Poetry: The Rebellion of Wat Tyler and Jack Straw (c.1612)

Unlike that other medieval hero and man of the people, Robin Hood, Wat Tyler does not enjoy an extensive ballad “afterlife.”

This song, first published in The Garland of Delight (1612), is perhaps the first proper ballad which features the famous rebel. It was subsequently published by Thomas Evans in Old Ballads, Historical and Narrative (1777) during the “age of ballad scholarship.”

Presented here is a transcription of the song, although the tune does not survive.


The Rebellion of Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and Others Against King Richard the Second; how Sir William Walworth, lord Mayor of London, stabbed Tyler in Smithfield, for which the King knighted Sir William, with Five Aldermen More, Causing a Dagger to be Added in the Shield of the City Arms

 

Wat Tyler is from Dartford gone,

And with him many proper men,

And he a captain is become,

Marching in field with fife and drum.

 

Jack Straw another in like case,

From Essex flocks a mighty pace:

Hob Carter with his stragling train,

Jack Shepherd comes with him amain;

 

So doth Tom Miller in like sort,

As if he meant to take some sort:

With bows and bills, with spear and shield,

On Black-heath they have picht their field.

 

An hundred thousand men in all,

Whose force is not accounted small:

And for King Richard did they send,

Much evil to him they did intend,

 

For the war which our noble King

Upon the commons them did bring:

And now because his royal grace

Denied to come with their chase

 

They spoiled Southwark round about,

And took the marshall’s prisoners out:

All those that in the King’s-bench lay,

And liberty they set that day,

 

And then they marched with one consent

Through London with a rude intent;

And to fulfil their leud desire,

They set the Savoy all on fire:

 

And for the hate they did bear

Unto the Duke of Lancashire,

Therefore his house they burned quite,

Through envy, malice and despite.

 

Then to the Temple did they turn,

The lawyers books eke did they burn,

And spoil’d their lodgings one by one,

And all they laid their hands upon.

 

Then unto Smithfield did they hie,

To St. John’s place that stands thereby,

And set the same on fire flat,

Which burned seven days after that.

 

Unto the Tower of London then,

Fast trooped these rebellious men,

And having entred soon the same,

With divers cries and mickle shame;

 

The grave lord chancellor then they took,

Amaz’d with fearful piteous look.

The lord high treasurer likewise they

Took from that place the present day;

 

And with their hooting loud and shrill,

Cut off their heads on Tower Hill.

Into the city came they then,

Like leud disordered frantick men.

 

They rob’d the churches every where,

And put the priests in deadly fear.

Into the counters then they get,

Where men in prison lay for debt;

 

They broke the doors, and let them out,

And threw the counter books about,

Tearing and spoiling them each one,

And records all they light upon.

 

The doors of Newgate broke they down,

That prisoners ran about the town,

Forcing all the smiths they meet

To knock the irons from their feet:

 

And then like villains void of awe,

Followed Wat Tyler and Jack Straw.

Although this outrage was not small,

The king gave pardon to them all,

 

So they would part home quietly:

But they his pardon did defie.

And being in Smithfield then,

Even threescore thousand fighting men,

 

Which there Wat Tyler then did bring

Of purpose for to meet the king.

And therewithal his royal grace,

Sent Sir John Newton to that place,

 

Unto Wat Tyler willing him

To come and speak with our royal king.

But the proud rebel in despight,

Did pick a quarrel with the knight.

 

The mayor of London being by,

When he beheld this villainy,

Unto Wat Tyler he rode then,

Being in th’ midst of all his men:

 

Saying, traytor yield ‘tis best,

In the King’s name I thee arrest,

And therewith to his dagger start,

He thrust the rebel to the heart,

 

Who falling dead upon the ground,

The same did all the host confound:

So down they threw their weapons all,

And humbly they for mercy call:

Thus did the proud rebellion cease,

And after followed joyful peace.

 

Thomas Evans (ed.), Old Ballads, Historical and Narrative 2 Vols. (London: T. Evans, 1777)

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