PEASANTS REVOLT 1381

History records many momentous events during medieval years but from the viewpoint of the peasants living in Eastern Essex two events stand out.

Firstly Black Death which affected the county in the 1300's with epidemics from 1348/1349 and again from 1356/1369.

No community remained unaffected and in some cased up to 90% of the population died.

The effects of the deaths of children , young parents and the wise older heads in the community changed the dynamics of the countryside in a way that was no doubt a contributory feature in the next great event -  The Peasants Revolt.

The National Story

England was engaged in the 100 years war and by 1380 Richard II was facing reverse and to pay for the war imposed 3 poll taxes on the country.  opposition increased to each succeeding poll tax with 51.000 of the 100,000 population paying the first poll. 

The third poll tax in 1380 was deeply unpopular as it imposed a flat rate of three groats per head across the country without reference to the ability to pay as had been the case in previous taxes.

Rural areas were already dissatisfied with changes imposed by Edward III before his death which retained wages at levels found before the black death struck despite the higher rates on offer by landowners desperate for men to work on their land given the toll on men caused by black death.

Most historians credit the start to the uprising as occurring in Brentwood, Essex ( Just to the South West of this area) . On 30 May 1371 Thomas Bampton who was one of the Kings Tax Collectors appears to have been over diligent in his collections in Essex.

Villagers from Southern Essex attacked Bampton forcing him to fly for his life. The Chief Justice , Sir Robert Belnap and a party of soldiers rode to investigate and was himself forced to retreat following the deaths of some of his soldiers.

The news of this action spread through the country like wildfire with other similar actions taking place locally and large groups of men from Essex and Kent marching on London. When the two groups joined they elected Kent man Wat Tyler as their leader.

No one in authority appears to have been ready for a peoples rebellion and on 14 June 1381 Richard II is forced to meet the rebels and to agree to meet their demands. At this point most men returned to their homes.

A smaller group moves into the city and enters the Tower of London where they murdered some Officials that they feel responsible for their plight.

Richard 111 again met the rebels and asked them to leave. Wat Tyler refused and made further demands.

The Mayor of London started to argue with Wat Tyler and during the argument fatally stabbed Wat Tyler. On Tyler's death the remaining men returned home.

By 23 June 1381 a sizeable part of the Kings army has arrived at London and Richard II announced cancellation of the agreement that he had cancelled the agreement reached on 14 June with the rebels.  

Men once again gathered in Essex but the King took decisive action by marching to Waltham where he met rebels and once again retracted his promises. Anger swept Essex and a large group of men assembles at Billericay.

Richard marched his army to Billericay where a battle ensued killing over 500 of the rebels this was followed by the crushing of the last resistance at Colchester in another rout.

Vengeance was severe with the ringleaders, including John Ball a Colchester Clergyman who was credited with being the main Essex leader, being executed.

Certainly there appeared to be some organisation amongst the rioter.

It is interesting to note that many of the men hanged as ringleaders after the revolt were respectable middle age men who were often landowners and natural leaders of the community rather than young hotheads.

    

 

 The Eastern Essex Story

 The legislation regarding wages and other statutes concerning ordinary people  caused general dissent. This was especially true in an area like the Dengie 100 where agriculture was a key activity.

The legislation was so unpopular that the Dengie Constables failed to enforce the legislation. In all probability that was partly from sympathy and partly from the fear of reprisals.

 Many people in the Dengie 100 supported the actions by the peasants.

Sadly although records exist of the leaders and  people facing the courts  there were no records of those men taking part in the protest and after the vent few men would admit participation fearing retribution.

It appears that with the exception of a group on men from Bradwell on Sea most action was limited to the local area.

Although firebrand preacher John Ball was a leader of the revolt the local clergy appear to have paid the poll tax as requested.

Records survive which shows tax payments in 1381  for the local clergy- John vicar of Tillingham , John vicar of Asheldham , 3 shillings 4 pence  Purleigh and Dengie Deanery 6 shillings 8 pence.

Groups of men were active within the Dengie 100.

Typically their action would be to enter the manor houses and burn documents especially court rolls that listed manorial history including names . These were often used as the basis for people liable for taxation.

Others refused to pay rent or to carry out agreed services for lords of the manor or Churches.

Often they simply looted or used the confused situation to settee grudges.

Incidents are known to have occurred at the following parishes on the Dengie 100

Asheldham

Manor of Newhall - Court Rolls Destroyed

Bradwell on Sea

Court records show that Richard Proudfoot threatened to kill John Gerveyn if he didn't join in the revolt.

On 10 June the home of the Sherrif of Essex at Coggeshall was entered and ransacked by a group which was drawn from men at Prittlewell and Bradwell on Sea.

Burnham on Crouch

Town meeting held on 9 June 1381 with proclamation read ordering men to rise in revolt.

Dengie

Manor of Bacons - Court Rolls Burned

Mayland

The house of John Bourchier was entered.

Cold Norton

Manor of Norton - There is no court rolls record for 1381 although they exist up to 1380 and from 1382.

Southminster

Rolls from Bishop of London's Manor at Southminster taken

Steeple

Rolls of the Bishop of Stansgate taken

Woodham Walter

Rolls of the Manor of Woodham Fitzwalter destroyed

 

 

 

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