The Peasants revolt 1381 | Why Did the Peasants revolt | Causes of the peasant’s revolt: Peasants’ Revolt, also called Wat Tyler’s Rebellion, (1381), first great popular rebellion in English history. Its immediate cause was the imposition of the unpopular poll tax of 1381, which brought to a head the economic discontent that had been growing since the middle of the century. 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 labor 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.
The Peasants revolt 1381 | Why Did the Peasants revolt | Causes of the peasant’s revolt
Causes of the peasant’s revolt
the Causes of the Peasants Revolt were a combination of things that culminated in the rebellion. These were: Long-term impact of the Black Death; the impact of the Statute of Labourers; the land ties that remained in place to feudal lords and to the church. These issues became sources of great discontent when the people became angered by the actions of the Kings Government, under John of Gaunt’s lead. The Poll Tax was viewed as unjust and unneeded. This was at a time when the views of John Ball were being spread. His calls for freedom from oppression found a welcome audience in these circumstances. The third Poll Tax in a short period provided a spark for all of this discontent to become an uprising.
Other Causes of the peasant’s revolt
1. The Statute of Labourers 1351
This was a law passed at the end of the Black Death to stop the peasants from 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 labor 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.
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 often 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 clergies 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 organization 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.
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