Wat Tyler

Tyler, Wat, d. 1381, English rebel. His given name appears in full as Walter; his surname signifies the trade of a roof tiler. He came into prominence as the leader of the rebellion of 1381, known as the Peasants' Revolt. The revolt had its origins in the plague of 1348–49, which had swept away nearly a third of the population of England. The result was a scarcity of labor and a rise in wages. In 1351, Parliament passed the Statute of Labourers to hold down wages. This proved almost impossible to enforce but aroused much resentment among the peasantry. Another source of discontent was the fact that landlords were attempting to stem the new mobility of labor by asserting their ancient manorial rights. This unrest flared into rebellion when the poll tax was increased in 1380. The first outbreak came in Essex, but the trouble soon spread to Kent, where Tyler was chosen as leader. The rebels seized Canterbury and then proceeded to London, their number increasing on the way. After an unsuccessful attempt to interview Richard II, Tyler led the mob into the city, where it plundered and burned many houses (including the Savoy Palace, residence of John of Gaunt) and the Fleet and Newgate prisons. On June 14 the king met some of the rebels at Mile End and agreed to their demands to abolish serfdom, feudal service, market monopolies, and restrictions on buying and selling. At the same time, however, or immediately thereafter, Tyler and another group of rebels captured the Tower of London and killed the archbishop of Canterbury and several other officials. The following day Tyler met the king at Smithfield, where he presented new demands, including one for the confiscation of all church property. In an exchange of blows with the mayor of London, Tyler was mortally wounded and died soon afterward. The king, though a boy of 14, cowed the mob and held them at bay until the mayor brought up armed support. The rebels dispersed, and the revolt, which had raged over all England, was put down with severity. King Richard immediately revoked the Mile End grants.

See C. Oman, The Great Revolt of 1381 (1906, repr. 1969); R. B. Dobson, ed., The Peasants' Revolt of 1381 (1970); R. H. Hilton and T. H. Aston, English Rising of 1381 (1987).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: British and Irish History: Biographies