All this talk about optimism and pessimism is itself a dismal fall from the old talk about right and wrong. Our fathers said that a nation had sinned and suffered like a man. We say it has decayed, like a cheese. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the English - Helene Guerber

The Peasants' Revolt

Edward III. was succeeded on the throne of England by his grandchild Richard II., the son of the valiant Black Prince. The new king was then only ten years old, so his uncles wondered how he would behave during the long coronation services. But he was so handsome and obedient that they had no trouble with him. He did everything they bade him; still, the tedious ceremonies tired him so much that he had to be carried off to bed. Little kings cannot take their ease and lie abed as long as they choose; so the men soon roused Richard again, to preside over a grand banquet, where his health was drunk, and where he had to listen to long speeches.

Windsor Castle, from the Thames.

As the king was far too young to reign himself, his three uncles, the Dukes of York, Lancaster, and Gloucester, had all the power, but unfortunately they did not always agree.

The wars in France and in Scotland still required much money, and Parliament was called upon to supply it, and also to pay for the expensive coronation festivities. As the existing taxes were not enough to meet all these demands, it was decided that every person over fifteen should pay a shilling to the king. For the rich this was a mere trifle; but there were many poor who earned so little that it was impossible for them to pay it.

The news of this tax, therefore, caused great dismay and indignation among the working classes; and when the tax-collectors came, roughly demanding their money, they were received with scowls and threats. They finally came to the house of a blacksmith named Wat Tyler. He had a daughter of fourteen, who was so tall and womanly-looking that the men insisted upon her paying one shilling too.

In vain she protested that she was only fourteen. The tax-collector not only refused to believe her, but actually began to ill-treat her. The girl's screams, however, were heard by her father, who rushed out of his forge, hammer in hand, and in his anger killed the collector.

When the tax-collector's friends came to arrest Wat Tyler, they found him surrounded by his poor neighbours, who swore they would protect him because he had killed the man in defending his child. Excited by this event and by the speeches of another workman, Jack Straw, and of a poor preacher, John Ball, these men, with nearly one hundred thousand others from many parts of England, finally decided to march to London. They wanted to tell the king that they could not pay the tax, and to beg him to make new laws so they should no longer be forced to work for their lords without receiving wages.

The mob entered London, and after wandering about the streets helplessly, burned a few houses, and destroyed all the papers and records which the lawyers kept in the Temple. They also declared that strangers had no business in England; so they stopped all the passers-by, and killed those who could not pronounce "bread and cheese" with the proper English accent.

Their clamours terrified the Londoners, and for a while no one knew what to do. Strange to relate, the young king, who was but fifteen years old, was the only one who kept his presence of mind. As his uncles were all away, Richard made a proclamation, saying he would meet the rebels on a plain outside the city, on the next day, to hear their complaints.


Front Matter

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee