The Peasants’ Revolt was triggered when John Bampton arrived in Essex to investigate non-payment of the poll tax.
Although sparked by the introduction of a new poll tax, the roots of the Peasants’ Revolt lay in the dramatic social and economic upheaval that had emerged after the devastation of the Black Death. The plague had reached England in 1348 and soon wiped out up to half of the entire population. In the aftermath the surviving peasantry had demanded better wages and conditions, so grew increasingly angry at the government’s attempts to limit such changes.
This resentment was aggravated by the introduction of taxes to fund the English campaign against France in the Hundred Years’ War. Richard II was only ten years old when he inherited the throne in 1377 and his government forged ahead with the introduction of a new poll tax. By the time Parliament passed a third poll tax in 1380 the situation was incredibly volatile.
Many people, especially those in the south-east of the country, refused to pay. This prompted the government to begin investigating those who had not paid. John Bampton and his clerks were greeted by a crowd of villagers determined not to pay any further taxes and, after the officials attempted to arrest their leader, violence broke out.
The revolt quickly spread from Essex to Kent and beyond. Tax collectors and landlords were attacked, while tax records and registers were destroyed. By the time the crowds reached London in mid-June, Wat Tyler had emerged as leader of the Kentish rebels.
After rejecting a series of royal charters granted at Mile End the previous day, Tyler presented a comprehensive set of demands to Richard on 15th June at Smithfield. Tyler was later attacked and killed by members of the royal party, heralding the collapse of the revolt.