Planning Chaos: The Foundations and Organizations of the 1381 Peasants' Revolt

Michael Robert Bartels, Providence College


On May 30, 1381, a newly recruited tax commissioner summoned several English townships to pay their dues. Within the space of a week, the working classes of southeast England revolted against the actions of officials whom they perceived as enemies of their king, Richard II, the first of many events which comprised the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. While source matter on the Peasants’ Revolt has its limitations, and we have not been able to access all of the original literature from the time of the revolt, we do have enough information for an informed inquiry into exactly how the rebellion was organized and what roles the leaders played. I mean to explore the ways in which the peasants’ revolt was more than a reaction to taxes, and was instead an organized resistance to the perceived perversions of the law and its enforcers, both secular and religious, resentment against which had accumulated for decades. I will also explore how the rise and fall of organizer Wat Tyler impacted the revolt’s successes and failures in attaining its goals.