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The Peasants Revolt of 1381
There had been a long war with France. Wars cost money and that money usually came from the peasants through the taxes that they paid. In 1380, Richard II introduced a new tax called the Poll Tax. This made everyone who was on the tax register pay 5p. 5p to them was a great deal of money. If they could not pay in cash, they could pay in kind, such as seeds, tools etc., anything that could be vital to survival in the coming year.
5p! That's about 2 weeks worth of pay!
In May 1381, a tax collector arrived at the Essex village of Fobbing to find out why the people there had not paid their poll tax. He was thrown out by the villagers. In June, soldiers arrived to establish law and order. They too were thrown out as the villagers of Fobbing had now organised themselves and many other local villages in Essex had joined them. After doing this, the villagers marched on London to plead with the young king to hear their complaints.
One man had emerged as the leader of the peasants – Wat Tyler from Kent. As the peasants from Kent had marched to London, they had destroyed tax records and tax registers. The buildings which housed government records were burned down. They got into the city of London because the people there had opened the gates to them.
WE NEED TO SEE THE KING!
OPEN THE GATES!
On June 14th, the king met the rebels at Mile End. At this meeting, Richard II gave the peasants all that they asked for and asked that they go home in peace. Some did. Others returned to the city and murdered the archbishop and Treasurer – their heads were cut off on Tower Hill by the Tower of London. Richard II spent the night in hiding in fear of his life.
On June 15th, he met the rebels again at Smithfield outside of the city’s walls. At this meeting, the Lord Mayor killed Wat Tyler. We are not sure what happened at this meeting as the only people who could write about it were on the side of the king and their evidence might not be accurate. The death of Tyler and another promise by Richard to give the peasants what they asked for, was enough to send them home. But King Richard did not keep any of his promises. He claimed they were made under threat and therefore did not count by law.
Although the peasants did not win this revolt, it is still very important because it was one of the first calls for democracy.
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