Wat Tyler's Rebellion - 1381 A. D.

 The Court of Common Pleas (the civil court, as opposed to the Court of King's Bench, the criminal court) decided early in the 14th century that it "didn't have time for the affairs of peasants."  The peasants immediately recognized that they had no rights enforceable at law.

 By 1340 the judges in England had become so enamored of their own procedural technicalities that civil disputes languished for years.  The English Parliament enacted a statute that year which allowed the Commissioners to move the judges aside and adjudicate their own cases.

 In 1348 the Black Death reached England.  As many as half of the people in the country died.  The feudal lords, short of tenants, tried to make those remaining work even harder.  Most of the people in England were treated no better than animals.

 The common people had another barrier in their quest for rights.  All English court documents from 1066 to 1500 A. D. were written in what is today called "law French."  Most of the men who could teach the language were dead of the Plague.

 In 1381 the effort to strictly enforce the collection of taxes created discontent throughout England.  Wat Tyler's rebellion was ignited when a tax collector tried to make a determination that Wat Tyler's daughter was of taxable age (15) by stripping her naked and assaulting her.  Tyler, who was working close by, heard the screams of his wife and daughter, came running and smashed in the tax collector's skull with a hammer.  He was cheered by his neighbors and the commoners of the western division of Kent were brought together by his courage.  Wat Tyler was elected their leader.

 Wat Tyler's group joined another group led by two itinerant priests named John Ball and Jack Straw, and rose 100,000 strong to invade London.   The enraged mob broke open every prison and beheaded every judge and lawyer they could capture.  They were not allowed to enrich themselves in their rioting.  Valuables found in their midst were destroyed.  One man who hid a silver cup on his person was thrown into the river as punishment for his misdeed and as an example to others to refrain from such behavior.

 They surrounded Richard II, who asked them what they wanted.  Their answer was, "We will be free forever, our heirs and our lands."  Richard II agreed.

 In a face-to-face meeting with Wat Tyler a short time later, Richard II ordered the Lord Mayor of London to "set hands on him."  Tyler was stabbed through the throat with a short sword and, as he lay writhing in agony on the ground after falling off his horse, stabbed through the belly.

 Watching from a distance the peasants instantly arranged themselves in order of battle with their longbows.  Richard II rode up to them and said, "Wat Tyler was a traitor.  I'll be your leader."  Confused, the peasants followed the king until his soldiers met him and dispersed the crowd.

 Minus their leader, the peasants went home.  Richard reneged on his promises and hanged 1500 of the rebels after "jury trials."  Those trials were presided over by Judge John Tresilian, who told the jurors in each case that he would hang them if they didn't convict.

 Tresilian was hanged himself seven years later.

 Richard II was forced to abdicate in 1399.

 The English legal system continued to incite wars and rebellions until Englishmen, Scots, and Irish threw off the yoke of English legal tyranny in the American colonies in 1776 and Ireland gained most of her independence in 1921.

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This page was updated on May 23, 2005