The late fourteenth century was an age of popular rebellion. The Black Death of 1348 opened a long period of economic wretchedness, characterised by epidemic disease, depopulation and deflationary recession. Almost everywhere, these problems were aggravated by war, bringing appalling physical destruction and crushing burdens of taxation in its wake. The Peasants’ Revolt, which engulfed eastern England in June 1381, was far from unique. The French Jacquerie of 1358, the Parisian revolution of the same year, the rising of the Ciompi in industrial Florence in 1378, the urban revolutions that divided Flanders for six years between 1379 and 1385, and the tax rebellions in Paris and the northern cities of France in the early 1380s all occurred against a common economic background. Contemporaries were uncomfortably aware of how much they had in common.
The immediate occasion for the English rebellion was the poll tax that had been voted by the Northampton parliament of November 1380 in order to finance the campaign of the king’s uncle, Thomas, Earl of Buckingham, in France. The tax was widely and bitterly resented for a number