The causes of the Peasants' Revolt

People and animals die of the black death in a field (14th century)

Causes of the Peasants' Revolt

Victims of the Black Death from 1349. The Black Death (1348 - 1350) had killed many people which meant there was a shortage of workers and wages went up.

Historians have identified a number of factors which caused the Peasants' Revolt:

  • Three hundred years after the Norman Conquest,peasants were still villeins who belonged to their lords with few if any freedoms for themselves.
  • The Black Death (1348 - 1350) had killed many people. This meant there was a shortage of workers and wages went up. Parliament passed the Statute of Labourers (1351), which set a maximum wage and said that people would be punished with prison if they refused to work for that wage. This meant that despite the demand for workers and the greater availability of land, poor people stayed poor.
  • Life for ordinary Medieval people was strictly controlled by the local lord. The law also allowed the lord to stop his villeins moving for better wages. Coming after the Black Death and the consequent shortage of labour, this crushed the villeins' higher expectations for their income.
  • The feudal system too had for centuries tied most peasants to the whims of their lord. The lord even had the power to approve any one of his villein’s spouse. Not surprisingly it made sense to have an appetite for change.
  • Since 1360, a Lollard priest called John Ball had been preaching that people should throw away the evil lords. In a famous sermon he asked, when Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman? meaning all people are born equal.
  • After 1369, the war against France - over control of land claimed both by English and French kings - began to go badly. This would have made people despise the government.
  • In 1377 Richard II – a boy of 10 – became king and his uncle, the unpopular John of Gaunt, ran the country.
  • John of Gaunt introduced a Poll Tax to pay for the war against France. The Poll Tax had to be paid by everyone over the age of 15 no matter how much money they earned. In March 1381, the government demanded the third Poll Tax in four years. When people avoided paying this, Parliament appointed commissioners to make them pay.
  • On 30 May 1381, Commissioner Thomas Bampton entered the village of Fobbing in Essex. His brutal methods made the villagers angry and – led by Thomas Baker, a landowner who helped start the revolt, they rioted. Soon both Essex and Kent were in revolt.