ON THIS DATE in 1381, fourteen-year-old King Richard II squelched the Peasant’s Revolt in England.
The rebellion had occurred in response to a government poll tax (a tax levied on every adult, without reference to their income or resources). Led by Wat Tyler and Jack Straw, 60,000 rebels marched on London, demanding an end to the poll tax, an end to serfdom, and the right to freely use forests for hunting.
The rebels had destroyed John of Gaunt’s Savoy Palace and had the king and his ministers trapped in the Tower of London when Richard II agreed to meet with Tyler and his men. The king initially conceded to the rebel’s demands, including amnesty for those involved in the uprising, but the rebellion collapsed after Tyler was twice slashed by swords during an altercation with the king’s men; he rode a little ways away, and then collapsed and was decapitated.
Tyler’s death and the dispersement of many of his men ended the rebellion. Although the poll tax was abolished, Richard withdrew his other promises and the leaders of the rebellion were brutally executed.
Although he double-crossed the rebels, Richard is given high marks by historians for crushing the uprising and strengthening the monarchy. The rest of Richard II’s reign was marked by political bungling, however, and Richard II was disposed by his cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, in 1399. The disgraced king died in captivity a year later. Many believe he was murdered.