Biography of Wat Tyler

Sculpture of Tyler rebellion

Wat Tyler was one of the chief protagonists of the fourteenth century Peasant’s Revolt.

When and Where was he Born?

Unknown but many historians say it was probably in Essex. Locals in Brenchley, Kent believe he was born there.

Family Background:

Wat Tyler was the son of artisan stock probably taking on his father’s trade as a tiler.

Education:

Apprenticed to a trade by his family.

Timeline of Wat Tyler:

1348-49: Bubonic plague known, poetically as the “Black Death”, swept the country reducing the population of England by a third. This meant that the once plentiful supply of (mainly agricultural) labour was not available and wages began to rise.

1351: Parliament passes the Statute of Labourers in an effort to hold down wages. This act was almost impossible to enforce but growing resentment was still brewing. On top of this landlords where attempting to stop labourers moving from one village to another to find better paid work by invoking their ancient manorial rights.

1380: The implementation of the “Poll Tax” by an impoverished government turned hostility in to open rebellion. The Poll Tax meant that every adult had to pay a fixed amount of money to the King and state regardless of how rich they were.

1381: Rebellion first broke out in Essex but soon spread to Kent. A group of rebel peasants from there began to march against the King and took Rochester Castle by force. Walter Tyler (known to history as Wat) was chosen as the mob’s leader and spokesman. He then led his people’s army on to Canterbury and then London via the outskirts at Blackheath. There they burned many houses including one belonging to John of Gaunt. King Richard the Second (then only fourteen years old) eventually agreed to meet the revolutionaries at Mile End on June 14th, but only as what turned out to be a political ploy. The King gave the impression that he would give in to their demands of ending serfdom and market monopolies and give extra rights and freedom of labour. Tyler and another group of rebels, flushed with their success went on to take the Tower of London by force and beheaded several high officials including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Sudbury and the Treasurer Sir Robert Hales. The following day King Richard agreed to meet Tyler again this time at Smithfield. There he put further demands including the seizure of all church lands. Tyler advanced in front of his strong force to speak with the King and showed no deference which angered the royal party. He then asked for a drink of water as it was a hot June day and spat it out in an uncouth manner. A fight ensued between Tyler and the King’s officials and he became wounded by the Mayor of London, William Walworth. A squire then finished him off with a sword into the stomach. The King, though a boy, called for calm and said that he would be the rebel’s new, natural and only leader and that they should have nothing to fear from him. The rebels then dispersed. Orders were given out to put down any rebels anywhere in the country by force. The remaining rebels in London were then driven out and other ringleaders such as Jack Straw and John Ball were found and beheaded. Their heads, along with Wat Tyler’s, were placed on poles on London Bridge as a deterrent to others. The king immediately reneged on the Mile End grants and the Peasant’s Revolt was at an end.

When and Where Did he Die?

15th June 1381, London, England.

Age at Death:

Unknown but believed to be in his thirties.

Smithfield Market
Present day Smithfield Market in the area of West Smithfield, London 
where Wat Tyler and the rebels gathered and William Wallace was executed  (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Marriage:

Unknown.

Site of Grave:

Buried without ceremony or marked grave near the place of his death.

Places of Interest:

LONDON:

London Bridge.
Smithfield Market.