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Question: Is there any economic reason they would be unable to do this / some unforeseen way it would ultimately come back to bite them? Ultimately they want to let their peasants live rent-free in return for volunteering to fight when needed / provide labor to fix up the town and other benefits.

Note: military / strategic and external factors, including whether they can resist the King and remain free are not at issue. the King is going to attempt to reconquer the rebellious land. But due to winter and logistical reasons the soonest that can be started is 6 months later. In the interim, the rebels will have a free hand to conduct their social experiment

Scenario

A large city (~1 million) and it surrounding province has recently overthrown their rulers, and for good measure the other minor nobles, landlords, debt collectors and anyone else they felt were preying on them. Assumptions of this scenario are:

  1. All land in the Kingdom, including this now former Duchy are/were ultimately the King's land, following the pattern of Medieval land ownership rights. Parcels of it are awarded by hereditary titles to the Barons, Dukes and other major nobility in the Kingdom. In return the King is entitled to call on these nobles for fighting men and other aid in times of war. Normally the King does not have taxes except to address specific needs and these are temporary in nature.
  2. Said nobles employ tenant farmers to work the fields, charging rent to build their wealth in the form of produce or in-kind labor. In the province that rebelled, the highest noble imposed a permanent provincial tax, and the minor nobles in the province are shifting the burden of this cost onto the peasants to protect their interests. Similar situation to the urban dwellers of the city, with needlessly high rents (50%) charged.
  3. The now free province claims the land for themselves, and as a way to inspire loyalty in the uneasy population has exiled the nobles and taken their property. They want to abolish rent and debts related to these lands completely.
  4. The free province has an abundance of coin, and is able to supplement this with duties on trade as merchant ships regularly trade at this city.
  5. This is a mid to late medieval era (1200s - 1300s), pre-industrial civilization.
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    $\begingroup$ This would be the correct use of the reality-check tag, but it's missing the rules of your world to compare the scenario against. Asking whether or not the scenario compares to Real Life is forbidden by the tag (because that's not what we do here). So, as @sphennings mentioned, what are the rules of your world? The reason it didn't happen on Earth through most of the Medieval period is that the nobles had their armies and the peasants didn't. Pretty easy to fix the problem when you own all the guns. How would the peasants stop the nobles in your world? (*continued*) $\endgroup$ Sep 25 at 4:39
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    $\begingroup$ Live rent-free in exchange for military service and labor to maintain the town + other benefits? How is that not rent in medieval times? It's not a percentage of the crop, but close enough. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck... $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Sep 25 at 4:39
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    $\begingroup$ ... It's worth noting that on Earth the peasants eventually did "ban the rent." We have scenarios like the French Revolution. But this took place when there were both enough people, enough military support, and enough of a balance between the "firepower" of the people and the "firepower" of the nobles that it couldn't be stopped. $\endgroup$ Sep 25 at 4:40
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    $\begingroup$ P.S. The 3 million newly made small land owners will not volunteer their labor and their food. If the city dwellers want to eat they will have to pay for the food. If they want to dig a ditch, they will have to pay for the labor. If the city wants to exploit the peasants, it must subdue them by force. Yes, there were cities which were at the top of the feudal hierarchy; Venice comes to mind. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 25 at 8:00
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    $\begingroup$ If the new freedmen expect that the King intends to reconquer in some future campaign, that's not social-experiment time. That's prepare-for-war time. Select leaders, plan a strategy, stock food, recruit allies, raise cash, obtain weapons, construct fortifications and defenses, train militia, create a communications network, etc. Lots and lots of work to do right now. The survivors can argue about ownership if they win. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Sep 25 at 14:07
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Peasants aren't stupid. They don't volunteer to fight/die unless there is something in it for them. Cutting out rent you're not actually entitled to charge isn't a good deal unless it's backed by military force, in which case it still isn't a good deal but everyone will pretend it is.

The peasants know the King will be coming back, and they'll be grabbing whatever they can and burying it or leaving. If the urban folk want the peasants on their side 100% they need to share a bit of wealth and prove they can beat the returning king and protect them. Because when the king comes back, the peasants are the ones in harms way first.

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Why would the peasants agree that someone else owns their land? They may want to rent out their own land to people, or sell it, and not work as free slave labour for the people of the city.

An obvious way it could backfire is the king could say "Hey, these dirty city folk are screwing you over. You can live as free peasants, and sell us all your food."

Then the king gets the food, and the city starves to death. In six months, their army easily wipes out the weakened and starving city.

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  • $\begingroup$ They don't. Legally, the king owns all the land, which is then split up for tenants, who split it further until it reaches the peasant. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Sep 25 at 15:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Mary: Nep's answer obviously refers to the situation after the rebellion, when the city demands free food, soldiers and labor from the farmers. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 25 at 17:29
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Ha ha... Their chances aren't good.

You see, the problem with rebelling against the king while having 6 months of spare time is that there's a good chance money won't save you, let's look at this from certain aspects that tie in directly with economic factors:

  • Military. You rebelled against the king and did things that will get him, all of his nobles and all of their noble's vassals against you. Not because you're taking the king's land, but because you preemptively attacked nearby nobles and is clearly agaisn the system they run. In other words, you're a threat (especially for the nearby nobles) and needs to be trampled ASAP to ensure stability to the system. This means that the chances of the king not being able to gather a decent military force as soon as possible due to nobles deciding not to join in are slim, because you've shown every member of nobility you might go for them next if you feel like they're a threat. Furthermore, you have to build an army from the ground, with only your townsfolk and the peasants to serve as soldiers. In this scenario, money isn't the problem here, time is, because you'll most likely be outnumbered and can't afford to waste any chance of getting more well trained ground forces. Proper military forces take time to train, especially regarding more elite positions such as experienced bowmen and professional knights (both of which were normally trained from a young age), which require both a grater sum of money and many more years of training to be made than your "disposable" peasant Frontline soldier with only enough training on how to not kill himself with his spear (which is also why loosing a bowman or a knight was normally bad, they're not easily replaceable and chances are you can get a ransom for them, at least regarding the knights). Your best bet now is finding trained mercenaries to make a private army, much like kings started doing near the end of the medieval period. If mercenaries are not an option, you'll have to stick to some good guerilla tactics to have any chance, because it'll be a bunch of poorly trained soldiers against a larger, more well trained and potentially more well equipped opposing army that likely doesn't plan on leaving survivors.

  • Political. You know how the stock market can fall in a country experiencing internal turmoil? Same here. The king and his nobles may need 6 months to begin assembling their forces, but letting their territories know that anyone who trades with the rebels will be banished as traitors at best and hanged at worst takes a lot less time. Merchant guilds might avoid trading with your city now, because there's a decent chance they'll face retaliation from nearby powers, both physically and economically speaking. If the nearby regions aren't ruled by idiots or stereotypical evil movie nobles with only half a functional brain thanks to inbreeding, there's a chance they'll try to use their available political, military and economic power to begin strangling the city before engaging it. They need to make an example out of you after all.

  • Social. There's a good chance your city will rely on peasants in a way or another, because trading will most likely be affected and nobody unwilling to piss the king and the nobles off will want to associate with your city. Come in the peasants: as far as your description goes, it doesn't seem like the peasants had a lot of participation in the decision-making of the whole thing. As far as it might seem, you're rebelling against the king and nobles and then trying to drag them into the hole with you. There's also another problem: sure, they'll live rent free an only be bothered when they need help with construction or military matters... such as right now, right after you've began taking down the nobles, which is the only reason you need them to help you out at this moment anyway.

Furthermore, unless you show them your well paid mercenary army chances are that all they'll see is a prideful city trying to rebel against the nobles and the king while asking them to join their fragile cause, one which lacks the proper military power to back it up.

  • Religion. The entire situation becomes extra bad if your medieval world has similar relations with religion like some European countries had with catholicism, because the church can stand even atop the nobles in certain cases (being considered as above them in the hierarchy since they save everyone's souls), as nobody wants to go to hell. In such a scenario, if the priests don't side with your rebellion and say you're being controlled by the devil, chances are that neither will the peasants, especially if you respond to such words by doing to the priests what you did to the nobles. Now the city would have reduced trading, reduced food availability, every member of nobility out to get them and a mob of angry peasants trying to end them.

  • Security. Remember why feudal relationships came to be in the first place? With how invasions and pillaging were happening left and right? Well if your world also has that you'll need to worry with yet another problem, and the existence of such invasions would make proving to the peasants you can protect them as well as the previous nobles even more important, because everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die unless there's something in it for them in the afterlife.

So summing up, here are the problems I see as most important:

  • you've angered the system itself with your actions and will most likely be outnumbered (don't believe me, see the French revolution an how every other absolutist country nearby wanted it to be over by yesterday at the time).

  • you have very little time to train an effective military force (and that's taking in account that normally peasants had nearly no training, because you'd be better of exploiting that in the enemy forces), and your situation as a single city once part of the king's domains means you can't depend on a victory through sheer numbers. You might have to use a good portion of the money to pay mercenaries to fight for you or at least bulk up and strengthen your forces while convincing them that trampling you, stealing your gold and handing over the region back to the old nobles instead isn't a better business (remember, Mercenaries fight for money, and depending on their morality, money will be important to ensure they remain reliable and loyal to you).

  • trading might be affected since you're now most likely marked as rebels by the majority of the big figures (and their respective regions) nearby.

  • you need the peasants to believe your revolution will be better for them than the old system while proving you're just as capable of offering the same benefits the older system did, such as protection.

  • if religion is an important part of everyone's lives, especially in case of the peasants, you'll need every nearby priest on your side to prevent groups of peasants from rising against your revolution, and if religion doesn't side with you, trying to persuade them through force will likely make the situation even worse.

  • if invasions are a thing, there's a chance that you will need to be capable of dealing with them and the king's forces.

  • there's a risk that the king and his nobles will send assassins to get rid of the revolution leaders in the meantime. Murdering the leader is a fairly common strategy.

All of these affect the economy, because depending on how the peasants, the church, the nobility and the traders see and treat you, you'll need more or less money to make it all work, with a worst case scenario where not even all of the money might not be enough to solve the situation in a favorable way for the rebels.

Also, it might have been obvious already but your social experiments has to wait. 6 months is not a lot of time to go from a large trading city with nearby peasants to a military nation with some properly established defenses and troops, and depending on how similar your medieval world is to our own, you're already behing schedule in terms of what needs to be prepared. Your city is in the place of France during its revolution, meaning everyone wants your revolt trampled, your rebels publicly hanged and their associates dead.

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    $\begingroup$ Upvoted, but I have a nitpick. In medieval times, a city of a million inhabitants plus three to five millions of rural folk is not a small nation. It's a very large nation. Given that this was only one province in the kingdom, that makes the kingdom a large empire. (In real history, there was no city in the entire world with a million inhabitants in the given time frame 1200-1399. Not even close. Only Cairo in the Arabic-speaking world, and Hangzhou and Nanjing in China reached half a million people.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 25 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP no no you're right. I've just fixed that. I was focusing too much on the "single city with nearby agricultural area" bit and forgot to take how big it was population-wise in their context. $\endgroup$ Sep 25 at 19:07
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Actually, historically, the rule was that they had to work. Only freemen paid money rent.

This was de facto altered by having the lord fine peasants who didn't show up. Lords preferred this because then they could hire workers who knew failure to do the work meant no more work, whereas you could not dispossess a peasant for being a slacker.

Peasants took the fines because they preferred control of their time and could make enough in the time freed up to pay.

So your basic problem is that history shows they want it to go the other way.

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It might not be possible to do what you want in just 6 months, because this time will be better spent on preparation for King's troops coming to deal with the rebellion. However, your desired social organisation is possible in a long run.

I would suggest looking at the history of cossacks (more specifically Russian Cossacks). They were autonomously governed free people in the Russian Empire who owned their land and had a set of privileges in exchange for mandatory military service.

Economically it is feasible to have militarised communities that own their farming land and can be mobilised for war (cossacks lands were like this). However, this kind of setup works the best if you are defending your territory and not expanding it.

Some taxes still have to be collected to pay for wars, public necessities (roads, city maintenance, etc.), and to keep the government functioning.

One of the biggest drawbacks of this kind of setup is that farming communities are no longer peasant communities. The farmer-warriors may be inferior to the regular army, but they are still much harder to deal with than peasants. The history of cossack rebellions proves it.


When it comes to providing free manpower for city repairs, it is impossible to justify it economically. The only exception would be if the city provided protection, food, water, and shelter to peasants during the war. However, it would make more sense for the government to collect taxes and pay people for their labour. People will be happier this way.

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