Wat Tyler - Encyclopedia

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WAT TYLER [or ]] (d. 1381), English rebel, a man of obscure origin, was a native either of Kent or of Essex. Nothing definite is known of him previous to the outbreak of the peasant revolt in 1381, but Froissart says he had served as a soldier in the French War, and a Kentishman in the retinue of Richard II. professed to identify him as a notorious rogue and robber of Kent. The name Tyler, or Teghler, is a trade designation and not a surname. The discontent of the rural labourers and of the poorer class of craftsmen in the towns, caused by the economic distress that followed the Black Death and the enactment of the Statute of Labourers in 1351, was brought to a head by the imposition of a poll tax in 1379 and again in 1381, and at the end of May in the latter year riots broke out at Brentwood in Essex; on the 4th of June similar violence occurred at Dartford; and on the 6th a mob several thousands strong seized the castle of Rochester and marched up the Medway to Maidstone. Here they chose Wat Tyler to be their leader, and in the next few days the rising spread over Kent, where much pillage and damage to property occurred. On the Loth Tyler seized Canterbury, sacked the palace of Archbishop Sudbury, the chancellor, and beheaded three citizens as "traitors." Next day he led his followers, strengthened by many Kentish recruits, on the road to London, being joined at Maidstone by John Ball, whom the mob had liberated from the archbishop's prison. Reaching Blackheath on the 12th, the insurgents burnt the prisons in Southwark and pillaged the archbishop's palace at Lambeth, while another body of rebels from Essex encamped at Mile End. King Richard II. was at the Tower, but neither the king's councillors nor the municipal authorities had taken any measures to cope with the rising. The drawbridge of London Bridge having been lowered by treachery, Tyler and his followers crossed the Thames; and being joined by thousands of London apprentices, artisans and criminals, they sacked and burnt John of Gaunt's splendid palace of the Savoy, the official residence of the treasurer, Sir Robert Hales, and the prisons of Newgate and the Fleet. On the 14th Richard II., a boy of fourteen, undertook the perilous enterprise of riding out to confer with the rebels beyond the city wall. At Mile End the king met Wat Tyler; a lengthy and tumultuous conference, during which several persons were slain, took place, in which Tyler demanded the immediate abolition of serfdom and all feudal services, and the removal of all restrictions on freedom of labour and trade, as well as a general amnesty for the insurgents. Richard had no choice but to concede these demands, and charters were immediately drawn up to give effect to them. While this was in progress Tyler with a small band of followers returned to the Tower, which they entered, and dragged forth Archbishop Sudbury and Sir Robert Hales from the chapel and murdered them on Tower Hill. During the following night and day London was given over to plunder and slaughter, the victims being chiefly Flemish merchants, lawyers and personal adherents of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster. Meantime the people of property began to organize themselves for the restoration of order. On the 15th of June, Richard, after confession and receiving the Sacrament, rode to Smithfield for a further conference with the rebels. Close to St Bartholomew's Church he met Wat Tyler, who advanced from the ranks of the insurgents and shook the king's hand, bidding him be of good cheer. Tyler then formulated a number of fresh demands, including the confiscation of ecclesiastical estates and the institution of social equality. Richard replied that the popular desire should be satisfied "saving the regalities of the Crown." Tyler thereupon grew insolent, and in the altercation that ensued the rebel leader was killed by the mayor, Sir William Walworth, and John Standwick, one of the king's squires. The rebels now handled their bows in a menacing fashion, but at the critical moment the young king with great presence of mind and courage spurred his horse into the open, crying, "Sirs, will you shoot your king? I will be your chief and captain, you shall have from me all that you seek." Richard then led the mob to a neighbouring meadow, where he kept them in parley till Walworth, who had returned within the city to summon the loyal citizens to the king's aid, returned with a sufficient following to overawe and disperse the rebels. With the death of Wat Tyler the rising in London and the home counties quickly subsided, though in East Anglia it flickered a short time longer under the leadership of John Wraw and Geoffrey Litster until suppressed by the energy of Henry Despenser, bishop of Norwich. About 1 io persons were executed for the rebellion in Kent and Essex, including John Ball, and Jack Straw, Tyler's chief lieutenant.' The enfranchisement of villeins granted by Richard at the Mile End conference was revoked by parliament in 1382, and no permanent results were obtained for the peasants by Wat. Tyler's revolt.


The best original account of the rebellion of Wat Tyler is the "Anonimal Chronicle of St Mary's, York," printed by G. M. Trevelyan in the Eng. Hist. Rev. (1898). See also Thomas Walsingham, Chronicon Angliae (Rolls series, 1814); Froissart, Chronicles (edited by G. C. Macaulay, London, 1895); Andre Reville, Le Soulevement des travaillers d'Angleterre 1381 (Paris, 1898); C. Oman, The Great Revolt of 1381 (Oxford, 1906), and The Political History of England, vol. iv. (ed. by W. Hunt and R. L. Poole, London, 1906). (R. J. M.)

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