Rebellion Leads to a Peasants' Revolt

Rebellion Against the King Medieval Times Social Studies World History Visual Arts

In May of 1381, workers in the Essex village of Fobbing were angry about a new tax. Very angry.

Their uprising began to spread to nearby towns and villages. On the 7th of June, Wat Tyler—from Kent—joined the rebellion.

In this illumination, by an unknown artist, we see John Ball (a priest) encouraging the rebels.

What were some of the words Ball used to encourage the oppressed (who were more middle-class craftsmen than agricultural peasants)? For one thing, he stressed that they were as good as the “lords” for whom they worked.

From the beginning of time, Ball said, men were equal (not unequal). Here is an excerpt from a speech he gave, at Blackheath, to rouse the men into action:

When Adam delved [meaning “to dig”] and Eve span [meaning “to spin”], Who was then the gentleman ? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men.

For if God would have had any bondmen [meaning “servants”] from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.

This was a call for a political (not a religious) rebellion.

Another individual, around the same time, poetically described the peoples’ unequal situation.

William Langland, writing his Vision of Piers Plowman, describes the medieval-era’s divided society:

The needy are our neighbours, if we note rightly;
As prisoners in cells, or poor folk in hovels,
Charged with children and overcharged by landlords.
What they may spare in spinning they spend on rental,
On milk, or on meal to make porridge
To still the sobbing of the children at meal time.
Also they themselves suffer much hunger.

They have woe in wintertime, and wake at midnight
To rise and to rock the cradle at the bedside,
To card and to comb, to darn clouts and to wash them,
To rub and to reel and to put rushes on the paving.
The woe of these women who dwell in hovels
Is too sad to speak of or to say in rhyme.
And many other men have much to suffer
From hunger and from thirst.

(Quoted by Peter Kellner in Democracy: 1,000 Years in Pursuit of British Liberty, at pages 87-88 of the online version.)

The British Library maintains this image, circa 1470, from Froissart’s Chronicle. Curators give it this title and description:

Peasants’ Revolt

Detail of a miniature of two armies with banners bearing the royal arms of England and George, with Jehan Balle [John Ball] and Waultre le Tieulier [Wat Tyler] inscribed with their names.

The white flag with a red cross is the flag of England (St. George’s Cross). The banners are the Plantagenet royal coat of arms.

Click on the image for a full-page view.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 08, 2016

Updated Last Revision: Dec 09, 2016

Media Credits

Image of illumination, at the British Library, bearing this identification: Royal 18 E. I   f.165v.  Online, courtesy British Library.



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