Jacquerie Peasant RevoltMello, Oise, France
After the capture of the French king by the English during the Battle of Poitiers in September 1356, power in France devolved fruitlessly among the Estates-General and John's son, the Dauphin, later Charles V. The Estates-General was too divided to provide effective government and their alliance with King Charles II of Navarre, another claimant to the French throne, provoked disunity amongst the nobles. Consequently, the prestige of the French nobility sank to a new low. The century had begun poorly for the nobles at Courtrai (the "Battle of the Golden Spurs"), where they fled the field and left their infantry to be hacked to pieces; they were also accused of having given up their king at the Battle of Poitiers. The passage of a law that required the peasants to defend the châteaux that were emblems of their oppression was the immediate cause of the spontaneous uprising. This rebellion became known as "the Jacquerie" because the nobles derided peasants as "Jacques" or "Jacques Bonhomme" for their padded surplice, called a "jacque".
The peasant bands attacked surrounding noble houses, many of which were only occupied by women and children, the men being with the armies fighting the English. The occupants were frequently massacred, the houses looted and burnt in an orgy of violence which shocked France and ravaged this once prosperous region.
The nobles’ response was furious. Aristocracy from across France united together and formed an army in Normandy which was joined by English and foreign mercenaries, sensing payment and a chance to loot the defeated peasants. The Parisian forces fought hardest before breaking, but within minutes the entire army was nothing but a panicked rabble blocking every street away from the castle. Refugees from the Jacquerie army and Meaux spread out across the countryside where they were exterminated along with thousands of other peasants, many innocent of any involvement in the rebellion, by the vengeful nobles and their mercenary allies.