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Fourteenth-Century Peasant Revolts Across Europe

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  • 0:05 Europe in the…
  • 2:03 England
  • 3:39 France
  • 4:31 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

Fourteenth-century Europe saw several peasant revolts. This lesson looks at the economic and political conditions that led to these uprisings and names two of the most well-known.

Europe in the Fourteenth Century

Fourteenth-century Europe saw some very negative events. A famine occurred in both Northern and Southern Europe during the early to mid-fourteenth century after excessive rain and frosts devastated crop growth. The population declined even further due to the Black Death. The Black Death was an illness that spread quickly and killed at least a third of the people living in Europe in the fourteenth century.

Because the population declined so quickly, there was a labor shortage. The working class could now demand better wages, but the nobles still attempted to create restrictions on wages while the government imposed higher taxes to fund war efforts. The Hundred Years' War began in 1337. The war was a fight between England and France to gain control over England's territories within French borders. England was dominant during much of the war but ultimately lost control to France over all but one territory.

In addition to the socioeconomic state of Europe, the power of the pope began to decline as well. Disputes erupted over who had more secular power, the pope or the kings. The power of the church was challenged by reformers and a pessimistic working class. Additionally, between 1309 and 1377, the papal court moved from its home in Rome, Italy to Avignon, France.

Once the papacy returned to Rome, arguments over who should be pope led to a Great Schism between two popes. A third was appointed to end the dispute but none of the popes stepped down. Eventually, two popes were removed while the third stepped down, and a new pope was appointed. Although the situation was resolved, the call for reform and arguments among the highest officials of the church led to doubt and confusion regarding the church's authority.

Death, political unrest, and religious confusion were felt across Europe in the fourteenth century. Peasants felt they were bearing the worst of the times, and soon revolts erupted across Europe.

England

One of the most well-known revolts occurred in June of 1381. In 1377, King Richard II forced a poll tax on peasants to help finance his military in foreign ventures. Another poll tax was issued two years later, in 1379. Yet another poll tax was issued within this timeframe that left peasants paying different amounts. Peasants felt the weight of the taxes and were increasingly angry at the unfairness of the taxes issued. After all, King Richard at the time was only a teenager.

After the Black Death ravaged Europe, there was a shortage of laborers to work the land. Peasants were able to demand fair wages for their work. However, nobles began to fight to re-gain control over land and take away the peasants' freedom. Additionally, peasants were still paying heavy taxes to help fund the Hundred Years' War between England and France.

In 1351, King Edward III (the current king of England) passed a law that limited the wages of peasants to those that existed before the plague occurred. Those who broke the new rule were punished with fines or being placed in stocks. Fed up with the taxes and the unfair treatment, peasants captured the Tower of London.

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