Medieval Conflict, Protest, and Catastrophe (MR 179-202)

The Peasants' Revolt painting We will be focusing primarily on two writings involving the state of the poor in the late Medieval period in England as examples of the conflict present in the class society and structure of the time. The poem by der Vogelweide makes for an interesting opening reflection on issues of human nature, class, and equality. You will want to do some background reading on both the Great Revolt of 1381 and the Lollard movement, so be sure to follow the links below:

“My Brother Man” by Walther von der Vogelweide (MR 194)

  1. In what ways are people, regardless or station or religion, essentially alike according to der Vogelweide?
  2. What makes this a surprising insight for a man of the 13th century?

“The Peasants’ Revolt in England ” (MR 179-193)

You will find it helpful to read some background on The Great Revolt of 1381 ( Tyler’s Rebellion). See the following links:

Peasants' Revolt 1381 overview    Conflagration     John Ball     Wat Tyler

Key Events (recorded in this selection from Anonimalle Chronicle):

  • Third Tariff assessed by the King’s ministers.
  • Wat Tyler (Wat Teghler) of Maidstone chosen as leader of rebellion, and the rebellion demands Archbishop of Canterbury’s life.
  • Lollard priest John Ball leads revolt; they attack Thomas Haselden’s properties for his association with John of Gaunt.
  • Great protest gathers at Blackheath and demands meeting with the king, Richard II.
  • King sends a representative and learns that under John Ball the people are speaking of the execution of all nobles.
  • The revolt comes Southwark and attacks Marshalsea prison and the Lambeth palace of the archbishop.
  • On June 13th, the rebellion attacks a manor of the Hospitallers, a Flemish brothel (?), Fleet Street prison, and Savoy palace of John of Gaunt, and other assorted places.
  • The rebellion surrounds the Tower of London where the king is protected. Crowds reject the king’s hollow offers.
  • On June 14th, the rebellion swells in number. Richard II agrees to meet with Tyler as their representative. Tyler and others seize and behead the archbishop.
  • Tyler agrees to meet with the Richard II’s party at Smithfield .
  • A fight breaks out between Tyler and the Mayor of London; Tyler is mortally wounded.
  • The king convinces the crowd to come to Clerkenwell Fields. But they are surrounded by the Mayor’s militia. Tyler is located and beheaded, and the crowd is frightened into surrendering.
  • The Mayor is knighted by Richard II.


  1. How would you characterize the interchange between Tyler and Richard II? Do you think it actually happened in this way?
  2. What is motivating Ball, Tyler, and the crowds (the commons)?
  3. Do you have any sympathy for their protests? Why and/or why not?

“Piers Plowman’s Protest” from Piers Plowman by William Langland

Click here for more information on Langland and the Lollards.

 Keep in mind as you read this selection from Piers Plowman, that Langland is using allegory and symbolism to make his point. Piers represents the average poor worker; Do Well, Conscience, and Charity represent particular character qualities that are necessary for the just society to be truly present. 

Medieval peasant plownig fields


  1. In the first selection, how does Piers warn the rich about their status at Judgment Day? What does this suggest about the way the lower classes felt about upper class actions?
  2. What is Pies' view of the friars and the priests? What has happened between Francis of Assisi's time and his?
  3. What is the relationship between pride and poverty? Do you agree?
  4. What is Piers' view of the papacy? How would he amend it?
  5. Describe in your own words the quality of charity in the final selections.
  6. How does Langland use scripture and worship texts to support his views? (see below)
  7. What is the relationship between the attitudes of Langland's poems and that of the Great Revolt?

Latin phrases in Langland selection:

ecce audivimus illum in Ephrata invenimus illum in regione saltus (Psalm 131: 6 Vulgate c/ w/ Ps 132:6)

"Behold we have heard of it in Ephrata: we have found it in the fields of the wood."

qui pluit super justos et injustos (Matthew 5::45)

"who makes it rain on the just and unjust ..."

nolite fieri sicut hypocritae tristes (Matthew 6:16)

"be not as the hypocrites, sad ..."

beatus est dives qui (Luke 6:20)

"Blessed are you who are poor ..."

In pace, in idipsum, dormiam (from the Requiem mass)

"In peace, in true peace, I shall sleep and rest ..."