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1381: The Year of the Peasants' Revolt

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Juliet Barker provides an account of the first great popular uprising in England and a fascinating study of medieval life in English towns and countryside. She tells how and why an unlikely group of ordinary men and women from every corner of England united in armed rebellion against church and state to demand a radical political agenda.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-73552-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xx)
    (pp. 1-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE The end of an era
    (pp. 3-18)

    On 21 June 1377 King Edward III of England lay on his deathbed at Sheen, a royal manor house on the banks of the Thames at Richmond, just outside London. He was sixty-four years old – a good age for a medieval monarch – and even more remarkably was in the fifty-first year of his reign. But the man who lay dying was no longer the charismatic and commanding figure he had once been. A wooden funeral effigy, created from his death-mask and still preserved in Westminster Abbey, reveals the strong features, prominent forehead and aquiline nose of his Plantagenet...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The state of the nation
    (pp. 19-42)

    On Thursday 16 July 1377, eleven days after Edward III’s solemn interment in Westminster Abbey, his ten-year-old grandson returned to the abbey church and knelt on the cushions before the high altar. There he swore a sacred oath to uphold the laws and customs of his ancestors, to protect the Church and clergy, to do justice to all and to uphold the laws which the people would ‘justly and reasonably’ choose. He was then anointed with holy oil, handed the three symbols of his authority – the sword to protect the kingdom, the sceptre to chastise wrongdoing and the ring...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Landlords and tenants
    (pp. 43-76)

    The village of Fobbing in Essex whose inhabitants began the great revolt was not an obvious place to find a nest of insurgents. Some thirty miles from London, it sat on a spur of higher land above the tidal marshes which separated it from the Thames estuary. With an adult tax-paying population of 225 in 1377, it was the second largest of about a dozen small settlements established round the northern edge of the salt marshes which would all produce rebels in 1381. The marshes were then an archipelago of small islands separated by creeks, some of them large enough...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Urban society
    (pp. 77-109)

    For the upwardly mobile, including escaped villeins, town life had many attractions. Unlike life in the countryside it was not dependent on the seasons and therefore offered the opportunity of less cyclical work. There were also more openings for engaging in different kinds of unskilled employment, ranging from domestic service in a merchant or artisan household to working as a groom or ostler in an inn. The more ambitious might have hoped to acquire a craft or a trade, though apprenticeship schemes were hard to come by without contacts, as was the substantial sum demanded as down-payment by the employing...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Wars and taxes
    (pp. 110-142)

    War and taxation were inextricably linked in the medieval period. They were cause and effect in a way that is no longer applicable in an age when defence spending is only a twelfth of the total UK budget and three times as much is spent on healthcare.¹ Medieval English monarchs could not legitimately demand direct taxes from their subjects except in extraordinary circumstances, which, in practice, meant only when the security of the realm was under threat. This might be interpreted fluidly to include embarking on aggressive wars abroad but the fundamental principle remained that direct taxation could only be...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  11. CHAPTER SIX Resistance
    (pp. 143-162)

    The first indication that there was going to be active resistance to the poll-tax came as the deadline approached for paying the third and final part into the exchequer and the government increased the pressure on its officials to enforce its collection. On 8 April 1381 the sheriffs of all the counties were strictly enjoined ‘by all manner of ways and means’ to compel the collectors to pay all the dues and arrears at Westminster by 21 April ‘without delay or dispute’. When the collectors and controllers for the city and suburbs of London duly appeared at the exchequer the...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Essex and Kent arise
    (pp. 163-194)

    Having made their stand at Brentwood the newly fledged rebels appear to have dispersed back to their homes to organise the uprising in their own localities. Thomas Baker and William Gildeborne, for instance, returned to Fobbing, accompanied by almost half of the village’s adult males who had gone with them to Brentwood. They appear to have been the biggest group: around half of just over a hundred names on one of the indictments prepared at Chelmsford on 3 July to prosecute Gildesburgh’s and Bampton’s attackers were from Fobbing itself, while at least twenty more came from their neighbouring villages of...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT To London
    (pp. 195-224)

    On the same day that the Kentish rebels launched their attack on their sheriff and the workings of royal government in Canterbury, the Essex rebels began a similar all-out assault in their county. Men from more than forty parishes throughout Essex had gathered at Bocking, where the meeting had been held on 2 June and the oath taken to be of one accord in their rebellion. Since then, messengers and agitators had ridden the length and breadth of the county preparing the way so that, when Monday 10 June dawned, a sizeable army of rebels from every corner of Essex...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Mile End
    (pp. 225-257)

    At some point on Wednesday 12 June messengers had begun passing between the city and the rebels at Blackheath. Two infamous inquisitions held before the sheriffs of London in November 1382 recount how the mayor William Walworth and his council had appointed three aldermen, John Horn, Adam Karlille and John Fresshe, to go to Tyler’s forces and tell them not to come any closer to the city. The rebels ‘had been on the point of returning to their homes’ but Horn ‘exceeded his instructions’ and persuaded them ‘with sweet words … that the whole of the city of London felt...

  15. CHAPTER TEN Smithfield
    (pp. 258-278)

    It may also have been Richard’s concessions at Mile End which effectively signed the death warrants of his ministers in the Tower. The exact sequence of events is not clear and the chronicles give conflicting and confused accounts of what happened. All we know for certain is that the king was not there, but since he did not return to the Tower after the Mile End conference that does not narrow the possibilities down. The likelihood is that the rebels broke into the Tower while Richard was at Mile End: hearing the petitions and granting the specific wishes of the...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN St Albans and Bury St Edmunds
    (pp. 279-306)

    The London uprising collapsed as quickly as it had started but many of the rebels from outside the city would literally take the standard of rebellion back out to their shires, convinced that they had the king’s approval and commission to act against traitors and secure in the knowledge that they had his letters patent granting them their freedoms from local lordship. One of those people was William Grindecobbe, who had travelled to London with the party from St Albans on the morning of 14 June. He had been present at Mile End and there ‘had knelt to the king...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE Ely, Huntingdon and Cambridge
    (pp. 307-326)

    The murder of Thomas atte Ook was an indication of the way the Suffolk rebellion, which had been centred on Bury St Edmunds, was now spreading across the county towards Ipswich. Adam Rogge, the son of a villein who, despite an early career of violence which included raising the hue and cry against his own mother, had risen to become bailiff of the earl of Oxford’s manor of Aldham, led a band of men on 14 June to attack and rob the house of the local escheator William Gerard at Wattisfield; next day he stole goods worth one hundred marks...

    (pp. 327-354)

    Of all the counties involved in the great revolt, it was Norfolk which produced the largest number of known rebels: 1214 have been identified from the existing records, compared with only 954 for Essex, 456 for Kent, 299 for Suffolk, 242 for Cambridgeshire and 389 for London and the rest.¹ Yet of those counties, Norfolk was the last to rise in rebellion, even though its economic conditions were much the same as in Suffolk, with a large proportion of its workforce employed as craftsmen and tradesmen or working for wages as servants and labourers. These were exactly the sort of...

  19. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  20. CHAPTER FOURTEEN North and south
    (pp. 355-371)

    It was not until 18 June, four days after the Mile End meeting and the murders in the Tower of London, that the king finally issued writs to the country’s sheriffs, mayors and bailiffs ordering the resistance to begin. Yet even this was not the rallying call to crush the revolt that might have been expected.

    Because we understand that various of our subjects have risen in various counties of England, against our peace and to the disturbance of the people, and have formed various gatherings and assemblies in order to commit many injuries against our faithful subjects, and because...

  21. CHAPTER FIFTEEN Suppression
    (pp. 372-390)

    Throughout the kingdom commissioners were now actively at work, so much so that the monk of Westminster observed that ‘the royal judges were now everywhere to be seen in session, inquiring into the activities of the conspirators and giving the guilty short shrift. Gibbets rose where none had been before, since existing ones were too few for the bodies of the condemned. Many who had been privy to the insurrection took to flight to avoid sharing the arrest and bitter fate suffered by others’. Melodramatic though the monk’s comments may seem, they are borne out by other evidence. The earl...

  22. CHAPTER SIXTEEN The aftermath
    (pp. 391-404)

    Any account of the great revolt raises more questions than it answers. We still do not know exactly how long the rebels had been planning their action: the confrontation at Brentwood was undoubtedly a catalyst but we do not know whether rebellion was already being discussed or how long the rebels of Essex and Kent had been in communication with each other. Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Balle, despite their iconic status, remain shadowy figures. Nor is it clear why Straw, in particular, earned such an enduring reputation whereas other rebel leaders about whom we know much more, such...

  23. CHAPTER SEVENTEEN The legacy
    (pp. 405-418)

    The great revolt played out over a remarkably short period of time; its suppression was swift and thereafter, to all appearances, life returned to normal. We even read of former rebels, charged with rebellion in their manorial courts, levying amercements and entry fines against themselves in order to be able to pick up the threads of their old lives as if nothing untoward had happened.¹ Yet for others the effect of being caught up in the revolt was profound and even life changing. We have already seen, for instance, how some royal officers in the shires resigned their posts and...

  24. APPENDIX 1 Wat Tyler
    (pp. 419-421)
  25. APPENDIX 2 Jack Straw
    (pp. 422-425)
  26. APPENDIX 3 John Balle
    (pp. 426-428)
  27. APPENDIX 4 John Balle’s letters
    (pp. 429-436)
  28. NOTES
    (pp. 437-464)
    (pp. 465-476)
  30. INDEX
    (pp. 477-503)
    (pp. 504-506)
  32. Back Matter
    (pp. 507-507)