Wat Tyler

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Walter Tyler
Wat Tyler's death (left to right: Sir William Walworth, Mayor of London (wielding sword); Wat Tyler; King Richard II; and Sir John Cavendish, esquire to the King (bearing lance)
Died 15 June 1381
Nationality English
Known for Peasants' Revolt

Walter "Wat" Tyler (died 15 June 1381) was a leader of the 1381 Peasants' Revolt in England. He marched a group of rebels from Canterbury to the capital to oppose the institution of a poll tax and demand economic and social reforms. While the brief rebellion enjoyed early success, Tyler was killed by officers loyal to King Richard II during negotiations at Smithfield, London.

Early life[edit]

Nothing is known of Wat Tyler's early life. Born with the first name Walter, his original surname is unknown, though "Hugh" and "Helier" have been suggested.[1][2] It is thought that the name "Tyler" comes from his occupation as a roof tiler. Prior to the Peasants' Revolt he lived in Kent, and has been variously represented as coming from Dartford, Deptford, and Maidstone, all within that county.[1]

The Peasants' Revolt[edit]

The Peasants' Revolt began in May 1381[3] in response to a poll tax, a fixed amount charged to each member of a community regardless of financial status. The revolt was not only about money; the peasants also sought increased liberty and other social reforms. They demanded that each laborer be allowed to work for the employer of his choice, and sought an end to serfdom and other rigid social demarcation. There were uprisings across England, with much of the unrest focused on Essex and Kent. The uprising represented a significant part of English society in those regions, including nobility and wealthy religious establishments.[4] Many were inspired by the teachings of John Ball, a radical priest who preached that all humans should be treated equally, as descendants of Adam and Eve.[5]

How Wat Tyler became involved with the revolt is unknown, although a much later sixteenth-century source[1] indicates that a man of similar name, John Tyler, was its initiator. This account suggests that a poll-tax collector had indecently assaulted John Tyler's daughter. In revenge he killed the miscreant and triggered the insurgency.[6] Whatever the basis of that story, by June of 1381, when groups of rebels from across the country began a coordinated assault on London, Wat Tyler had emerged as a leader of the Kentish forces.

On 13 June the rebels reached the capital and crossed London Bridge . Once in the city, they attacked civil targets, destroying legal records, opening prisons, sacking homes, and killing individuals thought to be associated with the royal government.[7][8] In response, the king, Richard II (then 14 years old), met with the rebels on June 14, 1381 and agreed to make many concessions and to give a full pardons to all those involved in the rebellion. While some of the rebels were satisfied by the king's promises and dispersed, Tyler and his followers were not.[9]


Peasants' Revolt (death of Wat Tyler)

On June 15, Tyler and his Kentish forces met with King Richard at Smithfield, outside London. There, Tyler spoke personally with the king and put forward his demands. At first, the meeting seems to have gone well, with Tyler treating the king in a friendly, if overly-familiar, manner, and Richard agreeing the rebels "should have all that he could fairly grant".[10] However, tensions quickly arose. According to a contemporary chronicler, Tyler acted contemptuously, calling for a flagon of water to rinse his mouth 'because of the great heat that he was in' and when he received the water 'he rinsed his mouth in a very rude and disgusting fashion before the King's face'. Sir John Newton (a servant of the king) insulted Tyler by calling him 'the greatest thief and robber in all Kent'. Tyler attacked Newton, but was restrained and arrested by the Mayor of London, William Walworth. Tyler then attempted to stab the mayor, who was saved by his armor. Walworth slashed his attacker across the neck and head with his sword, and another of the king's servants, possibly John Cavendish, stabbed Tyler again, severely wounding him. Tyler managed to ride thirty yards before he fell from his horse. In the disorder that followed, he was taken to a hospital for the poor, but was tracked down by the mayor, brought back to Smithfield, and publicly decapitated. Tyler's head was placed atop a pole and carried through the city, then displayed on London Bridge.[11][12][13] In the wake of their leader's death, his followers were driven from London and the movement was shattered. Subsequently, Richard II revoked all the concessions he had made to the rebels, and many were hunted down and executed. This effectively ended the Revolt.[14]

Literary references[edit]

Wat Tyler is mentioned in Redburn by Herman Melville[15] and in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain.[16] John Gower had a rather harsh view of him in Vox Clamantis::I:IX "The jay's voice is wild and he has only learnt the art of speaking from the classes with whom the Latin poet is identified." .[17] Wat Tyler is the principal character in the historical novel, Now is the Time (2015) by Melvyn Bragg.[18]


A section of the A249 road passing through Maidstone is named "Wat Tyler Way" in his honour.

A road on the western edge of Blackheath called Wat Tyler Road.

Wat Tyler Country Park in Essex is named after him.

English folk singer-songwriter Frank Turner references Wat Tyler's negotiations at Smithfield in "Sons of Liberty" from the 2009 album Poetry of the Deed, and again mentions Tyler by name in "One Foot Before the Other" from 2011 album England Keep My Bones.

"Wat Tyler" a song by Fairport Convention, gives a very detailed account of Tyler's march of London and death, based closely on contemporary sources.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Medieval Period: Politics - Wat Tyler and the peasants' revolt". Dartfordarchiver.org.uk. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  2. ^ Prescott, Andrew. "",Tyler, Walter [Wat] (d. 1381)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved March 20, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Peasants' Revolt". Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
  4. ^ Hilton, Rodney (1998). Medieval England An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing. pp. 590–591. ISBN 0-8240-5786-4. 
  5. ^ Smith, George (1973). Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 993. 
  6. ^ Smith, George (1917). Tyler, Wat. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 1347–1348. 
  7. ^ "English Peasants' Revolt, 1381". Retrieved April 24, 2013. 
  8. ^ Smith, George (1973). The Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 1347. 
  9. ^ "Peasants' Revolt". Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
  10. ^ "The Death of Wat Tyler : (Y55) CAC". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 2016-01-26. 
  11. ^ Smith, George (1973). Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 1347–1348. 
  12. ^ "The Death of Wat Tyler : (Y55) CAC". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 2016-01-26. 
  13. ^ "http://www.historyguide.org/ancient/wat_tyler.html". www.historyguide.org. Retrieved 2016-01-26.  External link in |title= (help)
  14. ^ van Creveld, Martin (1996). The Encyclopedia of Revolutions and Revolutionaries: From Anarchism to Zhou Enlai. Jerusalem, Israel: The Jerusalem Publishing House. p. 422. 
  15. ^ Melville, Herman (1849), in the fictional work Redburn, mentioned in chapter 24.
  16. ^ Mark Twain (1889), in the fictional work A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, chapter 13.
  17. ^ David Aers (2002). "'Vox populi' and the literature of 1381". In David Wallace. The Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature. 
  18. ^ Bragg, Melvyn. Great Britain: Sceptre. ISBN 9781473614536.  Missing or empty |title= (help);

External links[edit]