Born on 4th of January 1341
Died on 15th of June 1381
Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, is a shadowy figure in British history, with little hard information about him until his involvement in that uprising, and some of that information throws other elements in doubt, possibly because in the time following his death history was written largely by those hoping to blacken his name.
A birth-date of 1341(possibly January 4) is given for Tyler, whose name is supposed to derive from his trade, though he is also thought to have travelled to France in the service of Richard Lyons, a merchant from London. He is widely supposed to have been an Essex man, though it was in Kent that his part in the rebellion began.
After the Peasants’ Revolt began with the seizure of Rochester Castle in Kent in early June, Tyler was chosen by his fellows to be one of their leaders, which at the very least suggests he had presence or leadership quality. He went on to take Canterbury, with enormous symbolic significance, on June 10, and then organised his forces to march on London, camping at Blackheath. The march had augmented the ragged army’s numbers to perhaps 50,000, and emboldened by this strength Tyler entered London at their head and were allowed by the guards into the Tower, such was their mutual loathing of Simon Sudbury, the hated Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury. The rebels seized Sudbury and beheaded him on the spot.
Tyler, with John Ball and Jack Straw, drew up a charter which was presented to the 14 year old Richard II. This was a radical document, demanding that serfdom should end, and removing wage and other restrictions on labourers. When the young king rode to meet the rebels at Smithfield on June 15 Tyler chose to meet with him unarmed and alone, a fatal error made according to some sources because Tyler was drunk, though this may be subsequent propaganda. Versions of the meeting differ, with some suggesting Tyler was insolent, others adding that he rudely demanded wine. All agree, however, that Sir William Walworth, Lord Mayor of London, stabbed or slashed Tyler with his sword, wounding him. Tyler was either finished off there by a squire, Ralph Standish, or taken to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, whence he was later dragged and beheaded.
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