Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

The Peasants’ Revolt — A Local Connection

On this day in 1381, Richard II met the leaders of Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt on Blackheath. The rebels stormed the Tower of London and entered without resistance. This revolt, though ultimately a failure, came to be seen as a harbinger of the decline of serfdom in medieval England. It heightened awareness among the upper classes of the urgent need for reform in the feudal system and underscored the dire plight of the lower classes, who lived in enforced near-slavery.

The revolt was incited by various grievances, notably the Poll Tax of 1380, a flat tax levied on all, regardless of income. This tax was perceived as unjust by the peasants, who felt its burden was unfairly shared. The insurrection began in Essex and Kent in May 1381, ignited by the arrival of a royal official to collect the Poll Tax. The rebels, led by figures such as Wat Tyler and John Ball, marched on London, reaching the capital in June. They briefly took control, executing several officials. King Richard II initially acquiesced to their demands, which included the abolition of serfdom and reduction of taxes. However, during negotiations, Wat Tyler was murdered, and the rebellion was soon crushed, with many rebels executed and their demands ignored.

Despite its failure, the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 illuminated the social and economic tensions of the era. It compelled the ruling elite to acknowledge the grievances of the lower classes and left an enduring mark on English society. Though the uprising began in the south, its repercussions were felt across the country. Following the suppression of the revolt, the King pardoned the majority of the rebels. Among those pardoned the following year was William Peacock of Kirkby in Cleveland, son of Ranulph. Other local names from Stokesley, Whitby, Glaisdale, Eston, and Egton appear in the pardon records, though these documents do not specify the exact charges against William Peacock and his fellow Yorkshiremen1Reference TNA C 67/29 mm. 24-1 from the AHRC-funded ‘The People of 1381 Online Database’ www.1381.online, 14 June 2024..

Kirkby in Cleveland is, of course, in the centre of the photograph, nestled at the foot of the Cleveland Hills.

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    Reference TNA C 67/29 mm. 24-1 from the AHRC-funded ‘The People of 1381 Online Database’ www.1381.online, 14 June 2024.







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