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Survivors of the plague, which had greatly reduced Europe's workforce, demanded higher pay and better conditions. Many peasants, labourers and smallholders secured higher wages. But there were more wars, and the cost of maintaining armies soared. As a result, people had to pay more taxes.

Most peasants lived in great poverty. They ate mainly porridge, bread and vegetables, with a little meat or fish occasionally. They became dissatisfied with these harsh conditions and three rebellions happened in the 14th century.

The first revolt was in Flanders (now in Belgium). It began in 1323 and lasted until 1328. The peasants and farmers refused to pay their taxes. The landlords resisted them, and civil war erupted. A French army finally crushed it.

In northern France, the second revolt was a protest against hordes of mercenary soldiers ravaging the countryside in 1358. Known as the Jacquerie because the term of contempt for a peasant was Jacques Bonhomme or 'Goodman Jack', the rebellion was savagely put down. Some 20,000 French peasants were killed.

The third revolt was in England. In 1381 people had to pay a new tax, called Poll Tax, of one shilling. That was a week's wages for a skilled labourer and peasants protested in Essex, Kent and six other counties. Led by Wat Tyler and the priest John Ball, 60,000 Kentish and Essex men marched on London, demanding to see King Richard II. Ball preached to the rebels, 'When Adam dalf (dug) and Eve span, wo was thanne the gentilman?'

The 14-year-old Richard met the rebels on Blackheath (now in south-east London), and agreed to an end to serfdom and better labour conditions. Tyler was killed by the Lord Mayor of London, William Walworth, but Richard prevented an ugly scene by promising to be the rebels' champion. Indeed, he faced the angry mob and shouted 'I will be your leader'. They went away satisfied, but parliament did not honour any of Richard's promises.

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