Walter "Wat" Tyler; aka Jack Straw

Born: January 4, 1341

Died: June 15, 1381

City of London, London, England (Age 40)

Straw/Tyler in History

Virtually nothing is known for sure about the life of Walter Tyler, and he is indeed best known for being the primary leader during the Peasant's Revolt of 1381. It is widely accepted that he was born and raised in either Kent or Essex (the two main areas where rebellions were started at the time) and that he worked as a carpenter of some sort. Many chronicles will claim that Tyler took on the alias of Jack Straw, but there is by no means any solid evidence to support this claim, and historians are torn over whether or not there really was a Jack Straw to this very day. Whatever the case may be, Tyler was most certainly the leader of the rebellion, which began in Kent in early June 1381, after a series of poll taxes were passed, alienating the commons. The third of these taxes was particularly painful, being that it was a flat tax in which all English citizens were forced to pay the same amount. This was no burden for a noblemen, but for relatively poor tradesmen and farmers it was financially crippling. It has been widely accepted that the rebellion officially began after Tyler murdered a collector of these taxes who had assaulted his daughter. The primary goal of the peasants was to remove evil counselors from the presence of the young King Richard II (who was only fourteen at the time), including the rich and powerful John of Gaunt, the king's uncle, who was luckily in Scotland on a diplomatic mission at the time of the rebellion; they showed no ill will towards the king himself.

The destruction the peasant's were causing was inevitably going to attract the king's attention, and he agreed to meet them, which he did at Rotherhithe. However, the king would only meet with the rebels while standing on a barge in the river, fearing they might attack him otherwise. This angered the rebels and prompted them to march towards London to continued their destruction. Tyler and his followers had already broken the Lollard preacher John Ball out of prison, who then promptly joined the rebellion, and destroyed Savoy Palace, the London residence of John of Gaunt. After much death and destruction, the king once again met with the rebels and promised to do everything in his power to meet their demands. This caused a number of the rebels to depart home, but did not end the rebellion. What is believed to be a separate party of rebels then preceded to break into the tower of London and seize Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Robert Hales, treasurer of England, both of whom were listed as evil counselors who needed to be removed from the king's presence. Both men were dragged into the streets and beheaded with particular barbarity.

The following day, the king agreed to meet with the rebels a third and final time at Smithfield, and after a more intimate discussion with Tyler, he once again agreed to do everything in his power to satisfy them and promised a general pardon to all of the rebels for their offenses. It is by no means clear as to what happened next, and there are several different stories told about the occasion, but it is clear that, for whatever reason, certain members of the royal party felt that Tyler was acting inappropriately around the king. At this point, William Walworth, mayor of London, struck Tyler in the neck with his sword. Tyler was then wounded again by another member of the king's party before being arrested. The rebels quickly dissolved without their leader, and many were pardoned by the king. It was far too late for Tyler though, and he was promptly executed, ending the the first major crises of the reign of Richard II.

Straw/Tyler in Jack Straw

Within the anonymous play The Life and Death of Jack Straw, Jack Straw and Wat Tyler are portrayed as two separate characters. Straw is the clear leader of the rebellion, which is caused after he murders a tax collector who insults his daughter, and Tyler is merely one of his captains. In the end, Straw is stabbed to death by William Walworth, mayor of London; Tyler and fellow rebel John Ball are executed. The play's author clearly believes that Tyler and Straw were indeed separate entities, and he may be correct in this assumption. However, there are many other critics who will argue that Tyler used Jack Straw as an alias and that there was no real historical figure by that name. The debate continues even after over six hundred years.


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