“Talk of Robin Hood and Little John, and their dingy imitators in this metropolis described by Dickens and Ainsworth … The same man passes from one form into another – developing, according to the changes in society, from a forester to a mountaineer, thence to a highwayman, thence to an instructor of pickpockets and the receiver of their day’s work in St. Giles.”
“The Life and Death of Jacke Straw” (1593)
Although Wat Tyler’s rebellion failed, the story was retold in plays, poetry, novels, and the rebels’ names were used as aliases in protests through the ages—this post looks at the first every play written about the events of the Peasants’ Revolt.
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.
It wasn’t only men who had all the fun during the Peasants’ Revolt: Joan Smith was ‘the leader of a great band of rebellious evil-doers from Kent’. Who were these rebellious women in the Peasants’ Revolt?
The Last Dying Speech and Confession of Jack Straw
“We would have killed the king and driven out of the land all possessioners, bishops, monks, canons, and rectors of churches. We would have created kings, Walter Tyler in Kent and one each in other counties, and appointed them and we would have set fire to four parts of the city and burnt it down and divided all the precious goods found there amongst ourselves.”
An Early Socialist History of the Peasants’ Revolt: Charles Edmund Maurice’s “Lives of English Popular Leaders of the Middle Ages” (1875)
Charles Edmund Maurice was a Barrister, History Lecturer, and committed Christian Socialist. In 1875, he authored one of the first socialist histories of the rebellion of 1381.