How did they feel about the monarchy and living under lords? Were they are aware of alternative political structures? Did they believe their lives were fair?

  • Hard to say. The easy answer is that they didn't know any different. However, I can think of at least two occassions when they did try to introduce something different: in 1381 there was a revolt to overthrow feudalism, and in the period 1640-1660 there were lots of radical movements which aimed at greater equality.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 11:12
  • Very interesting. +1. It was the time the Great Vowel Shift went through too.
    – user12387
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 20:25
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    This is a good question. I don't know why you guys are so eager to close questions. I have read books on emerging political consciousness of various classes. In this case, an answer could site things like Lollardy, the Peasants Revolt, whether the ideas of John Ball were remembered by peasants a generation later, etc. I would write it myself if I had the books on my shelf and this wasn't on hold.
    – Mike
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 1:37
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    I suspect this is answerable given that we've got Lollardy and the revolt slightly later. Commented May 26, 2015 at 9:53
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    @Tom There is the set of texts from the Piers Plowman Tradition, but some of the more overtly political ones like Of Gentylnes and Nobylyte or Jack of the North date from the sixteenth century.
    – Mike
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 22:46

1 Answer 1


There were popular uprisings by English peasants (and other common folk) against the monarchy in the years preceding the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487). These rebellions give an indication of the political consciousness of some English peasants in the 15th century. The period from 1440-1480 was a time of economic depression in England known as the Great Slump. The economic hardships form the background to the rebellions.

In the spring of 1450, Jack Cade from Kent led a rebellion against the unpopular King Henry VI. Historians agree Cade was a member of the lower ranks of society. Cade's rebellion stemmed from grievances about corruption and the abuse of power by the king's regime and the king's advisers. However, Cade did not advocate an end to the monarchy. A manifesto produced by the rebellion led by Jack Cade stated:

we blame not all the lordys… ne all gentyllmen, ne yowmen, ne all men of law, ne all bysshops, ne all prestys, but all such as may be fownde gylty by just and trew enquiry and by the law.

Jack Cade is a character in Shakespeare's play Henry VI, Part 2. Shakespeare used Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles (1587) as a source. Holinshed described the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 in England. Shakespeare used this material for scenes in Act 4

details such as having people killed because they could read, and promises of setting up a state with no money

Following the suppression of Cade's rebellion, John and William Merfold from Sussex (small scale victuallers from Salehurst) led a more radical rebellion in the autumn of 1450. According to Wikipedia:

Both were indicted in 1451 after publicly inciting the killing of the nobility, clergy, and the deposition of King Henry VI. They also advocated rule by common people. Minor uprisings spread throughout Sussex until authorities intervened and four yeomen were hanged.

So, John and William Merfold and their followers, some of whom were peasants, advocated an alternative political structure -- rule by common people:

During Easter week in the Spring of 1451 men gathered at Rotherfield, Mayfield, and Burwash within Sussex, and in some settlements within Kent. Most were young, and their number included artisans such as carpenters, skinners, masons, thatchers, dyers, tailors, smiths, cobblers, weavers, shingelers, tanners, butchers and shoemakers. Indictments show that only few were agricultural laborers or husbandmen, and fewer still were landless. The rebels demanded that King Henry VI of England be deposed, all lords and higher clergy be killed, and that 12 of their own number be appointed to rule the land. John and William Merfold

  • @KentaroTomono, You're welcome. I first learned about these rebellions from Robin Neillands' book The Wars of the Roses (See Chapter 4, "Rebellions (1450-53)", pp. 52-62). Commented May 31, 2015 at 14:43

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