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Timeline: The Peasants' Revolt Of 1381 - Part Two

Tony Robinson explores the major uprising across large parts of England in 1381; it's origins, motives and aftermath.

Outbreak of revolt

Essex and Kent

15th-century representation of the cleric John Ball encouraging the rebels; Wat Tyler is shown in red, front left

The revolt of 1381 broke out in Essex, following the arrival of John Bampton to investigate non-payment of the poll tax on 30 May. Bampton was a member of Parliament, a Justice of the Peace and well-connected with royal circles. He based himself in Brentwood and summoned representatives from the neighbouring villages of Corringham, Fobbing and Stanford-le-Hope to explain and make good the shortfalls on 1 June. The villagers appear to have arrived well-organised, and armed with old bows and sticks. Bampton first interrogated the people of Fobbing, whose representative, Thomas Baker, declared that his village had already paid their taxes, and that no more money would be forthcoming. When Bampton and two sergeants attempted to arrest Baker, violence broke out. Bampton escaped and retreated to London, but three of his clerks and several of the Brentwood townsfolk who had agreed to act as jurors were killed. Robert Bealknap, the Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, who was probably already holding court in the area, was empowered to arrest and deal with the perpetrators.

Late 15th-century depiction of the Tower of London and its keep, the White Tower

By the next day, the revolt was rapidly growing. The villagers spread the news across the region, and John Geoffrey, a local bailiff, rode between Brentwood and Chelmsford, rallying support. On 4 June, the rebels gathered at Bocking, where their future plans seem to have been discussed. The Essex rebels, possibly a few thousand strong, advanced towards London, some probably travelling directly and others via Kent. One group, under the leadership of John Wrawe, a former chaplain, marched north towards the neighbouring county of Suffolk, with the intention of raising a revolt there.

Late 14th-century depiction of William Walworth killing Wat Tyler; the King is represented twice, watching events unfold (left) and addressing the crowd (right). British Library, London.

Revolt also flared in neighbouring Kent. Sir Simon de Burley, a close associate of both Edward III and the young Richard, had claimed that a man in Kent, called Robert Belling, was an escaped serf from one of his estates. Burley sent two sergeants to Gravesend, where Belling was living, to reclaim him. Gravesend's local bailiffs and Belling tried to negotiate a solution under which Burley would accept a sum of money in return for dropping his case, but this failed and Belling was taken away to be imprisoned at Rochester Castle. A furious group of local people gathered at Dartford, possibly on 5 June, to discuss the matter. From there the rebels travelled to Maidstone, where they stormed the gaol, and then onto Rochester on 6 June. Faced by the angry crowds, the constable in charge of Rochester Castle surrendered it without a fight and Belling was freed.

Late 14th-century portrait of Richard II in Westminster Abbey.

Some of the Kentish crowds now dispersed, but others continued. From this point, they appear to have been led by Wat Tyler, whom the Anonimalle Chronicle suggests was elected their leader at a large gathering at Maidstone on 7 June. Relatively little is known about Tyler's former life; chroniclers suggest that he was from Essex, had served in France as an archer and was a charismatic and capable leader. Several chroniclers believe that he was responsible for shaping the political aims of the revolt. Some also mention a Jack Straw as a leader among the Kentish rebels during this phase in the revolt, but it is uncertain if this was a real person, or a pseudonym for Wat Tyler or John Wrawe.

Illustration from title page to William Morris's A Dream of John Ball (1888), by Edward Burne-Jones

Tyler and the Kentish men advanced to Canterbury, entering the walled city and castle without resistance on 10 June. The rebels deposed the absent Archbishop of Canterbury, Sudbury, and made the cathedral monks swear loyalty to their cause. They attacked properties in the city with links to the hated royal council, and searched the city for suspected enemies, dragging the suspects out of their houses and executing them. The city gaol was opened and the prisoners freed. Tyler then persuaded a few thousand of the rebels to leave Canterbury and advance with him on London the next morning.


Posted by George Freund on February 26, 2019 at 9:00 PM 413 Views