Wat Tyler's Rebellion

Account of the Insurrection of Walter Tyler, and of his death at the hands of William Walworthe, the Mayor

4 Richard 11. A.D. 1381. Letter-Book H. fol. cxxxiii (Latin).

AMONG the most wondrous and hitherto unheard-of prodigies that have ever happened in the City of London, that which took place there on the Feast of Corpus Christi, the 13th day of June, in the 4th year of the reign of King Richard the Second, seems deserving to be committed to writing, that it may be not unknown to those to come.

For on that day, while the King was holding his Council in the Tower of London, countless companies of the commoners and persons of the lowest grade from Kent and Essex suddenly approached the said city, the one body coming to the town of Southwark, and the other to the place called " Mileende," without Algate. By the aid also of perfidious commoners within the City, of their own condition, who rose in countless numbers there, they suddenly entered the City together, and, passing straight through it, went to the mansion of Sir John, Duke of Lancaster, called "Le Savoye," and completely levelled the same with the ground, and burned it. From thence they turned to the Church of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, without Smethefeld, and burnt and levelled nearly all the houses there, the church excepted.

On the next morning, all the men from Kent and Essex met at the said place called " Mileende," together with some of the perfidious persons of the city aforesaid; whose numbers in all were past reckoning. And there the King came to them from the Tower, accompanied by many knights and esquires, and cragged forth from it Sir Simon, Archbishop of Canterbury, Chancellor of our Lord the King, and Brother Robert Hales, Prior of the said Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, the King's Treasurer; and, together with them, Brother William Appeltone, of the Order of Friars Minors, and John Leg, Serjeant-at-arrns to the King, and also, one Richard Somenour, of the Parish of Stebenhuthe; all of whom they beheaded in the place called "Tourhillel" without the said Tower; and then carrying their heads through the City upon lances, they set them up on London Bridge, fixing them there on stakes.

Upon the same day there was also no little slaughter within the City, as well of natives as of aliens. Richard Lions, citizen and vintner of the said City, and many others, were beheaded in Chepe. In the Vintry also, there was a very great massacre of Flemings, and in one heap there were lying about forty headless bodies of persons who had been dragged forth from the churches and their houses; and hardly was there a street in the City in which there were not bodies lying of those who had been slain. Some of the houses also in the said city were pulled down, and others in the suburbs destroyed, and some too, burnt.

Such tribulation as this, greater and more horrible than could be believed by those who had not seen it, lasted down to the hour of Vespers on the following day, which was Saturday, the 15th of June; on which day God sent remedy for the same, and His own gracious aid, by the hand of the most renowned man, Sir William Walworthe, the then Mayor; who in Smethefelde, in presence of our Lord the King and those standing by him, lords, knights, esquires, and citizens on horseback, on the one side, and the whole of this infuriated rout on the other, most manfully, by himself, rushed upon the captain of the said multitude, "Walter Tylere" by name, and, as he was altercating with the King and the, nobles, first wounded him in the neck with his sword, and then hurled him from his horse, mortally pierced in the breast; and further, by favour of the divine grace, so defended himself from those who had come with him, both on foot and horseback, that he departed from thence unhurt, and rode on with our Lord the King and his people, towards a field near to the spring that is called "Whittewellebeche" in which place, while the whole of the infuriated multitude in warlike manner was making ready against our Lord the King and his people, refusing to treat of peace except on condition that they should first have the head of the said Mayor, the Mayor himself, who had gone into the City at the instance of our Lord the King, in the space of half an hour sent and led forth therefrom so great a force of citizen warriors in aid of his Lord the King, that the whole multitude of madmen was surrounded and hemmed in; and not one of them would have escaped, if our Lord the King had not commanded them to be gone.

Therefore our Lord the King returned into the City of London with the greatest of glory and honour, and the whole of this profane multitude in confusion fled forthwith for concealment, in their affright.

For this same deed our Lord the King, beneath his standard, in the said field, with his own hands decorated with the order of knighthood the said Mayor, and Sir Nicholas Brembre, and Sir John Phelipot, who had already been Mayors of the said city; as also, Sir Robert Launde.


Injunctions issued by the Mayor, for keeping the peace within the City; and for keeping watch and ward at the City Gates

[Chaucer was living in Algate at the time; his lease specified that the City reserved the right to garrison the gate in times of trouble, a right which was exercised during Wat Tyler's rebellion]

Richard 11. A.D. 1381. Letter-Book H. fol. cxxxiv (Norman French).

WHEREAS the Aldermen, and other persons in great numbers, men of good heart, of every Ward in the City and from without, have been certified in presence of us at the Guildhall, as being good men, and loyal to our most dread Lord the King, and to his commandments, and as being ready, together with ourselves and the Aldermen, and the other officers of the City, to meet all rumours imagined within the said city, or without, against the honour of our said Lord and of the City; and to live and to die with us and the said officers, in opposing all persons who shall think fit to enter the said city to do such dishonour or despoiling, as against our said most dread Lord or ourselves, as of late, has been done, to the great scandal of all the realm and of ourselves; we do command you that, on seeing this, you do cause to be assembled before you all those who keep house and household, and do make them swear before you on the Bible, firmly to observe the points above stated, to live and to die in the same, on pain of their lives; you taking down the names of all those who shall be so sworn. And further, you shall charge every person of your Ward who has a household, to take of them the same oath, on pain of their lives. And if you shall find any persons rebellious in conforming to all the points aforesaid, you are to cause the same to be arrested, as disobedient unto our Lord the King, and to the City, and to put them in safe guard, as for them you would answer. Written on the 20th day of June, in the 4th year of the reign of our Lord King Richard the Second.

We do direct and command you, on your oath, and on pain of forfeiting as much as unto our Lord the King and to the City you may forfeit, that, all excuses set aside, you do cause the Gate of Aldgate this Saturday next to be guarded throughout the day, and the night following, by four men sufficiently well armed, and four archers, of the people of your Ward; that so, no stranger enter there through the same, with any armour, unless he be a gentleman, or else an archer, who will say upon his faith that he has now come unto our said Lord the King, to go forth with him against his rebels. And that the said four men-at-arms and four archers be not removed from the said gate before Sunday morning, at 4 of the clock; when other four men-at-arms and four archers of Tower Ward are to come and take the same guard of the gate, in manner aforesaid. And any person of your Ward whom you shall find rebellious or disobedient in keeping guard in manner aforesaid, you are to have forthwith arrested and taken to prison, as being a rebel, and disloyal to our said Lord the King, and to the City aforesaid. And this you are in no manner to omit, on the peril which awaits the same.


From Memorials of London and London life, in the XIIIth, XIVth, and XVth centuries. Being a series of extracts, local, social, and political, from the early archives of the City of London, A.D. 1276-1419, ed. and tr. by Henry Thomas Riley. London. 1868 [Hilles: 942.1 2].