The Peasants Revolt

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 imprisoned.

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 London.

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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