Smithfield and the Death of Tyler
As London continued to burn, and severed heads piled up in the streets, Richard realised that giving the rebels permission to seek out traitors had been a grave error of judgement (surprise, surprise). His apparent permission seems even to have corrupted Tyler, who thrice refused to accept the Mile End charters in exchange for peace, realising that widespread disorder was the lifeblood of his movement. Richard thus changed tactics, and sought to meet the rebels with force. Mustering the 200 or so nobles and knights still in London, and arranged a third negotiation with the rebels at Smithfield.
When both sides were assembled, Richard sent the Mayor of London, William Walworth, to summon Tyler. Tyler approached on a small horse, disrespectfully refusing to dismount or remove his hood. According to the Anonomaille Chronicle, he then ‘sent for a jug of water to rinse his mouth… as soon as the water was brought he rinsed out his mouth in a very rude and villainous manner before the king’. He then shook the king’s hand, as if meeting a social equal, and addressed him as ‘brother’. Tyler’s new demands were equality for all men and all Lordship to be abolished.
John Ball’s radical preaching had clearly rubbed off on him. Richard, however, stunned Tyler by agreeing to all of his demands. Tyler’s strategy was to use the expected refusal to inspire yet more disorder across the country, and to keep his honorary role as leader of the commons. After minutes of tense silence, Tyler rudely turned his horse and made to ride off. At this, one of the king’s party called him a common thief. Swollen with pride, Tyler spun around, unsheathing his dagger. When Walworth then attempted to arrest Tyler for this disrespect to the king, Tyler stabbed him.
Alas, the Mayor’s armor protected him, and without hesitation Walworth stabbed the rebel through the neck and head, a valet running Tyler’s flank through with a sword for good measure. Tyler was fatally wounded, but still managed to flee, falling from his horse in a stream of blood. Walworth sent news to the wards of London that though the hated Wat Tyler was badly injured, the king was in danger and needed their aid, and they loyally took arms. Wallworth then sought out the moribund Tyler, finding him prostrate at St Bartholomew’s Church, Smithfield, and beheaded him as a traitor.
And what of the rebellious mob? Confused by the sight of Tyler riding towards them, then falling off his horse, they did not know what to do. Seizing the initiative, Richard rode out to them, and convinced them to follow him to the fields of Clerkenwell. Once settled there, they swiftly realized that the king was not their friend when the armed men of London and Walworth (with Tyler’s head on a spike) arrived to pen them in. Richard simply commanded them to go home, which they obeyed. The king then knighted Walworth on the spot, and plotted retribution.