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Michael Dowsett
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I have just done a dissertation on this exact topic for my finals. Overall I would agree with you in the sense that Wat Tyler certainly set the stage for the rise of armed revolt as a form of popular rebellion which continued through the Tudor period. However, I would like to pick up on a few points you made. Firstly, the withdrawal of privileges from serfs is I would suggest a secondary issue. The counties of Essex and Kent, which were at the forefront of the revolt had very few serfs or villeins and most of the agricultural workers there were 'free tenants' who were not obliged to work on their lord's land. Secondly, although the poll tax was undoubtedly a catalyst for the revolt, their is actually a very weak link between those areas where tax evasion was strongest and areas who rebelled most heavily in June 1381. Finally, I am not sure about your definition of the term 'freedom fighter.' Although Tyler's desire to get rid of villeinage was no doubt 'sound,' some of his other beliefs could, I am sure, be classified as those of a terrorist. For example, there is strong documentary evidence to suggest that Tyler and Ball planned to kill the King after Smithfield and also kill all members of the clergy and legal profession. Given this, surely it would be better to say that Tyler was a martyr for the cause of anarchy rather than true liberty which, in my view, requires the rule of law to be sustained.
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Jul 7, 2011