‘Arrayed as if for War’: Tactical innovation and technological change in Late Medieval and Early Modern rebellions (1381-1554)
By Alexander Hodgkins
British Journal for Military History, Vol.4:3 (2018)
Abstract: Rebellion in Late-Medieval and Early Modern England has generally been regarded as posing little military threat to the realm, with conflicts between loyalists and insurgents commonly dismissed as one-sided routs of hopelessly outclassed, poorly armed peasants. More detailed investigation, however, suggests that rebels could be tough and resourceful opponents, with access to effective weaponry, training, and leadership, and that government forces faced stiff resistance when suppressing popular insurgencies. By exploring the resources available to uprisings ranging from the Peasants’ Revolt to Wyatt’s Rebellion, this article will also assess their implications for England’s uncertain position within the European military context.
Introduction: Late-medieval and Early Modern England experienced repeated instances of socioeconomic, political, and, increasingly, religious upheaval, which, on several occasions, escalated into open and sustained rebellion against the Crown, its policies, or its local representatives. The first of these hitherto unseen outbreaks of popular disorder erupted in 1381, when the Great or Peasants’ Revolt united vast numbers of the realm’s inhabitants against harsh taxation to fund England’s wars with France and repressive labour laws imposed in the aftermath of the Black Death.
This widespread and dangerous uprising was followed, after an interval of almost seventy years, by Jack Cade’s revolt of 1450, which took place on the eve of the civil conflicts subsequently known as the Wars of the Roses, and articulated popular grievances concerning the costs and outcomes of campaigns in France and Henry VI’s political mismanagement.
Top Image: 1381 Peasants’ Revolt – British Library MS Royal 18 E. I, f.165v