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Causes of the Peasants Revolt 1381

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When the Death swept Europe in1348-1351 it left about 30% of the population dead. This greatly affected the English peasants because there was a labour shortage and food was scarce. Even some thirty years later, life had not returned to normal -the settled and structured country life of the Middle Ages was disrupted, and was rife amongst the poor.
Causes of the revolt
1. The Statute of Labourers 1351
This was a passed at the end of the Black Death to stop the peasants taking advantage of the
shortage of workers and demanding more money. Peasants were forced to work for the same as before, and landowners could insist on labour services being performed, instead of accepting money (commutation). This meant that the landowners could profit from shortages, whilst life was made very much harder for the .
2. Prices
Prices had risen since the Black Death. Wages had not risen as fast, so the peasants suffered from and shortages.
3. The young king
During the course of the Black Death and the years following it, England had a strong and warlike , Edward III. However, his son, the Black Prince, died before him, leaving his grandson as heir to the throne. In 1377, Edward III died, and this boy of became king. The true power lay with the powerful , in particular the boy's uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.
The barons, already by the peasants, began to take advantage of the situation.
4. The Poll Tax
England was involved in the Years War. This had left the treasury empty, and the barons were tired of paying for the war.
In 1377, John of Gaunt imposed a new tax, the (head) Tax, that was to cover the cost of the war. Unlike normal taxes, this was to be paid by the peasants, as well as the . Although this was meant to be a "one-off" event, it was so successful that it was repeated more times. The first tax was 4d from every adult (adult:14yrs+), then it was raised to 4d for the peasants and more for the rich, and finally in 1380, it was raised to 12d per adult.
The barons liked the idea of the peasants helping to pay , especially if the were acting as tax collectors, as some of the money was siphoned off into their . It was much harder on the peasants, who could ill afford to pay, especially as the tax was collected in cash and not in farm produce.
By 1380, many were hiding from the , and avoiding payment. For this reason, the amount collected dropped away, despite the fact that the tax had been increased.
5. John Ball and the Church
The Church was badly hit by the Black Death, and many of the clergy were poorly educated, thus reducing popular respect for the Church. The Church was also a major landowner, and the abbots and bishops sided with the barons the peasants. This made the church hated, as the peasants felt betrayed by an organisation that should be , rather than exploiting them.
This situation was made worse by a number of rebellious priests who preached against the Church and the barons. Foremost amongst these was Ball, who coined the famous verse; "While Adam delved (dug) and Eve span, who then was the gentleman?" i.e. There had been no group of non- working layabouts in that time, so why should they be tolerated now?
So dangerous was this teaching that the Archbishop of Canterbury had John Ball, and confined him in Maidstone Castle.
The Outbreak
Having examined the Poll Tax returns for 1380, the Royal Council headed by John of Gaunt were upset to discover that money than ever had been collected. Tax collectors were sent out again, with instructions to collect the full amounts.
One of these men was Thomas Bampton, who arrived at Fobbing in , and summoned the villagers of Fobbing, Stanford and Corningham to appear before him. Those law-abiding villagers who turned up were shocked to discover that they would have to pay the hated tax a time, and that they would also have to pay for the people who had failed to turn up. Not surprisingly, a followed, and Bampton and his men were beaten and driven from the village.
Sir Robert Belknap, a Chief Justice was sent to calm the situation, but he suffered a similar fate. Word spread, and peasants allover Essex banded together and turned on the landowners. Manor houses were down, and any records of taxes, labour duties and debts destroyed.
Soon peasants in Kent rebelled also, and risings took place in many other areas of the country. Some unpopular landowners were , others fled and others captured and humiliated, having to act as and perform menial tasks.