A tax-and-spend government running scared of the free market, and a legitimate grievance hijacked by people with their own violent political agenda... the Peasant’s Revolt is perhaps not such ancient history, after all.
AFTER the Black Death wiped out nearly three-quarters of England’s population in the 1340s, fit working men were scarce. Much to their disgust, wealthy landowners actually found themselves bidding against each other for a labourer’s favour.
The Government hurriedly capped wages to prevent competition, and to stifle rising aspiration, imposed severe penalties on upstart labourers found buying luxury food or clothing.
Astonishingly, London then raised taxes to pay for the faltering Hundred Years’ War.*
In 1381, riots broke out across the country. Protestors destroyed property, looted buildings, and attacked officials. Wat Tyler and his men stormed the Tower of London, and murdered the Lord Chancellor and the Lord High Treasurer.
The new king, fourteen-year-old Richard II, met the rebels face-to-face, apparently contrite. But having regained control, he recanted all his promises of reform.
A rebel army, led by self-proclaimed ‘King of the Commons’ Geoffrey Litster, was comprehensively defeated at North Walsham in Norfolk, and gradually order was restored.
* A draining and ultimately futile war for the throne of France, started by Richard II’s grandfather Edward III in 1337 and ended by Edward’s great-great-grandson Henry VI in 1453.