By Danielle Sabatka
Distinguished Senior Thesis, Pacific University, 2008
Introduction: England in the fourteenth century was in a transitional phase, experiencing social changes as a result of multiple factors, including an outbreak of the plague in 1348, the ongoing Hundred Years War, and challenges to traditional societal organization. The Peasants’ Revolt was one of the results of these stresses, when in the summer of 1381 rebels marched to and gained control of London. The chronicles written at the time of the revolt reveal that the rebels expressed many of the same ideals that resonate in the Robin Hood ballads written following the revolt. These revolve around the clergy and religion, social and political power relations, economic disparity between the haves and have-nots, and loyalty to the king. While the revolt ultimately failed, it led to the coalescing of the Robin Hood motifs, and turned a popular folk figure into a representation of the rebels’ desired changes. The ballads of Robin Hood allowed the rebels to express their aspirations that became an important contribution to English culture and literature by the lower classes. In the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, Englishmen and women expressed their dissatisfaction with the government as people from different areas and social classes came together and demonstrated their desire for a more egalitarian society, without the governance of corrupt nobles and clergymen. While the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt ultimately failed, it led to the inclusion of the peasants’ aims into the earliest medieval Robin Hood ballads. Through these ballads and the mythical character of Robin Hood, lower class rebels had an impact on society in medieval and early modern England.