Until now the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 is largely believed to have been led by a mob of rebel men, but new research shows women played an important role in orchestrating violence against the government.
Today people are used to the idea of women being in the military. Some are already pressing for the right to fight on the front line.
But there’s a growing feeling historians have overlooked their role in medieval rebellions like 1381′s Peasants Revolt.
On 14 June 1381, rebels dragged Lord Chancellor Simon of Sudbury from the Tower of London and brutally beheaded him.
Outraged by his hated poll tax, the insurgents had stormed into London looking for him, plundering and burning buildings as they went.
It was the leader of the group who arrested Sudbury and dragged him to the chopping block, ordering that he be beheaded.
Her name was Johanna Ferrous.
In court documents she was described as “chief perpetrator and leader of rebellious evildoers from Kent”. She also ordered the death of the treasurer, Robert Hales.
As well as leading the rebels into London, she was charged with burning the Savoy Palace – the grandest townhouse in London at the time – and stealing a chest of gold from a duke.
So why are women like Ferrous largely hidden from popular history, yet charismatic rebel leaders such as the “mad priest” John Ball and Wat Tyler dominate in the history books?
Some historians now suggest that sexist attitudes permeated medieval history.