed on a pole and, with their leader dead and the royal government now backed by the London militia, the rebel movement began to collapse. [157] Richard promptly knighted Walworth and his leading supporters for their services. [155]

Wider revolt Edit

Eastern England Edit

While the revolt was unfolding in London, John Wrawe led his force into Suffolk. [158] Wrawe had considerable influence over the development of the revolt across eastern England, where there may have been almost as many rebels as in the London revolt. [159] The authorities put up very little resistance to the revolt: the major nobles failed to organise defences, key fortifications fell easily to the rebels and the local militias were not mobilised. [160] As in London and the south-east, this was in part due to the absence of key military leaders and the nature of English law, but any locally recruited men might also have proved unreliable in the face of a popular uprising. [161]

On 12 June, Wrawe attacked Sir Richard Lyons' property at Overhall, advancing on to Cavendish and Bury St Edmunds in west Suffolk the next day, gathering further support as they went. [162] John Cambridge, the Prior of the wealthy Bury St Edmunds Abbey, was disliked in the town, and Wrawe allied himself with the townspeople and stormed the abbey. [163] The Prior escaped, but was found two days later and beheaded. [164] A small band of rebels marched north to Thetford to extort protection money from the town, and another group tracked down Sir John Cavendish, the Chief Justice of the King's Bench and Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. [165] Cavendish was caught in Lakenheath and killed. [166] John Battisford and Thomas Sampson independently led a revolt near Ipswich on 14 June. [167] They took the town without opposition and looted the properties of the archdeacon and local tax officials. [167] The violence spread out further, with attacks on many properties and the burning of the local court records. [168] One official, Edmund Lakenheath, was forced to flee from the Suffolk coast by boat. [169]

Revolt began to stir in St Albans in Hertfordshire late on 13 June, when news broke of the events in London. [170] There had been long-running disagreements in St Albans between the town and the local abbey, which had extensive privileges in the region. [171] On 14 June, protesters met with the Abbot, Thomas de la Mare, and demanded their freedom from the abbey. [170] A group of townsmen under the leadership of William Grindecobbe travelled to London, where they appealed to the King for the rights of the abbey to be abolished. [172] Wat Tyler, then still in control of the city, granted them authority in the meantime to take direct action against the abbey. [173] Grindecobbe and the rebels returned to St Albans, where they found the Prior had already fled. [174] The rebels broke open the abbey gaol, destroyed the fences marking out the abbey lands and burnt the abbey records in the town square. [175] They then forced Thomas de la Mare to surrender the abbey's rights in a charter on 16 June. [176] The revolt against the abbey spread out over the next few days, with abbey property and financial records being destroyed across the county. [177]

On 15 June, revolt broke out in Cambridgeshire, led by elements of Wrawe's Suffolk rebellion and some local men, such as John Greyston, who had been involved in the events in London and had returned to his home county to spread the revolt, and Geoffrey Cobbe and John Hanchach, members of the local gentry. [178] The University of Cambridge, staffed by priests and enjoying special royal privileges, was widely hated by the other inhabitants of the town. [178] A revolt backed by the Mayor of Cambridge broke out with the university as its main target. [178] The rebels ransacked Corpus Christi College, which had connections to John of Gaunt, and the University's church, and attempted to execute the University bedel, who escaped. [179] The university's library and archives were burnt in the centre of the town, with one Margery Starre leading the mob in a dance to the rallying cry "Away with the learning of clerks, away with it!" while the documents burned. [180] The next day, the university was forced to negotiate a new charter, giving up its royal privileges. [181] Revolt then spread north from Cambridge toward Ely, where the gaol was opened and the local Justice of the Peace executed. [182]

In Norfolk, the revolt was led by Geoffrey Litster, a weaver, and Sir Roger Bacon, a local lord with ties to the Suffolk rebels. [183] Litster began sending out messengers across the county in a call to arms on 14 June, and isolated outbreaks of violence occurred. [184] The rebels assembled on 17 June outside Norwich and killed Sir Robert Salle, who was in charge of the city defences and had attempted to negotiate a settlement. [185] The people of the town then opened the gates to let the rebels in. [185] They began looting buildings and killed Reginald Eccles, a local official. [186] William de Ufford, the Earl of Suffolk fled his estates and travelled in disguise to London. [187] The other leading members of the local gentry were captured and forced to play out the roles of a royal household, working for Litster. [187] Violence spread out across the county, as gaols were opened, Flemish immigrants killed, court records burned, and property looted and destroyed. [188]

Northern and western England Edit

Revolts also occurred across the rest of England, particularly in the cities of the north, traditionally centres of political unrest. [189] In the town of Beverley, violence broke out between the richer mercantile elite and the poorer townspeople during May. [190] By the end of the month the rebels had taken power and replaced the former town administration with their own. [191] The rebels attempted to enlist the support of Alexander Neville, the Archbishop of York, and in June forced the former town government to agree to arbitration through Neville. [192] Peace was restored in June 1382 but tensions continued to simmer for many years. [193]

Word of the troubles in the south-east spread north, slowed by the poor communication links of medieval England. [194] In Leicester, where John of Gaunt had a substantial castle, warnings arrived of a force of rebels advancing on the city from Lincolnshire, who were intent on destroying the castle and its contents. [194] The mayor and the town mobilised their defences, including a local militia, but the rebels never arrived. [195] John of Gaunt was in Berwick when word reached him on 17 June of the revolt. [196] Not knowing that Wat Tyler had by now been killed, John of Gaunt placed his castles in Yorkshire and Wales on alert. [197] Fresh rumours, many of them incorrect, continued to arrive in Berwick, suggesting widespread rebellions across the west and east of England and the looting of the ducal household in Leicester rebel units were even said to be hunting for the Duke himself. [197] Gaunt began to march to Bamburgh Castle, but then changed course and diverted north into Scotland, only returning south once the fighting was over. [198]

News of the initial events in London also reached York around 17 June, and attacks at once broke out on the properties of the Dominican friars, the Franciscan friaries and other religious institutions. [199] Violence continued over the coming weeks, and on 1 July a group of armed men, under the command of John de Gisbourne, forced their way into the city and attempted to seize control. [200] The mayor, Simon de Quixlay, gradually began to reclaim authority, but order was not properly restored until 1382. [200] The news of the southern revolt reached Scarborough where riots broke out against the ruling elite on 23 June, with the rebels dressed in white hoods with a red tail at the back. [201] Members of the local government were deposed from office, and one tax collector was nearly lynched. [202] By 1382 the elite had re-established power. [203]

In the Somerset town of Bridgwater, revolt broke out on 19 June, led by Thomas Ingleby and Adam Brugge. [204] The crowds attacked the local Augustine house and forced their master to give up his local privileges and pay a ransom. [205] The rebels then turned on the properties of John Sydenham, a local merchant and official, looting his manor and burning paperwork, before executing Walter Baron, a local man. [206] The Ilchester gaol was stormed, and one unpopular prisoner executed. [207]

Suppression Edit

The royal suppression of the revolt began shortly after the death of Wat Tyler on 15 June. [208] Sir Robert Knolles, Sir Nicholas Brembre and Sir Robert Launde were appointed to restore control in the capital. [209] A summons was put out for soldiers, probably around 4,000 men were mustered in London, and expeditions to the other troubled parts of the country soon followed. [210]

The revolt in East Anglia was independently suppressed by Henry Despenser, the Bishop of Norwich. [187] Henry was in Stamford in Lincolnshire when the revolt broke out, and when he found out about it he marched south with eight men-at-arms and a small force of archers, gathering more forces as he went. [211] He marched first to Peterborough, where he routed the local rebels and executed any he could capture, including some who had taken shelter in the local abbey. [212] He then headed south-east via Huntingdon and Ely, reached Cambridge on 19 June, and then headed further into the rebel-controlled areas of Norfolk. [213] Henry reclaimed Norwich on 24 June, before heading out with a company of men to track down the rebel leader, Geoffrey Litster. [214] The two forces met at the Battle of North Walsham on 25 or 26 June the Bishop's forces triumphed and Litster was captured and executed. [215] Henry's quick action was essential to the suppression of the revolt in East Anglia, but he was very unusual in taking matters into his own hands in this way, and his execution of the rebels without royal sanction was illegal. [216]

On 17 June, the King dispatched his half-brother Thomas Holland and Sir Thomas Trivet to Kent with a small force to restore order. [217] They held courts at Maidstone and Rochester. [217] William de Ufford, the Earl of Suffolk, returned to his county on 23 June, accompanied by a force of 500 men. [218] He quickly subdued the area and was soon holding court in Mildenhall, where many of the accused were sentenced to death. [219] He moved on into Norfolk on 6 July, holding court in Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Hacking. [217] Hugh, Lord la Zouche, led the legal proceedings against the rebels in Cambridgeshire. [217] In St Albans, the Abbot arrested William Grindecobbe and his main supporters. [220]

On 20 June, the King's uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, and Robert Tresilian, the replacement Chief Justice, were given special commissions across the whole of England. [217] Thomas oversaw court cases in Essex, backed up by a substantial military force as resistance was continuing and the county was still in a state of unrest. [221] Richard himself visited Essex, where he met with a rebel delegation seeking confirmation of the grants the King had given at Mile End. [222] Richard rejected them, allegedly telling them that "rustics you were and rustics you are still. You will remain in bondage, not as before, but incomparably harsher". [222] [nb 13] Tresilian soon joined Thomas, and carried out 31 executions in Chelmsford, then travelled to St Albans in July for further court trials, which appear to have utilised dubious techniques to ensure convictions. [224] Thomas went on to Gloucester with 200 soldiers to suppress the unrest there. [225] Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, was tasked to restore order to Yorkshire. [225]

A wide range of laws were invoked in the process of the suppression, from general treason to charges of book burning or demolishing houses, a process complicated by the relatively narrow definition of treason at the time. [226] The use of informants and denunciations became common, causing fear to spread across the country by November at least 1,500 people had been executed or killed in battle. [227] Many of those who had lost property in the revolt attempted to seek legal compensation, and John of Gaunt made particular efforts to track down those responsible for destroying his Savoy Palace. [228] Most had only limited success, as the defendants were rarely willing to attend court. [228] The last of these cases was resolved in 1387. [228]

The rebel leaders were quickly rounded up. [229] A rebel leader by the name of Jack Straw was captured in London and executed. [230] [nb 14] John Ball was caught in Coventry, tried in St Albans, and executed on 15 July. [232] Grindecobbe was also tried and executed in St Albans. [230] John Wrawe was tried in London he probably gave evidence against 24 of his colleagues in the hope of a pardon, but was sentenced to be executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered on 6 May 1382. [233] Sir Roger Bacon was probably arrested before the final battle in Norfolk, and was tried and imprisoned in the Tower of London before finally being pardoned by the Crown. [234] As of September 1381, Thomas Ingleby of Bridgwater had successfully evaded the authorities. [235]

Although women such as Johanna Ferrour played a prominent role in the revolt, no evidence has been found of women being executed or punished as harshly as their male counterparts. [141]

Aftermath Edit

The royal government and Parliament began to re-establish the normal processes of government after the revolt as the historian Michael Postan describes, the uprising was in many ways a "passing episode". [236] On 30 June, the King ordered England's serfs to return to their previous conditions of service, and on 2 July the royal charters signed under duress during the rising were formally revoked. [217] Parliament met in November to discuss the events of the year and how best to respond to their challenges. [237] The revolt was blamed on the misconduct of royal officials, who, it was argued, had been excessively greedy and overbearing. [238] The Commons stood behind the existing labour laws, but requested changes in the royal council, which Richard granted. [239] Richard also granted general pardons to those who had executed rebels without due process, to all men who had remained loyal, and to all those who had rebelled – with the exception of the men of Bury St Edmunds, any men who had been involved in the killing of the King's advisers, and those who were still on the run from prison. [240]

Despite the violence of the suppression, the government and local lords were relatively circumspect in restoring order after the revolt, and continued to be worried about fresh revolts for several decades. [241] Few lords took revenge on their peasants except through the legal processes of the courts. [242] Low-level unrest continued for several more years. [243] In September 1382 there was trouble in Norfolk, involving an apparent plot against the Bishop of Norwich, and in March the following year there was an investigation into a plot to kill the sheriff of Devon. [244] When negotiating rents with their landlords, peasants alluded to the memory of the revolt and the threat of violence. [245]

There were no further attempts by Parliament to impose a poll tax or to reform England's fiscal system. [246] The Commons instead concluded at the end of 1381 that the military effort on the Continent should be "carefully but substantially reduced". [247] Unable to raise fresh taxes, the government had to curtail its foreign policy and military expeditions and began to examine the options for peace. [248] The institution of serfdom declined after 1381, but primarily for economic rather than political reasons. [249] Rural wages continued to increase, and lords increasingly sold their serfs' freedom in exchange for cash, or converted traditional forms of tenure to new leasehold arrangements. [250] During the 15th century the institution vanished in England. [245]

Chroniclers primarily described the rebels as rural serfs, using broad, derogatory Latin terms such as serviles rustici, servile genus and rusticitas. [251] Some chroniclers, including Knighton, also noted the presence of runaway apprentices, artisans and others, sometimes terming them the "lesser commons". [251] The evidence from the court records following the revolt, albeit biased in various ways, similarly shows the involvement of a much broader community, and the earlier perception that the rebels were only constituted of unfree serfs is now rejected. [252] [nb 15]

The rural rebels came from a wide range of backgrounds, but typically they were, as the historian Christopher Dyer describes, "people well below the ranks of the gentry, but who mainly held some land and goods", and not the very poorest in society, who formed a minority of the rebel movement. [254] Many had held positions of authority in local village governance, and these seem to have provided leadership to the revolt. [255] Some were artisans, including, as the historian Rodney Hilton lists, "carpenters, sawyers, masons, cobblers, tailors, weavers, fullers, glovers, hosiers, skinners, bakers, butchers, innkeepers, cooks and a lime-burner". [256] They were predominantly male, but with some women in their ranks. [257] The rebels were typically illiterate only between 5 and 15 per cent of England could read during this period. [258] They also came from a broad range of local communities, including at least 330 south-eastern villages. [259]

Many of the rebels had urban backgrounds, and the majority of those involved in the events of London were probably local townsfolk rather than peasants. [260] In some cases, the townsfolk who joined the revolt were the urban poor, attempting to gain at the expense of the local elites. [261] In London, for example, the urban rebels appear to have largely been the poor and unskilled. [123] Other urban rebels were part of the elite, such as at York where the protesters were typically prosperous members of the local community, while in some instances, townsfolk allied themselves with the rural population, as at Bury St Edmunds. [262] In other cases, such as Canterbury, the influx of population from the villages following the Black Death made any distinction between urban and rural less meaningful. [263]

The vast majority of those involved in the revolt of 1381 were not represented in Parliament and were excluded from its decision-making. [264] In a few cases the rebels were led or joined by relatively prosperous members of the gentry, such as Sir Roger Bacon in Norfolk. [265] Some of them later claimed to have been forced to join the revolt by the rebels. [266] Clergy also formed part of the revolt as well as the more prominent leaders, such as John Ball or John Wrawe, nearly 20 are mentioned in the records of the revolt in the south-east. [267] Some were pursuing local grievances, some were disadvantaged and suffering relative poverty, and others appear to have been motivated by strong radical beliefs. [268]

Many of those involved in the revolt used pseudonyms, particularly in the letters sent around the country to encourage support and fresh uprisings. [269] They were used both to avoid incriminating particular individuals and to allude to popular values and stories. [270] One popular assumed name was Piers Plowman, taken from the main character in William Langland's poem. [271] Jack was also a widely used rebel pseudonym, and historians Steven Justice and Carter Revard suggest that this may have been because it resonated with the Jacques of the French Jacquerie revolt several decades earlier. [272]

Historiography Edit

Contemporary chroniclers of the events in the revolt have formed an important source for historians. The chroniclers were biased against the rebel cause and typically portrayed the rebels, in the words of the historian Susan Crane, as "beasts, monstrosities or misguided fools". [274] London chroniclers were also unwilling to admit the role of ordinary Londoners in the revolt, preferring to place the blame entirely on rural peasants from the south-east. [275] Among the key accounts was the anonymous Anonimalle Chronicle, whose author appears to have been part of the royal court and an eye-witness to many of the events in London. [276] The chronicler Thomas Walsingham was present for much of the revolt, but focused his account on the terror of the social unrest and was extremely biased against the rebels. [277] The events were recorded in France by Jean Froissart, the author of the Chronicles. [278] He had well-placed sources close to the revolt, but was inclined to elaborate the known facts with colourful stories. [279] No sympathetic accounts of the rebels survive. [93]

At the end of the 19th century there was a surge in historical interest in the Peasants' Revolt, spurred by the contemporary growth of the labour and socialist movements. [280] Work by Charles Oman, Edgar Powell, André Réville and G. M. Trevelyan established the course of the revolt. [281] By 1907 the accounts of the chroniclers were all widely available in print and the main public records concerning the events had been identified. [282] Réville began to use the legal indictments that had been used against suspected rebels after the revolt as a fresh source of historical information, and over the next century extensive research was carried out into the local economic and social history of the revolt, using scattered local sources across south-east England. [283]

Interpretations of the revolt have changed over the years. 17th-century historians, such as John Smyth, established the idea that the revolt had marked the end of unfree labour and serfdom in England. [273] 19th-century historians such as William Stubbs and Thorold Rogers reinforced this conclusion, Stubbs describing it as "one of the most portentous events in the whole of our history". [273] In the 20th century, this interpretation was increasingly challenged by historians such as May McKisack, Michael Postan and Richard Dobson, who revised the impact of the revolt on further political and economic events in England. [284] Mid-20th century Marxist historians were both interested in, and generally sympathetic to, the rebel cause, a trend culminating in Hilton's 1973 account of the uprising, set against the wider context of peasant revolts across Europe during the period. [285] The Peasants' Revolt has received more academic attention than any other medieval revolt, and this research has been interdisciplinary, involving historians, literary scholars and international collaboration. [286]

The name "the Peasants' Revolt" emerged in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and its first recorded use by historians was in John Richard Green's Short History of the English People in 1874. [275] Contemporary chronicles did not give the revolt a specific title, and the term "peasant" did not appear in the English language until the 15th century. [275] The title has been critiqued by modern historians such as Miri Rubin and Paul Strohm, both on the grounds that many in the movements were not peasants, and that the events more closely resemble a prolonged protest or rising, rather than a revolt or rebellion. [287]

A large slate memorial to 'The Great Rising' was commissioned by Matthew Bell and carved by Emily Hoffnung. It was unveiled by the film director Ken Loach in Smithfield on 15 July 2015. [288]

Popular culture Edit

The Peasants' Revolt became a popular literary subject. [289] The poet John Gower, who had close ties to officials involved in the suppression of the revolt, amended his famous poem Vox Clamantis after the revolt, inserting a section condemning the rebels and likening them to wild animals. [290] Geoffrey Chaucer, who lived in Aldgate and may have been in London during the revolt, used the rebel killing of Flemings as a metaphor for wider disorder in The Nun's Priest's Tale part of The Canterbury Tales, parodying Gower's poem. [291] Chaucer otherwise made no reference to the revolt in his work, possibly because as he was a client of the King it would have been politically unwise to discuss it. [292] William Langland, the author of the poem Piers Plowman, which had been widely used by the rebels, made various changes to its text after the revolt in order to distance himself from their cause. [293]

The revolt formed the basis for the late 16th-century play, The Life and Death of Jack Straw, possibly written by George Peele and probably originally designed for production in the city's guild pageants. [294] It portrays Jack Straw as a tragic figure, being led into wrongful rebellion by John Ball, making clear political links between the instability of late-Elizabethan England and the 14th century. [295] The story of the revolt was used in pamphlets during the English Civil War of the 17th century, and formed part of John Cleveland's early history of the war. [296] It was deployed as a cautionary account in political speeches during the 18th century, and a chapbook entitled The History of Wat Tyler and Jack Strawe proved popular during the Jacobite risings and American War of Independence. [297] Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke argued over the lessons to be drawn from the revolt, Paine expressing sympathy for the rebels and Burke condemning the violence. [298] The Romantic poet Robert Southey based his 1794 play Wat Tyler on the events, taking a radical and pro-rebel perspective. [299]

As the historian Michael Postan describes, the revolt became famous "as a landmark in social development and [as] a typical instance of working-class revolt against oppression", and was widely used in 19th and 20th century socialist literature. [300] William Morris built on Chaucer in his novel A Dream of John Ball, published in 1888, creating a narrator who was openly sympathetic to the peasant cause, albeit a 19th-century persona taken back to the 14th century by a dream. [301] The story ends with a prophecy that socialist ideals will one day be successful. [302] In turn, this representation of the revolt influenced Morris's utopian socialist News from Nowhere. [303] Florence Converse used the revolt in her novel Long Will in 1903. [300] Later 20th century socialists continued to draw parallels between the revolt and contemporary political struggles, including during the arguments over the introduction of the Community Charge in the United Kingdom during the 1980s. [300]

Conspiracy theorists, including writer John Robinson, have attempted to explain alleged flaws in mainstream historical accounts of the events of 1381, such as the speed with which the rebellion was coordinated. [304] Theories include that the revolt was led by a secret, occult organisation called "the Great Society", said to be an offshoot of the order of the Knights Templar destroyed in 1312, or that the fraternity of the Freemasons was covertly involved in organising the revolt. [305] [nb 16]

Peasants' Revolt Timeline - History



When the Black Death swept Europe in 1348-1351 it left about 30% of the population dead. 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.

Causes of the revolt

1. The Statute of Labourers 1351

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.

2. Prices

Prices had risen since the Black Death. Wages had not risen as fast, so the peasants suffered from hunger and shortages.

3. The young king

During the course of the Black Death and the years following it, England had a strong and warlike king, Edward III. However, his son, the Black Prince, died before him, leaving his grandson as heir to the throne. In 1377, Edward III died, and this boy of ten became king. The true power lay with the powerful barons, in particular the boy's uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.
The barons, hated already by the peasants, began to take advantage of the situation.

4. The Poll Tax

England was involved in the Hundred Years War. This had left the treasury empty, and the barons were tired of paying for the war.

In 1377, John of Gaunt imposed a new tax, the Poll (head) Tax, that was to cover the cost of the war. Unlike normal taxes, this was to be paid by the peasants, as well as the landowners. Although this was meant to be a "one-off" event, it was so successful that it was repeated three more times. The first tax was 4d from every adult (adult:14yrs+), then it was raised to 4d for the peasants and more for the rich, and finally in 1380, it was raised to 12d per adult.

The barons liked the idea of the peasants helping to pay taxes, especially if the were acting as tax collectors, as some of the money was siphoned off into their pockets. It was much harder on the peasants, who could ill afford to pay, especially as the tax was collected in cash and not in farm produce.

By 1380, many were hiding from the collectors, and avoiding payment. For this reason, the amount collected dropped away, despite the fact that the tax had been increased.

5. John Ball and the Church

The Church was badly hit by the Black Death, and many of the clergy were poorly educated, thus reducing popular respect for the Church. The Church was also a major landowner, and the abbots and bishops sided with the barons against the peasants. This made the church hated, as the peasants felt betrayed by an organisation that should be helping, rather than exploiting them.

This situation was made worse by a number of rebellious priests who preached against the Church and the barons. Foremost amongst these was John Ball, who coined the famous verse "While Adam delved (dug) and Eve span, who then was the gentleman?" i.e. There had been no group of non- working layabouts in that time, so why should they be tolerated now?

So dangerous was this teaching that the Archbishop of Canterbury had arrested John Ball, and confined him in Maidstone Castle.

The Outbreak

Having examined the Poll Tax returns for 1380, the Royal Council headed by John of Gaunt were upset to discover that less money than ever had been collected. Tax collectors were sent out again, with instructions to collect the full amounts.

One of these men was Thomas Bampton, who arrived at Fobbing in Essex, and summoned the villagers of Fobbing, Stanford and Corningham to appear before him. Those law-abiding villagers who turned up were shocked to discover that they would have to pay the hated tax a second time, and that they would also have to pay for the people who had failed to turn up. Not surprisingly, a riot followed, and Bampton and his men were beaten and driven from the village.

Sir Robert Belknap, a Chief Justice was sent to calm the situation, but he suffered a similar fate. Word spread, and peasants allover Essex banded together and turned on the landowners. Manor houses were burnt down, and any records of taxes, labour duties and debts destroyed.
Soon peasants in Kent rebelled also, and risings took place in many other areas of the country. Some unpopular landowners were killed, others fled and others captured and humiliated, having to act as servants and perform menial tasks.

Timeline showinq the Main Events 1381

Although the revolt spread to many areas of England, the two risings in Essex and Kent became the focus of the revolt.

1381 May 30th.

Essex peasants chase Thomas Bampton out of Fobbing.

June lst

Essex rebels kill three of Bampton's servants. The revolt spreads through Essex, Hertfordshire and Suffolk.

June 7th

The revolt is now widespread. The Kent rebels besiege Maidstone Castle, which surrenders. John Ball is freed, and Rochester Castle surrenders also.

June lOth

The Kent Rebels march on Canterbury, and capture the city, Rich pilgrims are attacked in the town, Finding the Archbishop away, the rebels appoint a humble monk as the new Archbishop, and hold a service in the Cathedral, promising death to all "traitors" they capture,

At this point a new leader appears, Wat Tyler. We know little of him except that he may have served as a soldier in France, that he was very cunning, and that he must have had exceptional powers of leadership in order to control the mob of rebels.

Both the Kent and the Essex rebels now set out to march on London. The simple peasants believed that they were going to explain their grievances to the King, who had been badly advised, and that all would be set right. However, some of the more intelligent figures, such as Wat Tyler and John Ball had a much clearer idea of the situation, and were planning to gain as much as they could.

The King and the council were caught completely by surprise, and there were only a few hundred troops in London. The city was virtually defenceless.

June 12th

Both groups of peasants had reached London. The Kent peasants camped at Blackheath, and the Essex peasants at Mile End, north of the River Thames. Their nUDbers are hard to estimate, but both groups could have been made up of up to 50,000 people. A message was sent into the city, demanding a meeting with the king. It was arranged that he would meet them at Rotherhithe, on the Thames, that afternoon.

Richard travelled downriver in the royal barge, but at the sight of the huge crowd of peasants, Richard's advisers would not let him land. He returned to the Tower of London, leaving the peasants angry and frustrated.

That night the peasants closed in on London. They were able to enter because the gates of the city, and London Bridge were opened by townspeople sympathetic to their cause, although they later claimed they had been forced to do it.

June 13th

The rebels were loose in the city. Fleet Prison was broken open, many lawyers were killed in the Temple, and foreign merchants massacred. Despite this, most peasants were peaceful, and little damage was done to the city, on the orders of Wat Tyler.

A group of peasants marched west from the city to the magnificent Savoy Palace, home of John of Gaunt. It caught fire as they ransacked it. Fortunately, John of Gaunt was in Scotland at this time, and escaped the rebels. As the flames lit the sky, Richard agreed to meet the rebels at Mile End the following day. He hoped that this would draw the peasants out of the city.

June 14th

Richard rode to the meeting at Mile End. Here, Wat Tyler put forward the peasants demands:

-land rents were reduced to reasonable levels.
-the Poll Tax was to be abolished.
-free pardons for all rebels.
-charters would be qiven to the peasants laying down a number of rights and privileges.
-all "traitors" were to be put to death.

Richard agreed to all these demands, but added that only a royal court could decide if a person was a traitor or not. He thought that this was the best policy, in order to allow the peasants to go home. A group of thirty or so clerks began to copy out charters for the peasants to take home.

However, the King had been outwitted by Wat Tyler. A group of peasants, taking advantage of the King's absence at Mile End, raided the Tower of London. Here, they found three of their lOSt hated people simon Sudbury, (Archbishop of Canterbury), sir Robert Hailes (King's treasurer) and John Legge (the creator of the Poll Tax). They were dragged out onto Tower Hill, and beheaded.

June 15th

Following the granting of charters the previous day, many peasants began to leave London and return home, believing that their demands had been met. However, Wat Tyler and a hard core of peasants remained behind, and they demanded another meeting with the King, to deliver even more demands.
The King agreed to a meeting at Smithfield, an open space within the city walls.

When the King's party arrived, Wat Tyler rode up and greeted them in an insolent manner. What happened next is unclear, but was probably a pre-arranged plot. Tyler was rude to the King, refusing to dismount, and spitting in front of him. The Lord Mayor of London, William Walworth, drew his sword and attacked Tyler, wounding him. A squire finished him off as he lay on the ground.

This was a crucial moment, before the peasants realised what had happened. The young King rode forward, shouting out that all their demands were to be met, and that they should follow him out of the city, where charters would be forthcoming. Trustingly, the rebels followed him, and most were persuaded to return home.

The Aftermath: The kings Revenge July

As soon as the peasants had left London, messengers were dispatched throughout the country, summoning troops. The last members of the huge gathering of peasants were encamped at Billericay in Essex. They found themselves cut down by royal troops, vainly flourishing the pardons and charters that they had been given.

Royal forces toured the affected areas, hunting the rebels. Possession of a charter became a virtual death sentence. In Hertfordshire and Essex, some 500 died, very few with any form of trial, as the Earl of Buckinqham carried out the King's demand for vengeance. In Kent the toll of executions was even greater, with 1500 peasants sent to the gallows

Another minor rebellion broke out in St. Albans, where the abbot was a hated figure amongst the townspeople. This was ruthlessly crushed, and on 15th July, John Ball, whose preaching had done so much to cause the rebellion, was hung, drawn and quartered in the market place, as an example to any other potential rebels

The Result of the Peasants Revolt

1.On the surface, the peasants were crushed, their demands denied, and many executed. However, the land owners had been scared, and in the longer term several things were achieved.

2. Parliament gave up trying to control the wages the landowners paid their peasants.

3. The hated poll tax was never raised again.

4. The Lords treated the peasants with much more respect. They made more of them free men ie. they were not owned as part of the land. This benefited in the end, as free men always work much harder.

5. This marked the breakdown of the feudal system, which had worked well during the early Middle Ages, but was now becoming outdated as attitudes were beginning to change.

Chronology of the Peasants' Revolt

30th May, 1381: Thomas Bampton, the king's tax collector for Essex, is chased out of Brentwood by villagers from Fobbing, Corringham and Stanford.

2nd June, 1381: Chief Justice, Sir Robert Belknap and a small party of soldiers are chase out of Brentwood. Two of Belknap's men are captured and killed.

6th June, 1381: Sir Simon Burley's serf, John Belling, is rescued from Rochester Castle.

7th June, 1381: Wat Tyler is elected leader of the rebels. John Ball is rescued from Maidstone Prison.

8th June, 1381: The people of Yalding receive news of the rebellion.

9th June, 1381: Sir John Legge, the king's tax collector for Kent, hears about the rebellion and returns to London. Wat Tyler and the rebels march to Canterbury.

10th June, 1381: The rebels enter Canterbury. The castle and the Archbishop of Canterbury's palace are ransacked.

11th June, 1381: The Kent rebels leave Canterbury and begin their march to London. The marchers break into several manor houses on the way and destroy any documents concerning the feudal system. Imprisoned serfs are set free by the rebels.

12th June, 1381: The rebels from Kent arrive at Blackheath on the outskirts of London. Soon afterwards the Essex rebels arrive at Mile End. Rebels receive new that peasant rebellions are taking place all over England. Peasants also begin arriving in London from Surrey, Sussex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. It is estimated that there are about 30,000 people in Wat Tyler's army.

13th June, 1381 (morning): News reaches the rebels that Richard II has left Westminster Palace and gone to the Tower of London. The king's main adviser, John of Gaunt, is in Scotland. Two senior members of the government, Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the king's treasurer, Robert Hales, are with the king. Richard talks to the rebels from the Tower by St Catherine's Wharf. Wat Tyler sends a letter to Richard II. The king, who only has an army of 520 men, agrees to meet the rebels at Rotherhithe.

The king arrives at Rotherhithe on a barge. The rebels demand that the king's leading advisers, John of Gaunt, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Hales, John Legge, should be executed. The king is unwilling to leave his barge and after a few minutes he returns to the Tower of London.

13th June, 1381 (afternoon): The Kent rebels arrive at the Southwark entrance to London. Supporters of the rebels inside the walls lower the drawbridge. The rebels now enter London. Soon afterwards they set fire to John of Gaunt's Savoy Palace.

14th June, 1381 (morning): Richard II agrees to meet Wat Tyler and the rebels at 8.00 a.m. outside the town walls at Mile End. At the meeting Wat Tyler explains to the king the demands of the rebels. This includes the end of all feudal services, the freedom to buy and sell all goods, and a free pardon for all offences committed during the rebellion.

The king immediately grants these demands. Wat Tyler also claims that the king's officers in charge of the poll tax are guilty of corruption and should be executed. The king replies that all people found guilty of corruption would be punished by law. Charters are then handed out that have been signed by the king. These charters give serfs their freedom. After receiving their charters the vast majority of peasants go home.

14th June, 1381 (afternoon): About 400 rebels led by John Starling, enter the Tower of London and capture Simon Sudbury, archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Hales, the king's treasurer and John Legge. Sudbury, Hales and Legge are executed at Tower Hill.

15th June, 1381: William Walworth, mayor of London, raises an army of about 5,000 men. Richard II sends a message to Wat Tyler asking to meet him at Smithfield that evening. At Smithfield, the king ask Wat Tyler and his rebels to leave London. Wat Tyler makes further demands such as the end of tithes, the abolition of bishops, the redistribution of wealth, equality before the law, and the freedom to kill the animals in the forest. William Walworth, mayor of London, begins to argue with Wat Tyler. William Walworth stabs and kills Wat Tyler. The rebels obey King Richard's instructions to leave


23rd June, 1381: Richard II and his army arrive in Waltham from London. Richard II's announces that he has cancelled the charters that he issued in London on 14th June.

28th June, 1381: King's soldiers defeat Essex rebels at Billericay. About 500 rebels are killed in the battle.

5th July, 1381: William Gildebourne. Thomas Baker and other rebels from Fobbing are executed at Chelmsford. During the next few weeks an estimated 1,500 rebels are executed.

13th July, 1381: John Ball is captured in Coventry and taken to be tried at St Albans.

15th July, 1381: John Ball, is hung, drawn and quartered at St Albans.

29th September, 1381: Peasants under the leadership of Thomas Harding make plans to capture Maidstone.

30th September, 1381: Leaders of planned rebellion arrested at Boughton Heath. Later, ten of these men are found guilty of treason and executed.


From the 1340s 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 1377 and 1381, a number of taxes were levied to finance government spending. This prompted a violent rebellion in June 1381, known as the Peasants' Revolt. A large group of commoners rode on London, storming the Tower of London and demanding reforms from the young King Richard II. The rebellion would end in failure. A number of important rebels were killed, including their leader Wat Tyler, pictured here. Richard quelled the rebellion by promising reforms but failed to keep his word. Instead, punishments were harsh. Despite its failure, the incident is seen as a defining moment in the history of popular rebellion.

This image is from a manuscript copy of the Chronicles of Jean Froissart (the chronicles cover the years 1322 until 1400 this version was created c.1483). Froissart described the Peasants' Revolt in detail. Here he explains the roots of the rebels' resentment: 'Never was any land or realm in such great danger as England at that time. It was because of the abundance and prosperity in which the common people then lived that this rebellion broke out. The evil-disposed in these districts began to rise, saying, they were too severely oppressed. [that their lords] treated them as beasts. This they would not longer bear, but had determined to be free, and if they laboured or did any other works for their lords, they would be paid for it.'

A list of demands of the peasants was in circulation by 1525. Some related to the church: more power of congregation members to select their own pastors, changes in tithing. Other demands were secular: stopping land enclosure which cut off access to fish and game and other products of the woods and rivers, ending serfdom, reform in the justice system.

The peasants were crushed in a battle at Frankenhausen, fought May 15, 1525. More than 5,000 peasants were killed, and the leaders captured and executed.

History of serfdom

Social institutions similar to serfdom occurred in the ancient world. The status of the helots in the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta resembled that of medieval serfs. By the 3rd century AD, the Roman Empire faced a labour shortage. Large Roman landowners increasingly relied on Roman freemen, acting as tenant farmers, (instead of on slaves) to provide labour. [1] The status of these tenant farmers, eventually known as coloni, steadily eroded. Because the tax system implemented by Diocletian (reigned 284-305) assessed taxes based both on land and on the inhabitants of that land, it became administratively inconvenient for peasants to leave the land where the census counted them. [1] In 332 AD Emperor Constantine issued legislation that greatly restricted the rights of the coloni and tied them to the land. Some [ quantify ] see these laws as the beginning of medieval serfdom in Europe.

However, medieval serfdom really began with the breakup of the Carolingian Empire [ citation needed ] around the 10th century. The demise of this empire, which had ruled much of western Europe for more than 200 years, ushered in a long period during which no strong central government existed in most of Europe. During this period, powerful feudal lords encouraged the establishment of serfdom as a source of agricultural labor. Serfdom, indeed, was an institution that reflected a fairly common practice whereby great landlords ensured that others worked to feed them and were held down, legally and economically, while doing so.

Serfdom as a system provided most of the agricultural labour throughout the Middle Ages. Slavery persisted right through the Middle Ages, [2] but it was rare, diminishing and largely confined to the use of household slaves. Parts of Europe, including much of Scandinavia, never adopted serfdom. [ why? ]

In the later Middle Ages serfdom began to disappear west of the Rhine even as it spread through much of the rest of Europe. This was one important cause for the deep differences [ which? ] between the societies and economies of eastern and western Europe. [ where? ] In Western Europe, the rise of powerful monarchs, towns, and an improving economy weakened the manorial system through the 13th and 14th centuries serfdom had become rare by 1400. [3]

Serfdom in Western Europe came largely to an end in the 15th and 16th centuries, because of changes in the economy, population, and laws governing lord-tenant relations in Western European nations. The enclosure of manor fields for livestock grazing and for larger arable plots made the economy of serfs' small strips of land in open fields less attractive to landowners. Furthermore, the increasing use of money made tenant farming by serfs less profitable for much less than it cost to support a serf, a lord could now hire workers who were more skilled and pay them in cash. Paid labour was also more flexible, since workers could be hired only when they were needed. [3]

At the same time, increasing unrest and uprisings by serfs and peasants, like Tyler’s Rebellion in England in 1381, put pressure on the nobility and the clergy to reform the system. As a result, the gradual establishment of new forms of land leases and increased personal liberties accommodated serf and peasant demands to some extent.

An important factor in the decline of serfdom was industrial development—especially the Industrial Revolution. With the growing profitability of industry, farmers wanted to move to towns to receive higher wages than those they could earn working in the fields, [ citation needed ] while landowners also invested in the more profitable industry. This also led to the growing process of urbanization.

Serfdom reached Eastern Europe centuries later than Western Europe—it became dominant around the 15th century. Before that time, Eastern Europe had been much more sparsely populated than Western Europe, and the lords of Eastern Europe created a peasantry-friendly environment to encourage migration east. [3] Serfdom developed in Eastern Europe after the Black Death epidemics of the mid-14th century, which stopped the eastward migration. The resulting high land-to-labour ratio - combined with Eastern Europe's vast, sparsely populated areas - gave the lords an incentive to bind the remaining peasantry to their land. With increased demand for agricultural produce in Western Europe during the later era when Western Europe limited and eventually abolished serfdom, serfdom remained in force throughout Eastern Europe during the 17th century so that nobility-owned estates could produce more agricultural products (especially grain) for the profitable export market.

According to Jerome Blum, the rise of serfdom in Eastern Europe in the 15th century, just as serfdom disappeared in Western Europe, is due to the increasing political influence and economic privileges of the nobles in the government, and reduced competition for labour from cities. The cities declined due to the collapse of the Hanseatic League's and Teutonic Order's trade networks and trade disruptions from war. Eastern European nobles started trading directly with the English and Dutch merchants, bypassing the trading cities. [3]

This pattern applied in Central and Eastern European countries, including Prussia (Prussian Ordinances of 1525), Austria, Hungary (laws of the late 15th and early 16th centuries), the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (szlachta privileges of the early 16th century) and the Russian Empire (laws of the late 16th and first half of the 17th century). This also led to the slower industrial development and urbanisation of those regions. Generally, this process, referred to [ by whom? ] as "second serfdom" or "export-led serfdom", persisted until the mid-19th century and became very repressive and substantially limited serfs' rights. Before the 1861 abolition of serfdom in Russia, a landowner's estate was often measured by the number of "souls" he owned, a practice made famous by Gogol's 1842 novel Dead Souls. [3]

Many of these countries abolished serfdom during the Napoleonic invasions of the early 19th century. Serfdom remained in force in most of Russia until the Emancipation reform of 1861, enacted on February 19, 1861, though in the Russian-controlled Baltic provinces it had been abolished at the beginning of the 19th century. According to the Russian census of 1857, Russia had 23.1 million private serfs. [4] Russian serfdom was perhaps the most notable Eastern European institution, as it was never influenced by German law and migrations, [ citation needed ] and serfdom and the manorial system were enforced by the crown (Tsar), not by the nobility. [ citation needed ]

In Western Europe serfdom became progressively less common through the Middle Ages, particularly after the Black Death reduced the rural population and increased the bargaining power of workers. Furthermore, the lords of many manors were willing (for payment) to manumit ("release") their serfs.

In Normandy, serfdom had disappeared by 1100. [5] Two possible causes of the disappearance of serfdom in Normandy have been proposed: (1) it might have been implemented to attract peasants to a Normandy depopulated by the Viking invasions or (2) it might be a result of the peasants' revolt of 996 in Normandy.

In England, the end of serfdom began with the Peasants' Revolt in 1381. It had largely died out in England by 1500 as a personal status and was fully ended when Elizabeth I freed the last remaining serfs in 1574. [6] Land held by serf tenure (unless enfranchised) continued to be held by what was thenceforth known as a copyhold tenancy, which was not completely abolished until 1925 (although it was whittled away during the 19th and early 20th centuries). There were Scottish born serfs until 1799, when coal miners who were kept in serfdom gained emancipation. However, most Scottish serfs had already been freed.

Serfdom was de facto ended in France by Philip IV, Louis X (1315), and Philip V (1318). [6] [7] With the exception of a few isolated cases, serfdom had ceased to exist in France by the 15th century. In Early Modern France, French nobles nevertheless maintained a great number of seigneurial privileges over the free peasants that worked lands under their control. Serfdom was formally abolished in France in 1789. [8]

In other parts of Europe, there had been peasant revolts in Castille, Germany, northern France, Portugal, and Sweden. Although they were often successful, it usually took a long time before legal systems were changed.

Era of the French Revolution Edit

The era of the French Revolution (1790s to 1820s) saw serfdom abolished in most of Western and Central Europe, while its practice remained common in Eastern Europe until the middle of the 19th century (1861 in Russia). In France, serfdom had been in decline for at least three centuries by the start of the Revolution, replaced by various forms of freehold tenancy. [ citation needed ] The last vestiges of serfdom were officially ended on August 4, 1789 with a decree abolishing the feudal rights of the nobility.

It removed the authority of the manorial courts, eliminated tithes and manorial dues, and freed those who still remained bound to the land. However, the decree was mostly symbolic, as widespread peasant revolts had effectively ended the feudal system beforehand and ownership of the land still remained in the hands of the landlords, who could continue collecting rents and enforcing tenant contracts.

In German history the emancipation of the serfs came between 1770–1830, with the nobility in Schleswig being the first to agree to do so in 1797, followed by the signing of the royal and political leaders of Denmark and Germany in 1804. [9] Prussia abolished serfdom with the "October Edict" of 1807, which upgraded the personal legal status of the peasantry and gave them ownership of half or two-thirds of the lands they were working. The edict applied to all peasants whose holdings were above a certain size, and included both Crown lands and noble estates. The peasants were freed from the obligation of personal services to the lord and annual dues in return landowners were given ownership of 1/3 to 1/2 of the land. The peasant owned and rented the lands that were deeded to the old owners. The other German states imitated Prussia after 1815. [10]

In sharp contrast to the violence that characterized land reform in the French Revolution, Germany handled it peacefully. In Schleswig the peasants, who had been influenced by the Enlightenment, played an active role elsewhere they were largely passive. Indeed, for most peasants, customs and traditions continued largely unchanged, including the old habits of deference to the nobles whose legal authority remained quite strong over the villagers. The old paternalistic relationship in East Prussia lasted into the 20th century. What was new was that the peasant could now sell his land, enabling him to move to the city, or buy up the land of his neighbors. [10]

The land reforms in northwestern Germany were driven by progressive governments and local elites. [ citation needed ] They abolished feudal obligations and divided collectively owned common land into private parcels and thus created a more efficient market-oriented rural economy. [ citation needed ] It produced increased productivity and population growth. It strengthened the traditional social order because wealthy peasants obtained most of the former common land, while the rural proletariat was left without land many left for the cities or America. Meanwhile, the division of the common land served as a buffer preserving social peace between nobles and peasants. [11] East of the Elbe River, the Junker class maintained large estates and monopolized political power. [12]

In the Hapsburg monarchy, Jozef II issued the Serfdom Patent that abolished serfdom in the German speaking areas in 1781. In the Kingdom of Hungary, Jozef II issued a similar decree in 1785 after the Revolt of Horea in Transylvania. These patents converted the legal standings of all serfs into those of free-holders. All feudal restrictions were abolished in 1848 when all the land property were converted to non-feudal, transferable properties, and feudalism was legally abolished.

The eradication of the feudal system marks the beginning of an era of rapid change in Europe. The change in status following the enclosure movements beginning in the later 18th century, in which various lords abandoned the open field farming of previous centuries and, essentially, took all the best land for themselves in exchange for "freeing" their serfs, may well have made serfdom seem more desirable to many peasant families. [ citation needed ]

In his book Das Kapital, in Chapter 26 entitled "The Secret of Primitive Accumulation" and Chapter 27, "Expropriation of the Agricultural Population from the Land", Marx claimed that the feudal relationships of serfdom were violently transformed into private property and free labour: free of possession and free to sell their labour force on the market. Being liberated from serfdom meant being able to sell one's land and work wherever one desired. "The so-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production. It appears as primitive, because it forms the pre-historic stage of capital and of the mode of production corresponding with it."

In a case history of England, Marx described how the serfs became free peasant proprietors and small farmers, who were, over time, forcibly expropriated and driven off the land, forming a property-less proletariat. He also claimed that more and more legislation was enacted by the state to control and regiment this new class of wage workers. In the meantime, the remaining farmers became capitalist farmers operating more and more on a commercial basis and gradually, legal monopolies preventing trade and investment by entrepreneurs were broken up.

Taxes levied by the state took the place of labour dues levied by the lord. Although serfdom began its decline in Europe in the Middle Ages, it took many hundreds of years to disappear completely. In addition, the struggles of the working class during the Industrial Revolution can often be compared with the struggles of the serfs during the Middle Ages. In parts of the world today, forced labour is still used.

Russia Edit

Serfdom became the dominant form of relation between Russian peasants and nobility in the 17th century. Serfdom only existed in central and southern areas of the Russian Empire. It was never established in the North, in the Urals, nor in Siberia. Historian David Moon argues that serfdom was a response to military and economic factors in Russia. It was socially stable and adaptable to changing demographic and economic conditions revolts were uncommon. Moon says it was not the cause of Russia's backwardness instead, backwardness blocked alternative methods that were developed in Western Europe. Moon identifies some benefits for serfs, such as assurances of land and some assistance after bad harvests. Moon argues that Russia's defeat in the Crimean War was a catalyst leading to the abolition of serfdom. [14] [15]

Finally, serfdom was abolished by a decree issued by Tsar Alexander II in 1861. Scholars have proposed multiple overlapping reasons to account for the abolition, including fear of a large-scale revolt by the serfs, the financial needs of the government, evolving cultural sensibilities, the military need for soldiers, and, among Marxists, the unprofitability of serfdom. [16]

Christian History Timeline: Anabaptists

Erasmus kindled it with his Greek New Testament and translations of the Church’s greatest thinkers. Luther struck the match. From Wittenberg to Zurich, Strassburg, Basel, and Bern the fire swept. It was a fire meant to cleanse the Church of greed and corruption—a fire to restore Christianity. But it did more than that. It changed the map of Europe. It changed lives. Princes gained ground from it artisans and peasants gained power. It took religion out of the monastery and into the marketplace. It made of Christendom competing factions and gave powers of speech to “even women and simple folk.” It was a fire of ideas that occupied the attention with as much intensity as man’s walk on the moon in this century. To those called heretics (or Anabaptist) it gave the “mark of Christ”—confidence to give one’s own life like a brand to fuel the fire of the “true gospel.”

Reformation World

1516 Erasmus’ edition of Greek New Testament published

1517 Martin Luther posts 95 theses

1517 Erasmus publishes anti-war tract

1518 Luther summoned to Augsburg but refuses to recant

1519 Zwingli becomes People’s priest in Zürich

1520 Luther burns papal bull for his arrest

1521 Carlstadt celebrates first Protestant communion at Wittenburg

1521 Muntzer publishes Prague Manifesto justifying violence in the elect

1522 Luther introduces German liturgy in Wittenburg

1522 Muntzer marries and germanizes services in Allstedt Zwingli secretly marries

1523 Zwingli holds Zürich disputations

1523 Reformer Martin Bucer arrives in Strassburg German services introduced

1524 Storm on images in Zürich

1524 Planets align in sign of the Fish widespread expectation of evil

1524 Carlstadt puts aside priestly vestments to become a “new layman” declines to baptize infants

1524 Erasmus publishes tract on free will

1525 Luther marries

1526 Erasmus publishes the works of St. Augustine

1527 Urbanus Rhegius publishes anti-Anabaptist “Nikolsburg Articles”

1528 Reformation established in Bern

1529 Reformation becomes official in Basel

1529 Diet of Speyer—Luther’s followers name Protestants

1529 Luther and Zwingli convene at Marburg

1531 Bullinger succeeds Zwingli and publishes first book against Anabaptists

1536 William Tyndale, English reformer, burned at stake

1540 Pope recognizes order of Jesuits will make them the chief agents of Counter Reformation

1541 John Calvin establishes theocracy in Geneva

1541 John Knox establishes Calvinist Reformation in Scotland


1521 Hubmaier comes to Waldshut, becomes friend of Zwingli

1522 Stump and Reublin challenge paying of tithes

1523 Hubmaier introduces German services in Waldshut, marries

1523 At Second Zürich Disputation radical followers break with Zwingli

1524 Manz brings Carlstadt’s tracts on infant baptism and Lord’s Supper to Zürich

1524 Swiss Brethren write to Muntzer, Carlstadt, and Luther

1524 Reublin and Brotli refuse to baptize infants

1525 January 17—First Zürich disputation with those opposed to infant baptism

January 21—First believer’s baptism in Zürich Denck banished from Nuremberg for views on Lord’s Supper and living personal faith

January 21–29—First Anabaptist congregation of 35 converts established in Zollikon

February—First imprisonment of Anabaptists occurs in Zürich they escape

Easter—Hubmaier establishes Anabaptism as state faith

May—Bolt Eberle executed in Schwyz, becomes first Protestant and first Anabaptist martyr

November—Third Baptismal Disputation in Zürich held in Grossmünster to accommodate the crowd

1526 Grebel dies

1527 Schleitheim Brotherly Union

1527 Denck and Hatzer publish first German translation of O.T. prophets

1527 Manz drowned in Zürich

1527 Sattler burned in Rottenburg

1527 Denck dies of plague in Basel

1527 Hut dies in Augsburg prison

1528 Hubmaier burned in Vienna

1529 Tyrolean Anabaptists flea homeland for Moravia

1529 Hoffman meets Anabaptists in Strassburg

1529 Blaurock burned in Tyrol

1530 Hoffman baptizes 300 Anabaptists in Emden and sends lay preachers to Netherlands

1530 Confession of Augsburg—Protestant form Schmalkaldic League against Emperor Charles V

1533 Hutter joins Moravian group who become known as Hutterites

1533 Baker Jan Matthijs claims Anabaptist leadership in Amsterdam and sends out 12 disciples in pairs

1533 Hoffman goes to prison in Strassburg to await Second Coming

1534 Jan van Leiden crowned king in Münster

1534 Matthijs moves to Münster Anabaptists win local election and attempt by force to set up Kingdom of God

1535 Siege of Münster falls. Persecution begins.

1535 Melchiorite Jan van Geelen storms Amsterdam’s city hall

1536 Jan van Leiden executed his remains swinging in cage from church serve as reminder into 20th century

1536 Menno Simons breaks with Rome becomes Anabaptist leader in Netherlands

1539–40 Simons publishes the Foundation Book of Anabaptist faith

1541 Peter Riedeman writes Hutterite Confession of Faith

The Government

1591 Charles V succeeds Maximilian as Holy Roman Emperor

1520 Suleiman I the Magnificent becomes Turkish ruler

1521 German princes back Luther at Diet of Worms

1521 Pope Leo X calls King Henry VIII “Defender of the Faith” for anti-Luther tract

1524 In May peasants’ revolt breaks out in southern Germany

1525 March 6—Peasant’s Twelve Articles drawn up against lords

1525 April 15—Defeat of peasants at Frankenhausen Müntzer captured and executed

1526 Archduke Ferdinand becomes Margrave of Moravia

1527 Sack of Rome by German troops

1527 Basel orders corporeal punishment and confiscation of property for adult baptism and sheltering Anabaptists

1528 Swabian League authorizes military division of 400 horsemen to scout for Anabaptists

1529 Diet of Speyer restores death penalty for rebaptizing

1529 Turkish siege of Vienna

1534 Henry VIII establishes himself as Supreme Head of Church and Clergy of England

1534 Strassburg decrees that Anabaptists must leave the city

1535 Charles V conquers Tunis and frees 20,000 Christian slaves

1538 Landgrave Philip of Hesse arranges debate between Anabaptists and Bucer results in Hessian Anabaptists returning to state church and state church deciding to excommunicate immoral Christians

1541 Henry VIII assumes titles of King of Ireland and Head of Irish Church

By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #5 in 1985]

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