Wat Tyler

Listen to the audio guide of the Wat Tyler story

A third of Europe’s population was wiped out due to the Black Death. About thirty five years later, in 1381, the remaining peasants began to recognise and re-evaluate their worth, realising the strength of ‘supply and demand’. Land owning Bishops and Lords, who made up the Government of the time, passed a law to limit wage increases and introduced a poll tax to continue a war with the French.

With everyone over the age of fifteen having to pay one shilling, this hefty tax was problematic, although payment in kind was accepted. Many people paid in seeds or tools; this was debilitating to so many families, especially as it was the third time in four years that the tax was implemented. In response, the Essex village of Fobbing threw out their tax collector and any soldiers that were sent afterwards. Villagers from across Essex joined them and together 60,000 marched to London.

Rebels destroyed tax records and registers and removed heads from tax officials who got in their way. The fourteen year old King Richard II agreed to meet Wat Tyler, who had emerged as a leader during the march to the capitol, on 14th June 1381. He agreed to all demands and asked that they go home in peace.

Whilst this meeting was taking place, however, some of the mob marched on the Tower of London and murdered Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Robert Hales, the Treasurer: their heads were cut off on Tower Hill.

Just a few weeks later, at the end of the summer, the peasants’ revolt was over. Because of his limited power in parliament, the King could not keep any of his promises and therefore the lord of the manor, bishop or archbishop once again took control of the peasants. Eventually, over the next century, the lords had to give in and raise wages, due to such labour shortages since the Bubonic Plague.

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