Punishments of the Peasants

When the peasants left London, King Richard II quickly raised a large army and headed for Essex. At the village of Waltham on 23rd June, Richard II issued a statement saying that the charters that he had issued in London, granting peasants their freedom, were no longer valid. Richard argued that, as he had been forced to sign these charters, he did not have to keep his promise to the peasants. When a group of peasants complained, Richard replied "Serfs ye are, and serfs ye shall remain."

The peasants who had marched to London were furious when they heard reports of what King Richard had said in Waltham. Hundreds of them took up arms and decided to demand that King Richard kept his promise.

An army, led by Thomas of Woodstock, John of Gaunt's younger brother, was sent into Essex to crush the rebels. A battle between the peasants and the King's army took place near the village of Billericay on 28th June. The king's army was experienced and well-armed and the peasants were easily defeated. It is believed that over 500 peasants were killed during the battle.

King Richard with a large army began visiting the villages that had taken part in the rebellion. At each village, the people were told that no harm would come to them if they named the people in the village who had encouraged them to join the rebellion. Those people named as ringleaders were then executed.

The king's officials were instructed to look out for John Ball. He was eventually caught in Coventry. He was found guilty of high treason and was hung, drawn and quartered on 15th July.

In September, people living in several villages in the Yalding area became involved in another rebellion. The first stage of the plan was to capture Maidstone. Later, the men hoped to force the king to keep the promises that he gave in the charters distributed during the Peasants' Revolt.

However, John Cote, a mason from the village of Loose, told William Stephens, the Sheriff of Kent, about the plan. When the leaders of the proposed rebellion held a secret meeting at the village of Boughton Heath on 30th September, 1381, they were arrested by the king's soldiers. Nine of these rebels were convicted of treason in January, 1382 and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered.

Primary Sources

(A) Jean Froissart, Chronicles (c. 1395)

The King went to one village called Ospringe, in Kent. He called all the men together. The King said that he knew they were not all guilty of the recent rebellion... so they must say who was responsible. When the villagers heard this and realised that only the guilty would be punished, they looked at each other and at last said: "This is the man who first encouraged the villagers to join the rebels." He was immediately taken and hanged, and so were seven others. Then the King demanded to see the letters he had signed... agreeing to the rebels requests. These letters were then torn up in front of everybody... The king did the same in all other places where there had been rebellion. And more than 1,500 people were hanged or beheaded.

(B) Confession of John Cote (5th October, 1381)

John Cote, mason, of Loose in the parish of Maidstone... confessed that he, together with Thomas Harding of Linton, John Munde of Hunton, John Irish of Farleigh, Robert Monselow of Marden and people from Staplehurst, Yalding, Frittenden, Cranebrook and many other men from Kent met at Boughton Heath... to plan an insurrection against the

king... John Cote confessed that they planned to make all people free... in England.

(C) Sentence passed on nine of the men captured at Boughton Heath on 30th September, 1381.

On account of the horrible treason in imagining and conspiring the death of our King, their bowels shall be torn from their bodies, and before their eyes be burned with fire, and that they be .afterwards hanged. And the body of Thomas Harding... the principle leader... be taken down and beheaded... and that his head be fixed on the outer gate of the King's palace at Westminster.

1. Why were the serfs angry when they heard about what King Richard II had said at Waltham on 23rd June?

2. On the 14th June, King Richard had to give in to the demands of the rebels at Mile End. On 28th June, King Richard easily defeated the rebels at Billericay. Give as many reasons as you can why the rebels were strong on 14th June but weak on 28th June.

3. Study source A. (a) What happened when the King Richard visited Ospringe? (b) What happened when he visited Yalding?

4. Read sources B and C. (a) Why did the people plan to rebel against the king? (b) Explain why John Cote might have told the Sheriff of Kent about the plot to overthrow King Richard.

5. Some historians believe that if different tactics had been used, Wat Tyler's army could have been successful in their plans to destroy the feudal system. What tactics would you have used if you had been Wat Tyler?