The year was 1381, and England was engulfed in chaos. A band of ruffians and revolters descended on London to achieve political change and a fair chance for the lower classes who suffered greatly from war and plague. The young King Richard II watched as men like Wat Tyler and the preacher John Ball led this ragtag army to his doorstep, fighting against his advisors, like John of Gaunt, to end a poll tax that was their last straw. Why did this ragtag army march on London? How did men like Ball and Tyler convince the masses to march against their sovereign and his government? How did this revolt end, and did the people get what they wanted due to their revolution? Dan Jones brings the bloody story of the first significant revolution by the English people to life in his book, “Summer of Blood: The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.”
I have been reading books by Dan Jones for a few years now, but I have just read this particular title. The Peasants’ Revolt has always been a footnote or maybe a paragraph in books that I have read about the Plantagenets, John of Gaunt, and Richard II. I wanted a deeper dive into this momentous event in medieval English history, which is precisely what this book provides Jones’ audience.
The Peasants’ Revolt lasted from May to August 1381, sweeping across England, and was one of the most defining moments in English history. The Black Death had ravaged the English countryside, and the ones left had to pick up the pieces. Adding to the stress from the plague, England was at war with their bitter enemy France in the Hundred Years’ War, which the former King Edward III started, and the government was running out of funds. The English government under King Richard II had already created two poll taxes targeting the more affluent members of society. Still, they did not raise enough funds, so they came up with a brilliant idea in 1380 to create a third poll tax targeting the ordinary people of England.
To say the introduction of the third poll tax did not go over well with the people would be an understatement. The people were pissed off at their government, especially men like John of Gaunt, who they considered a tyrant and someone who did not care about the people. The revolt started in the town of Brentwood but soon spread like wildfire throughout Essex; men and women joined the cause to protest against the poll tax and corrupt politicians.
The angry mob would eventually adopt leaders like Wat Tyler, Jack Straw, and John Ball, adding fuel to the fire. They would march on London during the festival of Corpus Christi, looting, damaging homes, and killing those they deemed an enemy of the state. Richard II and his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke were in the Tower of London while the city was on fire and heads were rolling. Jones explains how matters came to a head when the ragtag army faced off against King Richard II’s army at Smithfield, where Wat Tyler fell, and the terror of Richard II rose to prominence.
Dan Jones does a superb job telling the story of the Peasants’ Revolt from the perspective of the ordinary people who marched for a better life and a bit of chaos. This little book contains fascinating facts, anger, blood, and gore that will entice anyone interested in medieval England. If you want a book about the early days of Richard II’s reign and the revolt that caused him to grow up quickly, I would highly recommend you read “Summer of Blood: The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381” by Dan Jones.