The Peasant’s Revolt has to set in the context of the dramatic social changes wrought by the plague. When the Black Death came to England in 1349 it was a source of both immediate misery and future opportunity for those who survived. Estimates of the numbers who died range from a quarter to a half of the population, but whatever the true proportion it had the most dramatic effect on the organisation of society. The immediate result was a widespread transfer of property and consolidation of wealth as the lucky survivors inherited. This consolidation aided people a long way down the social scale, for a man inheriting no more than a couple of oxen and a plough was considerably better off than a man with none.
Most importantly, the country went from being one with an oversupply of labour – England prior to the Black Death was probably as well populated as it was in any time before 1700 – to a country where labour was scarce. Landowners were suddenly faced with a new economic world. They had either lost many of their workers through death or were faced with serfs who were no longer obedient and frequently
absconded, often lured to work as free men by other landowners, or drawn to the anonymity of the towns. Landowners had to employ free men who demanded what were considered extortionate wages. The Statute of Labourers of 1351 was a forlorn attempt to keep things as they had been before the Black Death by restricting wages but, like all attempts to buck fundamental economic forces, it failed.
It is probably not overly sanguine to see English society in the late medieval period after the Black Death as a golden age for the common man. Not only was labour scarce and land plentiful, but the great enclosure movement was still in the future and a very large proportion of the population were, to a large extent, their own masters as they worked their land. Even where labour services were still performed, they were not crushing, being commonly 40 days work in a year. Moreover, agricultural work is seasonal, especially the arable, and for substantial parts of the year there is relatively little to do on a farm.
Beyond agriculture, many people had a large degree of control over their daily lives. This was the time before industrialisation, before the wage-slave and the factory. Skilled craftsmen were often their own masters, and even those who worked for a master will have organised their own time because they worked from their homes. Indeed, most English men and women today almost certainly have far less control of their time than the average mediaeval inhabitant of England.