King Richard and Wat Tyler

“THE KING made his way to Mile End, but was not accompanied at by his brothers, the Earl of Kent and Sir John Holland, who did not dare show themselves to the people there, as they feared for their lives. When the King arrived, he found 60,000 men assembled from different villages and districts of England. He advanced towards them, and asked them pleasantly: ‘My friends, I am your King and your lord. What do you want? And what do you wish to say?’ Those who heard him replied: ‘We want you to set us free for ever, us and our descendants and our lands, and to grant that we should never again be called serfs, nor held in bondage’ (138).”

There Richard made them promises which included the abolition of serfdom throughout the country: “And at this time the King made the commons draw themselves out in two lines . . . He proclaimed to them that he would confirm and grant it that they should be free, and generally should have their will, and that they might go through all the realm of England and catch all traitors and bring them to him in safety, and then he would deal with them as the law demanded (139).”

Letters containing the King’s promises were drawn up. The representatives of each county present were given a royal banner as a proof of his protection: “All the innocent and well-intentioned people were quite satisfied by these words, and began to return to London. The King promised a banner to each of the following counties—Kent, Essex, Sussex, Bedford, Cambridge, Stafford and Lincoln. He gave a free pardon for all that had been done by the people of these counties, on condition that they followed the royal banner back to their homes on the terms he had mentioned. Half of the mob dispersed, and the King gave orders for thirty secretaries to draw up the letters that very day, and for the letters to be sealed and delivered (140).”

To the dismay of the authorities, a large group of the rebels Refusal to refused to budge from London: “The chief mischief-makers, how- disperse ever, remained: Tyler, Straw, and Ball declared that though the people were satisfied, they themselves would not depart. And with them there remained over 30,000 who took the same view; they stayed in the city, showing no inclination to receive the King’s letters, but keeping London in a state of terror. The citizens kept to their houses, with as many of their friends and attendants as they could muster (141).”

The next morning, the massacre continued. Among those killed Terror was the Marshal of the Marshalsea Prison in Southwark; he was continues taken in Westminster Abbey at nine o’clock when the monks were saying Terce, the third service of the day: “The next morning, Saturday, great numbers of the commons came into Westminster Abbey at the hour of Terce, and there they found John Imworth, Marshal of the Marshalsea and warden of the prisoners, a tormentor without pity; he was at the shrine of St. Edward, embracing a marble pillar, to crave aid and succour from the saint to preserve him from his enemies. But the commons wrenched his arms away from the pillar of the shrine, and dragged him away to Cheapside, and there beheaded him (142).”

That afternoon the King went in procession to Westminster Abbey: “And on this same day, at three in the afternoon, the King came to the Abbey of Westminster, and some 200 persons with him… The abbot and monks of the said Abbey, and the canons and vicars of St. Stephen’s Chapel, came to meet him in procession clothed in their copes and their feet naked, half way to Charing Cross. And they brought him to the Abbey, and then to the High Altar of the church, and the King made his prayer devoutly and left an offering for the altar and the relics. And afterwards he spoke with the anchorite, and confessed to him, and remained with him some time. Then the King caused a proclamation to be made that all the commons of the country who were still in London should come to Smithfield, to meet him there; and so they did (143).”

The meeting was arranged to take place at Smithfield, an open space just outside the City. Smithfield seemed safer than Mile End because it was surrounded on all sides by buildings including St. Bartholomew’s Church and Hospital: “The King rode past Saint Bartholomew’s Church in Smithfield, and found the remainder of the rabble assembled in the horse market. The King’s banners had been given them on the previous evening, but they intended to pillage the city that very day (144).”

The rebels were led on this occasion by Wat Tyler. The King asked the Mayor of London to summon Tyler to him: “And when the King and his train had arrived there they turned into the Eastern meadow in front of St. Bartholomew’s which is a house of canons: and the commons arrayed themselves on the west side in great battles. At this moment the Mayor of London, William Walworth, came up, and the King bade him go to the commons, and make their chieftain come to him (145).”

The familiarity with which Tyler treated the King shocked the writer of the Anonimal Chronicle: “He came to the King with great confidence, mounted on a little horse, that the commons might see him. And he dismounted, holding in his hand a dagger which he had taken from another man, and when he had dismounted he half bent his knee, and then took the King by the hand, and shook his arm forcibly and roughly, saying to him, ‘Brother, be of good comfort and joyful, for you shall have, in the fortnight that is to come, praise from the commons even more than you have yet had, and we shall be good companions’ (146).”

The King tried to calm him, but Tyler seemed only able to repeat demands to which the King had already agreed at Mile End: “And the King said to Walter, ‘Why will you not go back to your own country?’ But the other answered, with a great oath, that neither he nor his fellows would depart until they had got their charter such as they wished to have it, and had certain points rehearsed, and added to their charter which they wished to demand. And he said in a threatening fashion that the lords of the realm would rue it bitterly if these points were not settled to their pleasure (147).”

The King tried to end the meeting in a friendly manner: “The King gave an easy answer, and said that he should have all that he could fairly grant, reserving only for himself the regality of his crown. And then he bade him go back to his home, without making further delay (148).”

Tyler continued to act rudely. The King’s attendants now answered him back as if they were picking a quarrel. Tyler “sent for a flagon of water to rinse his mouth because of the great heat he was in and, when it was brought, he rinsed his mouth in a very rude and disgusting fashion before the King’s face. And then he made them bring him a jug of ale and drank a great draught; and then, in the presence of the King, he climbed on his horse again. At this time a certain squire from Kent, who was among the King’s retinue… saw him [Tyler] and said aloud that he knew him for the greatest thief and robber in Kent (149).”

That did it. “For these words Tyler tried to strike him with his dagger, and would have slain him in the King’s presence. But because he strove to do so, the Mayor of London, William Walworth, reasoned with Tyler for his violent behaviour in the King’s presence, and arrested him. And because he arrested him, Tyler stabbed the Mayor with his dagger in the stomach in great wrath. But, as it pleased God, the Mayor was wearing armour (under his robes) and took no harm, but like a hardy and vigorous man drew his sword and struck back at Tyler, and gave him a deep cut on the neck, and then a great cut on the head. And during this scuffle one of the King’s followers drew his sword and ran Tyler two or three times through the body, mortally wounding him. And he [Tyler] spurred his horse, crying to the commons to avenge him, and the horse carried him some four score paces, and then he fell to the ground half dead (150).”

The King, as Froissart realized, was in great danger. Many of the rebels were archers, and they aimed at him their formidable longbows which had proved so deadly on the battlefields of France. Tyler’s “followers then began to cry out ‘They have cut down our captain! Come on, let us kill them all!’ They drew themselves up in some kind of order and advanced, each with his bow ready to shoot. At great personal risk the King then rode out in front of his followers, forbidding any to follow him, and advanced on the mob, who were preparing to avenge their leader: ‘Gentlemen’, he said, ‘what do you want? You have no other captain but me. I am your King. Keep the peace.’ When they saw and heard the King speak, most of the crowd were quite abashed and the more peaceful of them began to disperse (151). ”

King Richard led the mob out to Clerkenwell Fields; there they were surrounded by a force of citizens hurriedly summoned by the Mayor. “Presently the aldermen came to him [the King] in a body, bringing with them their wardens, and the wards arrayed in bands, a fine company of well-armed folks in great strength. And they enveloped the commons like sheep within a pen, and after that the Mayor had set the wardens of the city on their way to the King, he returned with a company of lances to Smithfield, to make an end of the captain of the commons (152).”

The Mayor meanwhile went to look for Tyler in Smithfield. He was surprised to find him gone. “It was told him that he had been carried by some of the commons to the hospital for poor folks by St. Bartholomew’s, and was put to bed in the chamber of the master of the hospital. And the Mayor went thither and found him, and had him carried out to the middle of Smithfield, in presence of his fellows, and there beheaded. And thus ended his wretched life. But the Mayor had his head set on a pole and borne before him to the King, who still abode in the Fields (153).”

At Tyler’s death, the revolt suddenly collapsed in London: “When the commons saw that their chieftain, Wat Tyler, was dead in such a manner, they fell to the ground there among the wheat, like beaten men, imploring the King for mercy for their misdeeds. And the King benevolently granted them mercy, and most of them took flight (154).” The citizens of London were greatly relieved.