Monday, June 4, 2012

Occupy (Medieval) London! Part 3 (of 5)

Wat Tyler & Jack Straw

The Peasants' Revolt was not just the result of a stirring sermon by John Ball. All of the counties of Kent and Essex were stirred up by an incident that started May 30, 1381. One of the king's servants went to the village of Fobbing and attempted to collect the poll tax that had been announced in 1379. He was refused any money, which prompted a visit by Chief Justice Robert Belknap to investigate and punish the villagers. He was attacked on June 2nd at the village of Brentwood.

Walter "Wat" Tyler (we call him "Tyler" because he worked in the roofing trade) comes into the story as an outraged father who killed a tax collector who had molested Tyler's daughter. There is some confusion, caused by the presence of more than one Tyler in the crowd. A recently discovered account from the time suggests that, the rebels already having been stirred up in Kent, they chose a "Wat Tyler" from Maidstone to lead them on or after June 7th, after those rebels took Rochester Castle.

Jack Straw is known even less, but he was one of the leaders of the rebels. Some historians think he was simply a pseudonym for Wat Tyler, but Froissart (who may not have observed the events, but was alive at the time and knew people close to the situation), makes it clear that Straw and Tyler were different people. Thomas Walsingham, a monk who wrote down much of the history of England during the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V, claims Straw was a priest and led a group of rebels from Bury St. Edmunds and Mildenhall to London.

There was also a John Wrawe, who had been a vicar in Suffolk and led a group from that county.

A majority of the rebels on the move--mostly the large group from Kent led by Wat Tyler--met at Blackheath and heard the sermon from John Ball with the famous line "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?" By June 12th, these groups were either listening to John Ball or approaching London from a different direction. Tempers were rising, and the lower classes were ready to make a statement.

[to be continued]

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