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Oppression, struggle and discontent have been the root of Peasants' Revolts throughout all of history. This discontent surfaced particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries, resulting in around 10 major Revolutions including the American Revolution (1765–1783), the French Revolution (1789–1799), The Russian Revolution, and many more!
What caused such an uproar from the lower classes? What consequences arose from their occurrence, and what significance does each hold today?
The 18th century is marked as an intense period of revolution and rebellion against existing governments, between The years 1750 and 1900, the lower classes revolted, leading to the establishment of new nation-states around the world.
This period is often referred to as the Age of Revolution, the timeline below exhibits why this is the case!
|1775-84||The American Revolution.|
|1784-1799||The French Revolution.|
|1789-1804||The Haitian Revolution.|
|1821-33||The Greek War of Independence.|
|1896-98||The Philippine Revolution.|
|1905-17||The Russian Revolution(s).|
Often referred to as the Wat Tyler Rebellion, the Peasant's Revolt of 1381 is one of the most famous revolts in English history. Centred in East Anglia and southeastern countries, the revolt began on 13 May 1381. On this day, Wat Tyler and the rebels marched to and reached London where they opened conflict. After the massacre, the government appeared more willing to negotiate the terms of the rebels' requests for equality.
King Richard II met with a group of rebels at Mile End, just outside of London, and made false promises of free trade, cheaper land, and the end to forced labour and serfdom. Whilst the King was absent from the centre of London, another group of rebels entered the Tower of London. This conflict escalated quickly and resulted in the deaths of the chancellor, Archbishop Simon of Sudbury, and treasurer, Sir Robert Hales. These two figures were blamed for the recent Poll Tax, the catalyst that began the Revolt.
Causes of the Peasants' Revolt
Many contextual elements were at play behind the scenes of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, and although at first glance the Poll Tax receives blame for the Revolt, the circumstances that the Black Death, the Statute of Labourers and the Hundred Year's War had created in England were also major contributors to its occurrence.
The Black Death
The Black Death caused the population of England to decrease by a drastic amount between the years 1346-1353, with a drop of around 50-60%. As the population dropped, the economy shifted. Food prices lowered, and the need for labourers was at an all-time high. Because of this, labourers began to bargain their wages, and most workers requested a higher wage as their time became more valuable.
Those who survived the crisis of the Black Death were likely to inherit both property and land from those in their family who had recently deceased, this impacted the social ladder. Many could now afford to dress in better clothes, and elements of their daily lives such as food were drastically improved. The once rigid hierarchical structure of 1300s England was at risk of breaking down.
Statute of Labourers, 1351
King Edward III introduced the Ordinance of Labourers in 1349, but without success, Edward needed his ordinance to be backed by further means. In 1351, Parliament laid out the Statue of Labourers in support of Edward's vision. Both scriptures detailed a maximum wage for labourers, and the aim behind this was to limit the labourer's demands for higher pay, to squash the lower classes in their fight for equality, and to fortify the social hierarchy that benefitted the rich.
Ordinance of Labourers, 1349
A law that stated employers could not pay workers above the standard amount.
Statute of Labourers, 1351
English Parliament created a law that was meant to regulate labour rates. It banned both offering and requesting a higher wage than the standard.
These actions against the lower-class labourers only angered them more, and the majority of labourers ignored the statute. Civil unrest increased, unstable class divisions began to emerge at higher rates, and the peasantry was enraged by their conditions. These factors all contributed to the push behind the Peasant's Revolt of 1381.Poll Tax As previously mentioned, the Poll Tax introduced in 1381 is the immediate cause of the Peasant's Revolt and the event which pushed the poor classes of England to their breaking point. Since the middle of the 14th century, economic unrest had been spreading across England, and the movement against the unfair system was beginning to emerge through conflict.Many of the Peasants' Revolts that we will address in this article shared similar civil unrest, a few that we will discuss are the French, American, Philippine, and Russian Revolutions.
Why was the period of 1750-1900 so full of revolution?
A lot of changes were at play during this period, changes that altered social status, living conditions, working opportunities and more. These alterations that were occurring worldwide upset the balance of a world that was ridden with unfair social systems that benefitted the rich. A few key changes were...
The rapid rate of urbanisation across the globe, and the powerful concept of capitalism meant that several new issues were surfacing. Challenges such as pollution, an insufficient public health system, rising crime rates, and a lack of infrastructure and housing were rife. And poverty... was at an all-time high.
The feudal system and the unfair conditions that it resulted in for the peasantry were ultimately the reason that peasants wanted more autonomy than their previous governments gave them, leading to their uprising across the globe.
The Feudal System
The Feudal system encompasses the economic, cultural, legal, political and military customs of Europe. Under this system, the king was all-powerful and owned all land.
The advent of modern colonialism began around 1500 not long after Europe discovered a sea route that led them around the African southern coast in 1488 and America in 1492. European nations used colonialism as a means of progressing both politically and economically at a vast rate by exploring, conquering, settling and benefiting from areas of land across the globe. The peasantry, and poverty, were shaped by this system and western colonialism exploited the land and its people.
The Industrial Revolution played a crucial role in the Peasant Revolts during the 18th and 19th centuries.
New development machinery, including internal combustion engines, and steam engines meant that the recently discovered resources that could be transformed into energy could not be utilised. This meant that fossil fuels, mainly oil and coal were now being taken advantage of more easily.
The development of steam-powered industrial production across European countries was also contributing to the increase in global manufacturing.
Industrial Capitalism was now at play, and the standards of living were increased. Because of this, the variety of consumer goods as well as their availability and affordability was being expanded.
In response to the economic and social alterations that were caused by the upscale in industrial capitalism, different organisations wanted reforms in educational, political, social, and urban sectors. These reform efforts were not adopted by the government or the most elite individuals and created a disagreement between the higher and lower classes as they were discontent with the power structures.
Did you know?
It was this that led to the increase in socialism and communism.
Many causes influenced the mass amount of Revolutions during this period, but a common and shared discontent among peasants is with who is in control. The discontent with the monarchist and imperial rule continued to rise, causing the creation of systems of politics and a variety of new ideologies. This included liberalism and democracy.
Peasants were also directly affected by the rise in global warfare as many of them were enlisted to help, "84–88 per cent of the Russian soldiers who took part in the war were peasants". 1 The lower classes were also forced to suffer to pay taxes to recuperate the funds of the nation from the war, and often their towns were destroyed in the conflict. All of which contributed to their rise in discontent.
Global warfare is a conflict that had international sides, wars, and impacts. They often involved major world powers.
Due to the Seven Year's War (1756–1763), the American Revolution (1775-84) and the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714) the French monarchy was in a large amount of debt. To raise this large amount of funds, the king resulted in calling an Estates General, something that could give the king several legislative powers. The king reached this conclusion as the richer classes of France were rejecting spending restrictions. Therefore, the peasantry, who had already suffered from drought, poor harvest, and famine, and who often created the availability of food, would now be subjected to food shortages and unfair tax, hence why these revolts began with the peasantry.
An assembly that held the power to enforce new taxes and reforms in France, the Estates General was made up of three separate estates: the Clergy, the Nobility, and the Commoners.
Did you know?
The Third Estate (the commoners) left to start their own constitution after they were refused entry from the assembly that the Estates General had called. This new constitution became known as the National Assembly and marked the beginning of a revolution.
Causes of the American Revolution
Most revolutionaries had a shared motive, and although they had some similar characteristics, each one was different. So how did the American Revolution differ?
The people of the American Revolution were not strictly peasants but had the aim of making life better for peasants. These people were inspired by thinkers such as Locke and Rousseau, figures closely connected to the Enlightenment. Revolutionary documents such as the American Declaration of Independence which was delivered at the time of the American Revolution, show how the ideas of figures who followed the philosophy of the Enlightenment impacted the Revolt.
This new philosophy provided new ways of understanding, reevaluated religion and the role that it played in everyday life, and brought the importance of reason to light. Through this intense alteration of thought, new political ideas arose.
The Age of Enlightenment
A period in history in which both political and intellectual ideas were questioned and reformed. This movement took place in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Did you know?
The American Revolution started a domino effect of peasant revolutions, specifically, it was an inspiration for both the Haitian and French Revolutions. Therefore, world history has been continuously changed by both unsuccessful and successful peasant revolts.
The Seven Year's War was the primary cause of the American Revolution, the first-ever revolution in modern history.
Seven Years' War
The global conflict between the great powers across Europe. The conflict was mostly located in Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas.
With an English victory, the French were relocated North, further into the Ohio Valley, leaving the English with a greater amount of land to expand the American colonies. But one problem still remained. As we know, war costs a considerable amount of money, and the English were left with a large debt. As the English believed that the Seven Years' War was fought for the colonist, they also believed that they should be the ones that replenish their funds.
With no representation in politics or within the parliament, the colonist had no fair spokesperson to speak on their behalf, causing acts that would negatively affect them to pass. Taxes were levied against the colonists, including the Revenue Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765), and the Tea Act (1773). The disregard for the colonists led to many rebellions that were inspired by the hope of a future with democratic ways.
The American Revolution successfully established a republic, the USA. Its success became a beacon of hope for the peasants' revolts that would follow as it proved that change was possible for the poor classes.
The trend of a postcolonial world emerging from colonised nations was quick to catch on, but not all peasants' revolts had the same outcomes.
Revolutions not only rewrite political systems but can alter how society is structured and works as a whole. For example, the consequences of the newly instated French republic were the downfall of the king's old rule, the once overpowered ruling of the king was now drastically reduced, and the three estates of the nation were now seen as equal to one another. Whereas America's independence, after their political connections to Great Britain ended, resulted in a period of uncertainty, with newly independent nations exploring their rights to free commerce, foreign nation relationships and to make war.
How did the Philippine Revolution of 1896 and its consequences differ?
Consequences of the Philippine Revolution, 1896
The aggressive Spanish rule that had been in place since the 16th century after the Spanish colony was established restricted all areas of life, including religion, politics, and trade. The rebellion fought for independence and the equal rights that this ruling class refused to give out in the Phillippines.
The conflict began in Manila in 1896, spreading across the nation. As a response to the Spanish fleet sinking one of the USA's warships near Cuba, the United States joined the Phillippines' revolt against Spain. The victory of the US over Spain and their later agreement of peace resulted in the US purchasing and colonising the Phillippines, returning the Filipino rebellion back to their original position of oppression...
The Filipinos believed that a US victory would play in their favour, and form independance among the Philippines, but the United States refused their new government. Betrayed by the US, the revolt continued against the United States result in many casualties.
Emilo Aguinaldo, after fighting with the U.S. against Spain, was captured by the U.S. military in 1901 and declared allegiance to the United States. By the end of the Philippine War in 1902, more 40,000 Filipinos and 4,000 American soldiers were dead.
- Great Projects Film Company 2
The Phillippines' journey to independence was not simple, but in 1946, the Philippines became an independent nation when both the Philippines and the US signed the Treaty of Manila which recognised their independence. The timeline below outlines the major events in their progress towards independence.
|1907||The Philippines summoned its first elected assembly.|
|1916||The Jones Act was enacted which outlined the promise of the nation's eventual independence.|
|1935||The archipelago became an autonomous commonwealth.|
|1946||The Philippines became an independent nation.|
An organisation that has political responsibilities.
Not only did the French Revolution end the use of the feudal system, it ultimately disbanded a kingdom and its monarchy. Its significance lies in its establishment of civil laws, and the fairer representation that it provided for all peoples under its government. A common significance across the revolutions that we have touched on in this article is that they also acted as a symbol to unify the people of France as a country.
Similarly, the Philippine Revolution is noted as one of the country's most memorable events throughout history. The Phillippine Revolution sparked nationalism among its people which would be felt for years to come and spread a common goal across the nation: to reject colonialism.
The American Revolution created a nation that valued equality, natural and civil rights, and liberty. Its result of a nation in which responsible citizenship is the basis of its law, and the foundations on which it builds its free society shows its significance to the world's change in power structures.
The power structures that the revolts challenged were established for centuries, such as monarchies and colonialism, and yet as the world emerged into modernity these systems no longer held up. Why was this?
A government in which a monarch is a ruler.
An area that is under partial or full control of another nation, its occupants are often settlers from the ruling nation.
Abolition of monarchies spiked in the 18th century through motives of egalitarianism as well as the belief that monarchies had become anachronistic. Whereas colonies declined due to the revolt of its people who were gaining a sense of nationality, in particular, the British Empire failed to manage its colonies as it was overstretched.
A political philosophy that all people deserve equality.
Something that does not belong to the period that it is presently in.
Significance the Russian Revolution(s) of 1905
|1904||The Russo-Japanese War began.|
|22 January 1905||The Bloody Sunday Massacre took place.|
|27 June 1905||The Battleship Potemkin mutiny took place.|
|5 September 1905||The Russo-Japanese War ended.|
|October 1905||The PSWD (Petrograd Soviet of Workers' Deputies) was established.|
|30 October 1905||The October Manifesto was signed by Tsar Nicholas II.|
|December 1905||Strikes took place as Tsar Nicholas II refrained from creating a republic, and from instituting a constitutional assembly.|
|1906||Tsar regained control as the imperial army returned from war.|
|April 1906||The First Russian Revolution ended as the Fundamental Laws were passed.|
The Fundamental Laws
The new constitution transformed Russia from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one.
Discontent in Russia regarding food shortages, unwanted warfare and disagreement with Tsar Nicholas II's leadership of the nation led to his downfall, and in 1918 he and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks. Tsar Nicholas and his downfall were fundamental to the change in ideology to communism, as it was after his death that communism spread.
The 1917 Russian Revolution was the revolution that followed, and its success in achieving an overall democracy shows the significance of each revolt as the Russian Revolt of 1905 set the foundations it needed for victory. This change to a communist democracy was significant and the effects can still be felt today. Europe today can still be seen with old communist ties still being used in modern warfare (Russia, Belarus, Georgia, etc).
The reinstatement of taxes that had been abolished, including a tax on salt, was one of the causes of the peasant's revolt against the nobles.
1,500 peasants died during the Peasants English revolt of 1381.
The peasant revolts were an uprising against the nobles with the intention of increasing equality and liberty.
The Reformation's change in religion also encouraged personal liberty and equality in all areas of life. This created an opening for the peasants to revolt during this period.
The English Peasants Revolt was led by Wat Tyler. Tyler led the gathering of peasants to London in opposition of the poll tax, demanding reforms socially and economically.
What were the main causes of the American Revolution?
The Age of Enlightenment, and the Seven Years' War.
What were the consequences of the Philippine Revolution in 1896?
Social change, the destruction of oppression, and government changes were the key consequences of the Phillippine revolution, but it also brought to the surface a sense of nationalism among Filipinos.
Which of the following revolutions were not strictly peasant revolts?
The Philippine Revolution took place between 1896 and 1898.
The Ordinance of Labourers in 1349 and the Statute of Labourers in 1351 contributed to the cause of the Peasant's Revolt.
When did the Russian Revolutions begin?
1905, ending in 1917.
When was the French Revolution?
The American Revolution started in 1787.
Which of the following were primary causes for Peasants' Revolts.
Unfair social hierarchies.
Which of the following is NOT correct.
France secured a republic.
A key significance of the Peasants’ revolts was the sense of independence that they created.
Its success became a beacon of hope for the peasants' revolts that would follow, as it proved that change was possible for the poor classes.
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