Causes of the Peasants Revolt

The Causes of the Peasants Revolt are varied and complex. The Peasants Revolt broke out in the South East of England in 1381. It saw a large number of people, from a variety of backgrounds, protesting. Starting in Kent, the rebels moved to London and made demands of the king. The Peasants Revolt saw several deaths and posed a serious risk to the young King Richard II. Unrest over rights, taxation and the relationship between lords, the church and the people had been growing since the Black Death. The immediate cause, it’s spark, was a Poll Tax Riot in Fobbing, Kent.

Teaching Resource: Causes of the Peasants Revolt
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Causes of the Peasants Revolt

The Black Death resulted in the loss of many lives in England. The proportion of people killed varied from area to area. Up to a third of the population may have died. In some places there were few survivors. This caused as huge burden emotionally and economically on society.

The Statute of Labourers of 1351 was designed to stop people profiting from the shortage of labour after the Black Death. It limited wages to 2d (pence) per day. The Church retained much land in England. Many labourers were still required to work, without pay, on Church land. This prevented movement of labour and stopped them from earning the high wages being offered. These combined to frustrate people, though they in themselves did not cause a revolt.

The labour shortage had resulted in some lords offering high rates of pay to entice villein’s away from their villages. However, some of the lords refused to allow the villein’s to return to their home villages. These villein’s were strengthened financially but saw their movement restricted. They did not think this was fair. They had seen their importance and value rise, then had it restricted.

England had been at war in France since 1337. The war is expensive. It had cost the lives of many men. Coastal towns and villages had lost revenue because of surrendering their vessels to the navy. The war carried on despite the death of King Edward III.

When Edward III died in 1377, his heir, King Richard II was only a boy. England was governed by his uncle, John of Gaunt. John of Gaunt was not popular amongst the people. Respect for the Kings Government was low. The government raised Poll Taxes in 1377 and again in 1379.

It is believed that many villein’s feared that the rights and pay that had been acquired following the Black Death could be taken away from them. As taxes were being increased, there was reason to believe that their liberties could be restricted again.

Another Poll Tax was introduced in 1381. The Poll Tax of 1381 was higher than the taxes of 1377 and 1379. It was also per person, not per property. People tried to avoid the tax. They hid family members. Between January and March 1381, investigators uncovered lots of the deception and forced people to pay. This led to unrest.

John Ball was a radical priest. He argued that all mankind was equal. His preaching was banned but he spoke to people outside of the church. For that, he was imprisoned in April 1381. Rebels released him in May 1381. He immediately preached to a large crowd that they should, “cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.” The speeches and preaching of John Ball argued that the villeins ought not to be tied to the land, the lords or the church. They should have freedom as a right.

In May 1381 the King’s Commissioners demanded the payment of taxes from several villages in Kent. When asking for the payment from the people of Fobbing, there was a refusal. This led to the Commissioners being attacked and killed.

Word of the riot and murder of the king’s men spread quickly. Soon, neighbouring villages decided to join together to oppose the taxes and to claim their rights of freedom from ties and unfair, treacherous government. Many men met at Maidstone in the days following this and appoint a rebel leader, Wat Tyler. Tyler and Ball orchestrate the next steps of these rebels. The Peasants Revolt had begun.

Summary: Causes of the Peasants 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.

British HistoryThe PlantagenetsRichard IITimeline of the Peasants Revolt

The Plantagenets
Henry IIRichard IKing John
Henry IIIEdward IEdward II
Edward IIIRichard II
House of Lancaster
Henry IVHenry VHenry VI
House of York
Edward IVEdward VRichard III
Murder of Thomas BecketMagna CartaTen Facts about the Black Death
Edward I's Conquest of WalesMadog ap LlywelynCauses of the Peasants Revolt
Timeline of the Peasants Revolt
Sources and Interpretations
Paston LettersJohn Rous