The feudal system in medieval England compelled peasants to spend a certain amount of time working for free for large landowners. Many were also barred from leaving their area without permission and had to pay to get married. This semi-slavery, or serfdom, gave the landed gentry vast power.
Things began to change after the Black Death cut the population in half in 1348, according to estimates. The resulting labour shortage gave surviving peasants power to demand better wages.
But as the peasantry gradually became better off, Parliament tried to shore up serfdom using laws fixing wages, and increasing punishments for serfs who ran away. Meanwhile, it also drove through a series of taxes to cover the cost of wars with France.
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The most unpopular was the poll tax of the 1370s, levied at a flat rate on everyone over 15 (so peasants paid a higher proportion of their income than the wealthy). Tensions exploded in 1381 when an official tried to collect taxes from villages near Brentwood in Essex.
The subsequent revolt swept the countryside. By June, led by Jack Straw and Wat Tyler, the peasants had entered the City of London and forced King Richard II to agree to their demands, including the abolition of serfdom and the end of the poll tax. The king reneged on his promises after Tyler was killed and the revolt crushed.
However, most historians agree that the revolt accelerated the decline of serfdom, although the last serfs were not freed until as late as 1571. And no government attempted to levy a pure poll tax again until the ill-fated Community Charge of the late 1980s.
Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.
He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.
Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.
As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.
Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri
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