Ordinance of Labourers
The Black Death had killed around a third of the population. This meant that there were food shortages as there was a shortage of labour to grow the food. Those workers that survived could command a higher wage for their services. In order to prevent wages spiralling out of control King Edward III
issued this ordinance that included clauses stating:
Everyone under the age of 60 should work
Employers should only hire sufficient workers for the job
Wages should not exceed pre-plague
Food should not be over priced and producers should not make excessive profits.
Despite this law, workers continued to demand higher wages and landowners needing labour, paid up.
Statute of Labourers
This statute reinforced the Ordinance of Labourers introduced in 1349. It imposed a maximum wage for labourers with a prison sentence for anyone who would not work for that wage. It also stipulated that all able bodied men and women should work. Like the Ordinance of Labourers, those who needed labour tended to ignore the statute and pay the wages requested.
The priest John Ball began preaching that peasants should not be under the control of their lords. This challenged the feudal system which had existed since the Norman Conquest.
Charles V of France renewed the war with England when he intervened in Aquitaine which was rebelling against Edward’s rule. Many of Edward’s most accomplished soldiers had died and his younger son, John of Gaunt
was given charge of a military campaign against Charles V but he was unsuccessful. The people were not happy that the war was not going well and resented the money spent on the war at a time when the country was not well off.
First Poll Tax
To help raise funds for the continuing war with France, a poll tax was introduced. Everyone over the age of 14 years was to pay four pence. The people were shocked by this new tax that saw the same rate paid by everyone be he rich or poor. However, most people paid up.
1377 (21st June)
King Edward III died following a stroke. He was succeeded by his ten year old grandson, Richard II
. Because he was a minor, John of Gaunt acted as regent for the young king.
John of Gaunt, returned to France at the head of a large army to try to take Brittany. Once again his venture into France failed.
Second Poll Tax
A second tax was introduced to help finance the ongoing war with France. This time the rate was fixed according to wealth.
Third Poll Tax
Like the first poll tax, this tax imposed a flat rate. However, this time it was set at one shilling per person. The rate had been suggested by Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury
and Chancellor. For the peasants this was roughly equal to a week’s wages and it was seen as extremely unfair.
The preacher John Wycliffe spoke against unfair taxes.
The priest John Ball was influenced by Wycliffe’s sermon. He began preaching in Kent against the poll tax. The Archbishop of Canterbury refused to allow Ball to preach inside churches so Ball preached on village greens. The Archbishop ordered his arrest.
John Ball was arrested and imprisoned in Maidstone jail.
1381 (30th May)
The commissioner sent to collect the tax in Essex, reported that the residents of the town of Fobbing had refused to pay. Chief Justice, Sir Robert Belknap. accompanied by a small force, was sent to Fobbing to collect the tax, by force if necessary. When he arrived he was attacked by the villagers and forced to sign a document stating that he would not attempt to collect the tax. Spurred on by their success in this case, the house of the Sheriff of Essex, John Sewale, was set on fire and tax collectors were executed.
1381 (1st June)
The Peasant’s Revolt spread through Essex, Suffolk and Hertfordshire.
1381 (5th June)
The people of Dartford rebelled against the poll tax.
1381 (7th June)
Wat Tyler was chosen to be leader of Peasant’s Revolt. Rochester Castle was taken before Tyler called for the rebels to follow him to Maidstone where he would release John Ball.
1381 (10th June)
The rebels freed preacher John Bull from prison in Canterbury. They also took over the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace and freed prisoners from the jail. Next they broke into manor houses and destroyed records relating to serfs.
1381 (11th June)
The rebels from Essex and Kent began a march to London.
1381 (12th June)
John Ball spoke to the Kentish rebels at Blackheath on the outskirts of London. He denounced the feudal system and called for all men to be equal and free. The Essex peasants had reached Mile End.
1381 (13th June)
King Richard II had called for all the city gates to be locked against the peasants, but sympathisers in London had left some open. The peasants marched to the Tower of London where the King and his advisers had sought sanctuary. The King agreed to meet the rebels at Mile End the following day.
1381 (14th June)
The young King Richard II met with the rebels. Wat Tyler explained that the peasants wanted an end to the feudal system, freedom from their lords, reduced rents and a pardon for all who had taken part in the rebellion. Richard agreed to their demands and the rebels began dispersing happy that their demands had been met.
1381 (14th June)
While the King was at Mile End, a section of the mob, which had been orderly so far, turned violent and stormed the Tower of London. They murdered Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Treasurer and many others who had sought refuge in the Tower.
1381 (15th June)
King Richard met Wat Tyler at Smithfield. Tyler stated that the reforms needed to go further. He wanted changes to the law, the wealth of the church to be given to the poor and the structure of society changed so all people were equal. A member of the King’s entourage called Tyler a thief and a robber. Tyler moved to attack the name-caller but the Lord Mayor of London, William Walworth, stabbed and killed Wat Tyler. Richard then spoke to the peasants saying that he would abolish serfdom. The peasants then dispersed.
1381 (28th June)
Once the rebels had left London, an army was sent to Essex to crush the rebellion. Around 500 rebels were killed in the fighting while many fled. In Kent around 1500 people were rounded up and executed for their part in the rebellion.
1381 (late June)
Richard did not keep his promises, serfdom remained and the general pardon was revoked. Further uprisings were violently suppressed in St Albans, East Anglia and the South.
1381 (15th July)
John Ball had been captured and was tried. He was executed by being hung, drawn and quartered.