In the spring of 1381, a rebellion
occurred in England that threatened the very foundation of feudal
government. No longer willing to accept the bonds of villeinage,
thousands of peasants rose up and demanded legal recourse for the
injustices of inherited servitude.
Villeins, while theoretically free and
owned by no man, were nevertheless bound by law to work the land on
which they lived and provide services and goods to the owner of that
land. They were prohibited from translating these services into cash
and from paying rent instead of working.
If they were illtreated in any way by
their landlord they could not speak against him in court, if they
left the land without his permission they could be hunted down and
It was the rebels of Essex and Kent who
marched on London. By 12th June, the Essex men were camped at Mile
End, in fields just beyond Aldgate, and on the following day the
Kentish men arrived at Blackheath. Incredibly, neither the
government nor the city of London authorities seem to have been
prepared, although the king was moved from Windsor to the Tower of
During the next few days, the different
bands of rebels from Essex and Kent were joined by some of London's
poor, and they set about attacking political targets in the city.
They burned down the Savoy Palace, which was the home of John of
GauntRichard II's uncle, and probably the most powerful magnate in
the realm. They set fire to the Treasurer's Highbury Manor, opened
prisons and destroyed legal records.
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