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Wat Tyler and the Peasants Revolt of 1381

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The death of Wat Tyler

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Wat Tyler and the Peasants Revolt

Wat Tyler (full name Walter Tyler) was the leader of the English Peasants' Revolt in 1381 during the reign of the 14 year old King Richard II. The revolt was triggered by the shortage of labour since the Black Death swept through Europe killing one third of the population. The participants were angered at having to work much harder without any increase in wages. Although the Peasants asked for more money it was denied to them after a law was passed forbidding this. In addition to no wage increases the government introduced a special poll tax to help pay for the war against the French. The tax was one shilling for everyone over the age of 15 - a considerable sum in those days. The revolt started with local riots in Essex in May 1381 and just a few weeks later the peasants, with their leader Wat Tyler, managed to seize Rochester Castle in Kent.

King Richard II was not held directly to blame as he was only young at the time. Instead, the peasants took their anger out on the royal advisors:- John of Gaunt, Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Duke of Lancaster.

After taking Canterbury the peasant army then moved towards London where they attacked and burnt Newgate and Fleet prisons after freeing all the prisoners, and killed many people who they suspected of being associated with the government. The government decided that it was now time for the young king to meet with Wat Tyler so he could hear their full demands. On 14 June 1381 the king offered to abolish serfdom and allow the peasants to buy and manage their own farms and lands and to give full pardons to all those involved with the rebellion. Unfortunately, during these negotiations a break-away rebel army marched to the Tower of London where they murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Lord Mayor of London, Sir William Walworth, then decided to meet with the rebels and went to Smithfield to meet with Wat Tyler. Tyler showed no regard for the king and managed to anger Walworth so much with his demands and his treatment of the king that Walworth ordered the immediate execution of Tyler. He was beheaded.

The peasants were still assembled in Smithfield when this happened and were obviously angry at what had happened to their leader. It was at this time that the king spoke to them saying "I am your king. I will be your leader. Follow me into the fields. The crowd then followed King Richard out of the square.

Despite the king's previous promises Parliament broke them all so there was little change to the conditions and wages of the peasants. Wat Tyler had died on 15 June 1381 without getting the wages and conditions he wanted for them, and the peasants returned to their hard work and poverty.

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