English Legal History and its Materials
Palmer writes about how the increased centralization and intrusiveness of the government helped motivate the great Peasants' Revolt of 1381. (pg. 6) He writes specifically how the increasing use of the assumpist writ contributed to the revolt. (pg. 210) However, he does not go into too much detail on the legal ramifications of the revolt and the specific reform sought by the leaders of the rebellion.

Did the Peasant's Revolt have any set list of concrete legal demands similar to the Magna Carta for the Baron's Rebellion against King John? Did the leaders of the revolt seek to completely destroy and remake the English Legal system by abolishing feudal tenure and/or private property or were they trying to curb the unjust excesses of the Statute of Laborer's, taxes etc? Did the Peasant's Revolt have any lasting impact on the development of English Law?

-- MichaelCoburn - 25 Sep 2014

The Peasants' Revolt, also known as the Great Rising, had various causes and was led with the hope for achieving several reforms, as sought by the rebels.

One of the triggers for the Peasants' Revolt was the economic and social upheaval of the 14th century [1]. The economic system was organized around manors where local lords controlled and suppressed serfs as unfree laborers, and created the circumstances that fueled their rebellion. The hardship of the serfs was made worse by the Black Death, causing shortage of manpower and resulting in an economic shock [2]. The shortage of hands meant that Labourers were able to charge more for their work, while landlords’ profits eroded [3]. An emergency legislation – the Ordinance of Labourers and the Statue of Labourers – was passed in attempt to fix peasants’ wages and make it a crime to refuse work or to break an existing contract, while imposing fines on those who disobeyed [4]. In 1361, the legislation was further strengthened, by introducing an increase in penalties, and including branding and imprisonment [5]. The enforcement of these additional laws became a trigger for the rise of the Peasant Revolt.

In addition to the social-economic situation following the Black Death, England’s war with France (“The Hundred Years War”) became a factor in the initiation of the Peasants’ Revolt. The lengthy war created a huge military and financial burden on England. The government, in trying to sustain the financial challenge of maintaining an army and continuing the war, repeatedly raised taxes, introducing a new form if taxation called the Poll Tax, which was designed to spread the cost of the war over a much wider base of tax payers [6]. The Poll Tax was highly unpopular and many refused to comply. Local municipalities were ordered to find those were refusing to pay, which only further raised tensions between the government and the public with regards to these taxes [7].

An additional reason for the Peasants’ Revolt was the how unhappy rural communities were with the serfdom and the use of local manorial courts which were run by the landlords themselves, who often abused their power [8]. The situation led to legal officers being assaulted and to the formation of independent village communities [9]. As the historian Miri Rubin describes: "the problem was not the country's laws, but those charged with applying and safeguarding them" [10]. The concern and moral panic of the landlords that they might lose power resulted in new legislation (1359) which dealt directly with enforcement of conspiracy laws and treason laws. These laws were extended to include servants who betrayed their masters [11]. There was an even a greater fear that if the French invaded England, the rural classes might side with the invaders [12]. The discontent gave way to open protest which lit the wick of the Peasants’ Revolt, breaking on may 30th, 1381 in Essex [13].

From the reasons leading to the Peasants’ Revolt one can infer the demands that they had and the reform they sought. More specifically, the rebels sought a reduction in taxation, an end to the system of unfree labour (serfdom) and the removal of the King's senior officials and law courts [14].

The significance of the revolt on England’s Law system and on the lives of the rural class is unclear. Some historians describe it as a "passing episode" [15] while others see it as a defining moment in English history.

Although the government and parliament re-established previous conditions and laws following the rebels’ suppression, the revolt nonetheless heavily influenced the course of The Hundred Years War by making later parliaments hesitant to raise additional taxes for military expenses [16]. Instead, it was decided that the military effort on the Continent should be "carefully but substantially reduced" [17]. These changes in England tax income may have also been a trigger for England’s examination of a peace solution with France [18].

The government fear of fresh revolts was felt for several decades [19]. In addition, reminders of the revolt memory were handy for peasants when negotiating rents with their landlords [20]. Serfs became able to buy their freedom in exchange for cash, and traditional forms of tenure were now converted to new leasehold arrangements [21].

[1] Dunn Alastair, The Great Rising of 1381: the Peasants' Revolt and England's Failed Revolution, 22-23 (2002). [2] Dyer Christopher, Making a Living in the Middle Ages: the People of Britain 850–1520, 273-274 (2009). [3] Dyer Christopher, Everyday Life in Medieval England, 202-203 (2000). [4] Dyer 2009, p. 282; Rubin Miri, The Hollow Crown: a History of Britain in the Late Middle Ages, 69 (2006). [5] Rubin 2006, p. 69. [6] Jones, Dan, Summer of Blood: the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, 21 (2010); Dunn 2002, p. 51. [7] Sumption Jonathan, Divided Houses: the Hundred Years War III, 419-420 (2009); Powell Edgar, The Rising of 1381 in East Anglia, 6 (1896). [8] Dyer 2000, pp. 213–217 [9] Dyer 2000, p. 212 [10] Rubin 2006, p. 124 [11] Rubin 2006, p. 70; Harding Alan, "The Revolt Against the Justices" in The English Rising of 1381, Cambridge University Press 180-190 (1987). [12] Dyer 2009, p. 285. [13] Dunn 2002, p. 73. [14] Dunn 2002, p. 58; Jones 2010, pp. 62, 80; Rubin 2006, p. 124 [15] Postan Michael (1975). The Medieval Economy and Society, 172 (1975); Tuck J. A. "Nobles, Commons and the Great Revolt of 1381" in The English Rising of 1381, Cambridge University Press 212 (1987). [16] Tuck 1987, pp. 203–205. [17] Sumption 2009, p. 430. [18] Tuck 1987, pp. 208–209; Sumption 2009, p. 430. [19] Hilton Rodney, Bondmen Made Free: Medieval Peasant Movements and the English Rising of 1381, 231 (1195); Tuck 1987, p. 210 [20] Dyer 2009, p. 291 [21] Dunn 2002, p. 147; Hilton 1995, p. 232.

-- InbarAsif - 27 Sep 2014



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r2 - 27 Sep 2014 - 19:48:32 - InbarAsif
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