Last weekend was the anniversary of the Peasants Revolt of 1381. When I saw this marked on my radical calendar, I realised that my knowledge of this event didn't go much further than the Mayor of London killing the leader of the revolt, Wat Tyler, at Smithfield.
A Kindle offer of Dan Jones's book on the subject, Summer of Blood, for less than a pound, was an opportunity to rectify this gap in my historical knowledge.
While Wat Tyler led the Kentish rebels, the revolt actually started in Essex in reaction to attempts to collect the poll tax. The causes went much deeper and probably started with attempts to restrain wages and work mobility as a consequence of the Black Death. The government needed ever greater amounts of cash to fund the Hundred Years War against France and started to tax groups that previously had been exempt. This built on deeper resentments about the unequal society and the legal system.
I hadn't appreciated how extensive the revolt was, covering much of the home counties, or how extensive the damage was to London. The rebels killed a long list of establishment figures and burnt their properties. The young Richard II was left with a pretty poor set of advisors and limited resources to put down the revolt, as the effective ruler, John of Gaunt, was dealing with the Scots.
The rebels eventually over-reached themselves with their demands and the revolt started to run out of steam. The counter-terror was every bit as vicious with thousands being killed in revenge. The rule of law, always somewhat partial in medieval England, was abandoned as the country was decorated with mutilated bodies.
Eventually, a Great Pardon was issued and the country started to recover. The poll tax was quietly abandoned and further regressive attempts to fund the war ended. The events of 1381 clearly had a significant impact on the young king, who was eventually deposed in 1399 after a pretty disastrous reign.
The revolt was one of many uprisings across Europe in the medieval period. They all had different causes, but they demonstrated that ordinary men and women could articulate and act collectively in their own cause.
Dan Jones has written a very readable account of the revolt, well worth the very modest outlay.
Most wargamers have a few peasants to add to armies or just decorate the battlefield. I can't see many starting a collection for this conflict, but there are no shortage of figures if you want to. Here are some of mine for the period in 28mm.