Peasants Revolt

The Peasant’s Revolt was a series of uprisings that took place from May to November 1831 in various parts of England. It is also called The Wat Tyler Rebellion after one of the leaders of the revolt.

The cause of the rebellion

The rebellion was caused by taxes. When royal officials insisted on collecting poll taxes in Brentwood on May 30, 1831 the people there, already under a lot of stress from recent events, resisted violently. People in other areas of the country heard of the revolt and soon decided to join it.

The rebels attacked royal officials, broke into offices and destroyed court and tax records.

Peasants Revolt

Their general demands were to reduce taxes, end serfdom, and remove King Richard II’s senior officials.

The march on London

Wat Tyler, a leader of the rebellion, was able to organize enough men to march on London, which he entered on June 13, 1831. Richard was forced to meet with them and promise to fulfill their demands.

Two days later, Richard left London to meet with Tyler and the rebels in Smithfield. But Richard’s men killed Tyler after he appeared to approach the kings threateningly. London Mayor William Walworth then dispersed the rest of Tyler’s men with his own city militia.

From then on, Richard would be hunting the rebels down.

Richard crushes the revolt   

Richard fielded around 4,000 soldiers to end the uprising and restore order. By November 1831 around 1,500 rebels had been killed and most of their leaders had been arrested and executed.

Richard also took back all the promises he made to Tyler and his rebel army.

How the revolt influenced England

Historians believe the fear of more rebellions led authorities to avoid raising more taxes in England, in turn this influenced the result of the Lancastrian War.

Interesting facts about the Peasant’s Revolt

  • Although taxes triggered the revolt, scholars believe other factors like the recent Black Death pandemic and raising of taxes for the Caroline War that helped fan the revolt.
  • Despite the name Peasants’ Revolt, it was not just the peasants who revolted. Many village officials also joined in the uprisings.
  • At York, some of the elites and nobles even joined in the uprising.
  • It was not just royal offices attacked during the revolt, rebels also attacked the University of Cambridge where officials were killed.
  • A cleric named John Ball helped fan the rebellion with his radical speeches. He would be one of those caught and executed.
  • Henry the Despenser, the Bishop of Norwich, is credited with defeating rebel forces in Peterborough, Cambridge, and Norwich, with a small army of infantry and archers.
  • Wary of more uprisings, few lords took an active role in punishing the peasants under them who joined the revolt, but they let charges be filed in court.
  • New laws had to be written to bring rebels to court. These included laws declaring burning books and destroying houses a crime.

What it serfdom? 

Serfdom was a form of slavery. Under serfdom, peasants who occupied a parcel of land had to work for the owner of the land. Aside from farming, serfs could also be put to work like buildings roads and digging in mines.

How old was King Richard at the time?

King Richard II was only 14 years old at the time of the revolt.

Why was the regular army not available to deal with the revolt at the start?

The royal forces were mostly deployed abroad or in northern England at the time.

Did the revolt just affect the south of England?

No. The revolt spread to Eastern England in places like Suffolk, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire, and also in Northern England and Western England in places like Leicester, Lincolnshire, and Somerset.

Did the revolt bring any changes to how the kingdom taxed the people?

While no more poll taxes were imposed by the Parliament, there was also no other change introduced to the English tax system.