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Living and dead Princes
Noah in the Holkham Bible
Harrowing - Luttrell Psalter
Chronicle of the Black Death
Genesis picture book
Langland, Piers Plowman
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
First English cookery manuscript
From the 1340s onwards, the catastrophic plague, known as the Black Death, had swept through England, killing between a third and half of the population. These huge death tolls led to a shortage of labour, and then to major changes in the social structure as agricultural workers were able to demand better treatment and higher wages from their landlords.
Resentment among these workers was simmering when, between 1377 and 1381, a number of taxes were levied to finance government spending. This prompted a violent rebellion in June 1381, known as the Peasants' Revolt. A large group of commoners rode on London, storming the Tower of London and demanding reforms from the young King Richard II. The rebellion would end in failure. A number of important rebels were killed, including their leader Wat Tyler, pictured here. Richard quelled the rebellion by promising reforms but failed to keep his word. Instead, punishments were harsh. Despite its failure, the incident is seen as a defining moment in the history of popular rebellion.
This image is from a manuscript copy of the Chronicles of Jean Froissart (the chronicles cover the years 1322 until 1400; this version was created c.1483). Froissart described the Peasants' Revolt in detail. Here he explains the roots of the rebels' resentment: 'Never was any land or realm in such great danger as England at that time. It was because of the abundance and prosperity in which the common people then lived that this rebellion broke out... The evil-disposed in these districts began to rise, saying, they were too severely oppressed;... [that their lords] treated them as beasts. This they would not longer bear, but had determined to be free, and if they laboured or did any other works for their lords, they would be paid for it.'
Shelfmark: Royal MS 18 E I f.175.