A Hotbed for Dissidence: Southeast England in the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381
By Alex Longstreth
Honors Thesis, Vanderbilt University, 2011
Introduction: In June of 1381, thousands of distraught Kentish peasants banded together and assailed the purportedly unjust nobility of the realm. For the first time in English history, Canterbury was sacked and London was occupied by a hostile force. This intense and relatively bloodless episode, now known as the English Peasant’s Revolt, transpired over the course of only two weeks, until its abrupt end upon the death of its rhetorical leader, Wat Tyler. After the termination of the Kentish rebels’ campaign, which the peasants of Essex and the commoners of London supported, small and comparatively inconsequential rebellions continued to occur throughout England for weeks. Because contemporary and modern historians have downplayed the significance of these subsequent revolts, none of them are nearly as memorable as the Southeast’s initial push. Indeed, centuries of attention paid by historians to the Southeast have resulted in the synonymy of the English Peasants’ Revolt with ‘Wat Tyler’s Rebellion.’ This is likely due to to the successes that the peasants of the Southeast achieved. They captured London, Canterbury, and King Richard II, and they forced the king to grant manumissions to all serfs. If we conceded that the impact of the Southeastern revolt led to its historical fame, an important question is raised: What were the causes and circumstances that led not only to the ebullient revolt in Southeast Europe, but also to ist relative success? Upon closer examination of the Peasant’s Revolt, it is puzzling that the Southeast would have been the forerunner in iconoclasm, but this thesis explains why that geographic area was such a hotbed for dissidence.