The English Peasants’ Revolt

Dominic Alexander



“The English Rising of 1381 saw peasants and townspeople rebel against the poll tax imposed to pay for the king’s wars in France”

“They wanted the end of serfdom, and effectively of the whole secular and religious aristocracy, barring the king himself”

“If they had won, this would have turned England into a kind of peasant confederation, with the monarchy stripped of its feudal power, reduced to the role of arbiter between autonomous local communities”

“There was to be “no law within the realm save the law of Winchester,” the rebels proclaimed, apparently meaning the abolition of all but local government”

“Law is always contradictory, for while its primary purpose is to uphold and legitimate the rule of the exploiting class, its necessary drive toward universality opens up strategies for the exploited to defend themselves”

“When the barons were able to impose Magna Carta on King John in 1215, in order to restrain the arbitrary power of the monarchy over their own class, this also gave peasants and townspeople an avenue to struggle for more rights of their own”

“Feudal lords found that in limiting the ability of the king to act arbitrarily, they had also undermined their own jurisdictions, because the principles and practices that applied in royal courts tended to be taken as applying in all lesser courts as well”

“The persistent conflicts between king and barons were opening up spaces through which commoners could assert themselves and claim the right to participate in political life”

“Both peasants and townspeople were developing concrete ideas about the rights they should have, and strategies to win them. Socially dissenting religious views were also spreading widely by the fourteenth century, best illustrated by William Langland’s long narrative poem, Piers Plowman. The name, Piers Plowman, was even used as a moniker by the rebels of 1381 themselves”

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