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The Life and Legend of a Rebel Leader: Wat Tyler (Hardback)

Social History

By Stephen Basdeo
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 216
ISBN: 9781526709790
Published: 19th February 2018



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In 1381, England was on the brink - the poor suffered the effects of war, the Black Death, and Poll Tax. At this time the brave Wat Tyler arose to lead the commoners, forming an army who set off to London to meet with King Richard II and present him with a list of grievances and demands for redress. Tyler was treacherously struck down by the Lord Mayor. His head hacked from his shoulders, pierced on a spike, and made a spectacle on London Bridge. Yet he lived on through the succeeding centuries as a radical figure, the hero of English Reformers, Revolutionaries, and Chartists.

The Life and Legend of a Rebel Leader: Wat Tyler examines the eponymous hero's literary afterlives. Unlike other medieval heroes such as King Arthur or King Alfred, whose post medieval manifestations were supposed to inspire pride in the English past, if Wat Tyler's name was invoked by the people, the authorities had something to fear.

This not a book of mediaeval history. It begins with a brief account of what is known about Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, and then follows his legend through succeeding centuries as each generation reinvents him for its own reasons.

Basdeo wrote his doctoral thesis on the legend of Robin Hood and resolved to write a similar piece on the legend of Wat Tyler. Unlike Robin Hood, we know Wat Tyler actually existed and when, but otherwise all we know is his dramatic death at Smithfield. This has not prevented folktales gathering around him, such as the story of the taxman who molested his daughter. At first Wat’s story was used as a Royalist warning to would-be rebels and then in the 18th century he became a Radical hero, in the 19th century a Chartist hero and later a hero of the Gothic revival. Basdeo provides an interesting chapter on historical novels featuring Wat.

Historical Novels Review

There is much to admire in this book, containing as it does material from a forgotten cultural history, and showing the way the literature of different ages have responded to the legend. Basdeo has an easy reading style, and although the theme is by its very nature somewhat repetitive, there is plenty of interest in these often forgotten literary pieces, and the author has contrived to pursue a single theme throughout in both a scholarly and entertaining fashion.

Read the complete review here.


Article: Following the legend of our son Wat Tyler by Alan Smith as featured by

Kent Messenger (Maidstone), 19th April 2018

As featured by

Ripperologist, February/March 2018 – reviewed by Paul Begg

About Stephen Basdeo

Stephen Basdeo researches eighteenth- and nineteenth-century medievalism. His other research interests include the history of crime. He is currently a lecturer at the Leeds Campus of Richmond American International University, and his personal website can be found at https://gesteofrobinhood.com/

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