The English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 has a continuously re-envisioned history. An event with the appeal of an extraordinary and dramatic social revolution cannot hide from interpretation and narration. The story was once solely reliant on a handful of narratives written by contemporary or near-contemporary writers, but since the 19th century historians have relied also on official records created at the time of the rebellion, which seemed to promise a less biased and more objective view. The textual sources themselves change over time.
This is an account of one archival source, a petition to King Richard II, which has been absent from history, trapped in the clutches of its custodial practices, and in the assumption of its non-existence. The petition provides one small but authentic view of the aims and demands behind the revolt. Since the revolutionaries of the 14th century largely spoke through their actions very little documentary evidence otherwise remains. Continue reading