Wat Tyler's Rebellion 1381

Wat Tyler’s Rebellion (1381)


the largest antifeudal peasant rebellion in medieval England.

The rebellion was prompted by the increased feudal exploitation of the peasants that followed upon the development of monetary trade relations. These new economic conditions consisted in the replacement of payment in kind, as a rule, with high rents payable in money and the broadening of the wage labor sphere along with the simultaneous intensification, especially on the large estates, of corvée and other elements of serfdom. Furthermore, the social contradictions in the countryside and in the city had become aggravated after the epidemic of plague in 1348–49 (the Black Death) and the subsequent enactment of cruel worker statutes. The antifeudal mood of the peasants had been encouraged by the preaching of the Lollards. Finally, the latest general taxation, which had been first introduced in 1377 and which in 1380 tripled by comparison with the rates of 1379, was the immediate spark for the rebellion, which occurred in the context of the continuing Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453).

The rebellion began in May 1381 in the southeastern counties of Essex and Kent (separate agitations had taken place in the autumn of 1380) and quickly enveloped a large part of the country. The rural artisan Wat Tyler, who most likely was a former soldier, and the priest John Ball, whom the peasants had released from prison, rose to head the rebellion. The rebels destroyed some feudal estates, dealt harshly with some lords, judges, and tax collectors, and burned documents that determined the peasants’ obligations. On June 13, detachments of the insurgents marched on London and, meeting with no opposition, entered the city. The capital was soon in the hands of the peasants and the townspeople who had united with them.

On June 14, in the London suburb of Mile End, a meeting took place between the peasants and King Richard II, during which the peasants put forward their demands (the Mile End demands): the abolition of serf status and corvée, the establishment of uniform and moderate money rents, free trade, and amnesty for all participants in the rebellion. The king was forced to accept the demands. Some of the peasants, primarily the well-to-do and the fairly well-off, left the city. However, many peasants, for the most part the poorest ones, led on by Tyler and Ball, demanded another meeting with the king, which took place on June 15, in the marketplace in Smithfield, north of the city gates. The demands made of Smithfield were more radical in nature: the abolition of serfdom, the return to the peasants of the communal lands that had been taken away by the seigniors, the abolition of all worker statutes, the liquidation of all privileges of the nobility and the equalization of all social estates, and the secularization of church and monastery lands and their partitioning among the peasants. Thus, the Smithfield demands were directed not only against specific feudal burdens but also against feudal relations as a whole.

During the talks at Smithfield, Tyler was treacherously killed by the king’s retinue. Taking advantage of the confusion among the peasants and of their faith in the king’s promises, the government persuaded the insurgents to return home. The government then put down the rebellion by attacking separate detachments of peasants, often with much bloodshed. The leaders of the rebellion, including Ball, and many rank-and-file participants were put to death.

In spite of its defeat, the rebellion hastened the liberation of the peasants from personal dependence and the replacement of corvée with money rent.


Petrushevskii, D. M. Vosstanie Uota Tailera, 4th ed. Moscow, 1937.
Kosminskii, E. A., and D. M. Petrushevskii (compilers). Angliiskaiia derevnia XlII-XIV vv. i vosstanie Uota Tailera. Moscow-Leningrad, 1935.