English Peasants' Revolt of 1381

From Anarchy In Action

Notable for its millenarian influences and orientations, the English peasants' revolt of 1381 opposed tax raises that were seen as an attempt to reduce yeomen to serfs. Some 100,000 peasants marched from Essex and Kent to London, capturing towns along the way. Upon reaching London, the peasants of Kent freed the prisoners, killed the Archduke, and declared that all rich people and non-begging clergy must be killed. Ultimately, Richard II's forces crushed the rebellions, and the peasants' economic demands were not met.[1]

Norman Cohn, and later, Murray Bookchin, have argued that the revolt marked perhaps the first time when a movement of medieval Europeans saw egalitarianism as a future ideal rather than just a relic of some distant golden age.[2]

The rebels were influenced by the preacher John Ball, who insisted that all human beings must be equal since they all descended from Adam and Eve. Reportedly, Ball sermonized: "And if we are all descended from one father and one mother, Adam and Eve, how can the lords say or prove that they are more lords than we are - save that they make us dig and till the ground so that they can squander what we produce?" Cohn comments that even if the exact words of Ball's speeches have been changed, "there is every reason to believe that the teaching which they enshrine was indeed being disseminated at the time of the revolt."[3]

  1. Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism.
  2. Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary millenarians and mystical anarchists of the Middle Ages (London: Paladin, 1970), 198. Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy (Palo Alto: Cheshire Books, 1982), 201.
  3. Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium, 199-200.