The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381

At the time of the Peasants’ Revolt of England, the King of England-indeed of any country-was viewed from the perspective being ordained to leadership by God Himself; the monarch was in effect God’s appointed gatekeeper. This ideological acceptance of how things are supposed to be gradually resulted in a tightly structured societal system. God was at the top and the structure spread downward from Him with the aristocracy near the top and the overwhelming mass of the populace at the bottom. Despite being the majority shareholders in this system, these people-the peasantry-had little to no say in the governance of their own affairs. (Does this whole system sound familiar?) This way of doing things had been in place for so long and had developed such a tradition that it came-as most societal structures eventually do-to be seen as natural, as a part of God’s will for His people.

Just as the American colonists were spurred to revolution in part due to taxation without representation, so can the Peasants’ Revolt be traced back to issues of taxation. And just as has been the case with so many tax-related revolutions, the issue at hand was figuring out a way to finance a war without putting a drain on incomes…of the rich. The war with France was going about as well as that little mission we accomplished in Iraq and mo’ money was needed to fund it; apparently, leaders still haven’t learned the lesson that the best way to fight a losing battle is not necessarily to throw more money into extending it. Parliament decided to raise money by imposing a poll tax of one shilling. The result being that those who were to benefit the least from going to the polls would be the ones paying the most for it.

In addition to the taxes, the Black Plague also contributed to the revolt by way of what were seen as unfair wage control laws. Rebellious activity took place across the country and it was certainly not limited merely to peasants, despite the name given to the revolt. Those who took part included members of the clergy as well as merchants. Eventually the success of the rebellion led to the executions of several members of the royal court and missed reaching King Richard II by just this much. In fact, the rebellion did meet with the King and had they not believed his lies the history of England might well be different. (Ah, what a thing it is to consider how the history of the world might be different if leaders didn’t lie to their people.)

Instead, the rebels were alleviated by the words of the king just enough for the nobles to regain the upper hand and launch a widespread attack them, killing their leaders and effectively putting an end to the hope of achieving any kind of serious reform to the system.

Eventually much of the most ghastly components of the monarchical system disappeared, but for the most part the Peasant’s Revolt can be considered an abject failure because the status quo was in place for a long time following it, and because the murderous attacks on those who initiated the revolt no doubt did much to curb any enthusiasm among the peasants to try anything like it again. Furthermore, the failure of the revolt probably cemented the idea that God really had ordained that this was how things should be.