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The Peasants' Revolt

• By Jeff Thomas

For non-British readers, the word "toff" is a shortened form of "toffee-nosed," a slang term for the rich or upper class. But more important is the reference to the Peasant Revolt of 1381, which is little-known on the western side of the Atlantic.

In fourteenth century England, the cost of ongoing warfare placed politicians in a situation in which they either had to concede the war, cut their own emoluments, or increase taxation significantly. As politicians always do, they chose the latter.

Revenue from the resultant poll tax proved to be less than anticipated, as large numbers of people found ways to evade the tax. The tax commissioners were then given wide latitude in the methods they chose to facilitate collection.

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