THE STORY OF WAT TYLER
 IN the year 1381 there broke out the most terrible rebellion of the people against their rulers that has ever
happened in England. There were many things to make them discontented. A great number of men had perished, and
great sums of money had been spent, in the French wars, and all to very little or no good. Then the Parliament
had passed laws by which they tried to keep the labourers, both in the country and the towns, from earning
their proper wages. The fact was that a dreadful plague, which men called the Black Death, had passed
through the country
and swept off as much as half the population. Naturally, when there were fewer men to do the work, these fewer
would be better paid for doing
 it. But this did not please their employers; and the employers persuaded the Parliament, where the poor had no
one to speak for them, to pass a law by which wages should be kept low. By these it was forbidden for any
labourer to ask and for any master to pay higher wages than had been paid before the year of the Black Death.
Then a very hateful tax, called the poll-tax, was laid upon the people. The word "poll" means head, and every
one above a certain age was bound to pay it. True, it was provided that the rich should pay more than the poor;
the Duke of Lancaster, who was the King's uncle, and the archbishops had to pay to marks (£6 13s. 4d.) each,
while a labouring man had to pay a groat (4d.). But, as a matter of fact, rich and powerful people often paid
less than their due, while the poor could not escape.
It was in the month of June, 1381, that the trouble began, and began in several places almost at the same time.
An officer was sent down from London into Essex to inquire why the tax had not been properly collected in that
county. At the first place he came to the people refused to answer his
ques-  tions. Soon after one of the principal judges came to try them for their disobedience: they attacked him
and his people; the judge escaped, but some of his clerks were killed. In a few days all Essex had rebelled,
their leader being a priest who called himself Jack Straw.
At the very same time that these things happened there was a rising in Kent. It began at Dartford, where a
tax-collector was killed by a tile-maker, because he had behaved badly to one of the man's children. It spread
to Gravesend, where one of the townspeople had been claimed as a bondsman by a neighbouring squire, and thrown
into prison till he should pay £300 for his freedom. At Maidstone the rebels found a leader, Walter the
tile-maker, commonly called Wat Tyler. There were as many as seven men who followed this occupation of making
tiles that were among the leaders of the rebellion. Wat Tyler was joined by a well-known priest, John Ball by
name, who had already been punished more than once for speaking against the Pope, the bishops, and the clergy.
At Canterbury the mayor and aldermen were compelled to swear that they would support the cause of the people.
The whole multitude—according to some accounts there were as many as 100,000 of them—marched towards London.
When they came to Blackheath, John Ball is said to have
 preached a sermon to them, taking for his text the two verses—
"When Adam delved and Evé span,
Who was then the gentleman?"
Meanwhile the country-folk from Essex had posted themselves at Mile End, which is on the east side of London,
and those from Hertfordshire at Highbury, which is on the north. But it was not these, as we shall see, but the
men from Kent that did the most mischief.
What they first did was to send a message to the King by a certain knight whom they had compelled to come with
them. The knight was to tell the King that England had been very badly governed for many years by the nobles
and bishops, and that the people desired, for his sake and their own, to have these things set right. They
wished, therefore, that he should see them and hear what they had got to say. The knight took this message, not
very willingly, and the King sent him back with this answer, that if they would send their leaders the next day
down to the river, he would talk with them.
The next day the King was rowed in his barge down the river as far as Rotherhithe (about three miles from
Blackheath). The rebels had not been satisfied to send their leaders only; as many as
 10,000 men had crowded down to the river-side, and these raised such an uproar when they saw the King's barge,
that the nobles who were with him were frightened, and advised him not to land. The barge was rowed up and
down, and the King tried to speak from it; the people, however, would not listen unless he landed, and this
the nobles would not allow him to do.
KING RICHARD THE SECOND.
When the multitude at Blackheath heard that nothing had been done, they at once marched to London, doing much
damage as they went. They
 were especially enraged against lawyers and foreigners, especially the Flemings, merchants and workmen from
Flanders, many of whom had lately come over to this country. They thought that the lawyers made a profit out of
their troubles, and that the Flemings took trade and work that properly belonged to Englishmen. The gates of
London were not shut against them; in fact, there were thousands of people in the city who wished them well,
and the authorities did not dare to refuse them admittance.
Perhaps the most unpopular man in the kingdom at this time was John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, uncle to the
King. A large body of the rebels, as soon as they got into the city, plundered and set on fire the Duke's
palace, which was near the river, in a place then and still called the Savoy. The house and church belonging to
the Knights Hospitallers of Rhodes were also burnt; the people probably disliked them as being foreigners. Some
houses belonging to Lombard money-lenders were broken open. We are also told that Wat Tyler murdered a citizen
whose servant he had once been in France, and by whom he had been beaten. The story does not look like truth,
for how should a tile-maker have been a citizen's servant in France?
That night the main body of the rebels remained in St. Catherine's Square opposite the Tower. It
 was in the Tower that the King, his mother, the Black Prince's widow, and many of his chief counsellors were
The next day the King went to talk with the people who had come up from the eastern counties, and who had
assembled, as has been said, at a place called Mile End. He made them promises to set right the things of which
they complained, and so satisfied them. He even put these promises into writing. As many as thirty scribes were
busy all night, it is said, with this work. In the morning the deeds were handed over to the people, and they
went away to their homes, thinking that they had obtained all that they wanted.
Meanwhile, much mischief had been done at the Tower. We do not know whether the rebels were permitted to enter
this place, or broke into it by force. We can see that the King and his advisers did everything they could to
please Wat Tyler and his followers, of whom they were greatly afraid, and they may have thought it a good plan
to seem to trust them. According to one account, the rebel leaders made their way through the gate as the
King's party was coming out to go to Mile End. However this may be, they got in somehow, and murdered four
persons, the chief of whom was Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury. After this they left St. Catherine's
Square, and encamped in another large open space, where
 markets were held, known as Smithfield, and still called by that name.
The next morning the King rode into London from Westminster, for he had been at service in the Abbey. It is not
clear whether he intended to speak to the rebels, or, seeing a great gathering of them as he rode by
Smithfield, suddenly made up his mind to do so. He had done so well with the people at Mile End that he may
well have hoped to pacify Wat Tyler and his followers. The story of what followed is thus told by a chronicler
who lived at the time.
"When Wat Tyler saw the King, he said to his men, 'Here is the King; I will go and speak with him; do not move
from your place till I give you this sign,' and he moved his hand to show what he meant. 'Then step forward and
kill every one that is with the King, but save him alive, for he is young, and we can do what we please with
him. We will carry him about England, and be masters of the whole land.' Then he spurred his horse to where the
King was, coming so near that his horse's head touched the
 crupper of the King's saddle. 'King,' said he, 'dost thou see all these people?'
" 'Yes,' answered the King, 'I see them. Why dost thou ask?'
" 'Because they are all under my command, and have sworn to do whatsoever I shall bid them.'
" 'Well,' said the King, 'I do not blame them.'
" 'But dost thou think that all these men, and as many more as there are in this city under my command, ought
to go away without having your promise in writing to take with them? Not so; but we will take the writings with
" 'Nay, it has not been so ordered. Tell your companions to go to their homes, and the writings shall be given
out village by village and town by town.'
"When the King had thus spoken, Wat Tyler saw one of the King's squires against whom he had a grudge. The man
was carrying the King's sword. He said to him, 'Give me thy dagger.'
" 'Why should I give it thee?' said the squire. But the King said, 'Give it to him,' and this the squire did,
much against his will.
"Wat Tyler said, 'Give me thy sword.'
" 'I will not,' the squire answered, 'for it is the King's sword, and thou art not worthy to carry it. And had
thou and I been alone thou hadst not dared say such words, not for a heap of gold as high as this church.
 For they were near to the church of St. Bartholomew, which still stands in Smithfield. When the Mayor of
London, William Walworth by name, heard this, he rode forward, having twelve others with him, all wearing
armour under their clothes. 'How darest thou,' he said, 'so behave and say such words in the presence of the
King?' By this time, too, the King had grown angry, and said to the Mayor, 'Lay hands on him.'
"Meanwhile Wat Tyler said to the Mayor, 'What concern hast thou with my words? What dost thou mean?'
" 'I mean this,' said the Mayor, 'that it does not become such a rascal as thou art to say such words in the
presence of my lord the King. Verily, if I die for it, thou shalt suffer for thy insolence.' With this he drew
a sword that he had, and struck Tyler such a blow as brought him down from his horse. When he was on the ground
the King's people closed round him, so that his followers could not see what was done, and one of the squires
"When the rebels saw that their leader was dead, they cried out, 'They have killed our captain; let us slay
them all.' And they came on, each man having his bow bent before him.
"The King, seeing this, bade his attendants stay where they were, and rode forward alone.
'Gentle-  men,' he said, 'what are you about? You shall have none other captain but me. I am your king.' When they heard these
words, such as were inclined to peace slunk away, but the others kept their ground, and seemed ready for
"By this time the alarm had spread in the city that the King was in danger, and a great number of the citizens
came out to his help. Some of the King's counsellors were for falling upon the rebels, but the King would not
suffer it. 'Nay,' said he, 'but go and ask them for their banners.' For each company had one of the King's
banners. These they gave up. Then it was commanded that any man that had a written promise from the King should
give it up under pain of death. This they did also, and after this they were suffered to depart."
The other leaders were seized and executed, and many of those who had joined in the rebellion were put to
death. None of the King's promises were kept, and the wrongs complained of were not set right. Still in the end
these poor men did not suffer in vain. Wat Tyler's rebellion was a step towards English freedom.
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