Annotations To The Text

Annotations To The Text of Wat Tyler


20  Morris dance:
A dance performed in ostentatious costumes, usually representing characters from the Robin Hood tradition such as Maid Marian and Friar Tuck. Hence, any mumming performance in which fantastic dancing is an important feature.

27  Beshrew:
An interjection meaning evil befall, mischief take, devil take, curse, hang!, etc.; often humorous or playful.

34  barley-brake (also spelled barley-break):
An old country game, usually played in a corn-field or stack-yard and somewhat resembling Prisoner's Bars, originally played by three couples. One, being left in a middle den called "hell," had to catch the others, who were allowed to separate or 'break' when hard-pressed and thus to change partners.

59  Curse on these taxes:
Parliament had raised considerable revenues from the poll tax of 1377; yet the graduated poll tax levied in 1379 raised less than half of the 50,000 pounds Parliament had hoped to obtain. They spent this money on Sir John Arundel's mission to aid Brittany; twenty-four of his ships were wrecked during a storm on the journey and Arundel himself perished (Oman, Political History 17-8). This debacle necessitated raising additional revenues, and Parliament authorized a disastrous third poll tax. At this point, over 250,000 pounds had been spent on the war with no accompanying military success.

70  Charles:
Charles VI, King of France from 1380 to 1422. Throughout his long reign he remained largely a figurehead, first because he was still a boy when he took the throne, and later because of his periodic fits of madness.

90   r———s!—:
Reads "ruffians" in the Cleave edition (London, 1835).

118  Fare not the birds well:
Invoking Matthew 6:26: "Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?"

124   hoards up superfluous stores:
Recalls Luke 12:17-18: "What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, this will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods." Likewise resembles Jesus's remarks in Matthew 6:19-21: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, / But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal, / For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

127  John Ball:
Sometime priest and leader of the Peasants' Revolt. Ball was excommunicated about 1366 for inflammatory sermons delivered at York and Colchester advocating a classless society, but he continued to preach in open marketplaces and elsewhere. After 1376 he was often imprisoned, and at the outbreak of the rebellion (June 1381) he was rescued from Maidstone prison by Kentish rebels, whom he accompanied to London. There he incited a crowd at Blackheath with the popular text "When Adam dalf [dug] and Eve span [spun], / Who was then a gentleman?" An account in the Anonimalle Chronicle by a witness of the London events states that he urged the killing of lords and prelates. After the rebellion collapsed, Ball was tried and hanged at St. Albans. Knowledge of his career comes almost entirely from prejudiced chroniclers. Jean Froissart calls him the mad priest of Kent. Ball is the subject of William Morris' romance The Dream of John Ball.

134  High treason:
Violation by a subject of his allegiance to his sovereign or to the state. Defined 1350-1 by Act 25 Edward III, Stat. 5, c. 2, as compassing or imagining the king's death, or that of his wife or eldest son, violating the wife of the king or of the heir apparent, or the king's eldest daughter being unmarried, levying war in the king's dominions, adhering to the king's enemies in his dominions, or aiding them in or out of the realm, or killing the chancellor or the judges in the execution of their offices. In 1795 the offence was extended to actual or contemplated use of force to make the king change his counsels, or to intimidate either or both of the Houses of Parliament. As in the judgment and sentencing scene of John Ball in Act III, the procedure in trials for treason was heavily weighted against the accused, the punishment being "hanging, disembowelling while still alive, beheading, quartering, the confiscation of all his possessions and the disinheritance of his heirs" (Myers 353). As a result of the Treason Act (1945), the procedure for murder was applied to treason cases.

261  Maidstone:
The archbishop's prison at Maidstone, Kent.


75  So taught the Saviour:
See Matthew 19:21-22, which tells the story of the rich young man: "Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions."

93  pronounc'd that it was very good:
Recalling Genesis 1, which gives an account of the Biblical creation including God's judgment on what he had created: he "saw that it was good."

108  There was never a bishop among all the apostles:
The status of bishops in the church of Protestant England was much contested, and bishops were seen often as representatives of unwanted and unsanctioned hierarchy. Hob's statement, expressing that there were no bishops in the original church established by Christ, was often used as an argument against them. In the years following the French Revolution, British radicals opposed hierarchy in most of its forms, though still fearing mob rule.

136  Your sacred, your inalienable freedom:
Southey's use of the phrase "inalienable freedom" in Wat Tyler is anachronistic. The Oxford English Dictionary places the earliest uses of "unalienable" and "inalienable" in the early seventeenth century. Southey here echoes the language of the American Declaration of Independence (1776) and Thomas Paine's Rights of Man (1791-2).

150  Sir John Tresilian:
The King's sergeant at the beginning of Richard II's reign, made chief justice in 1381. He tried the Essex rebels at Chelmsford, and on July 14 he tried and sentenced John Ball. In 1387 he was hanged at Tyburn for treason.

150  Philpot:
Sir John Philpot (also Philipot, died 1384) was a wealthy merchant and a member of the Grocers' Company of London.  With Nicholas Brembre and William Walworth, he headed the opposition to John of Gaunt. In 1377, Philpot and Walworth were appointed as joint-treasurers for the taxes collected for the war efforts in France. He and Walworth loaned the King a substantial sum of money against the security of several crowns and royal jewels. Mayor of London 1378-9, Philpot was knighted for his subsequent involvement in the suppression of the rebels in 1381.

161  Then my Christian power:
Here the Archbishop offers absolution for the King while advising him to break his promise.

175   sacred privilege of Kings:
Referring to the doctrine of the divine right of kings, which held that kings received their authority from God at birth, were representatives of God on earth, and were answerable only to God.

186  city gates:
Referring to London's seven gates: Ludgate, Newgate, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, Moorgate, Bishopsgate, Aldgate.

240   His yoke is heavy:
Invoking Matthew 11:28-30: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

268  boots:


17  mitre:
Head-dress forming part of the insignia of a bishop in the Western Church, and worn also by certain abbots and other ecclesiastics as a mark of exceptional dignity.

48  emoving:
To move or incite to an action.

78  palace of the Gaunt:
M. H. Keen writes that the Savoy, John of Gaunt's palace, was the first target of the peasants once they were in London (268). Later, orders were given to question those of Gaunt's tenants "who have trespassed against us or done and borne to us and our grief, evil, and damage in the time of the horrible rebellion recently." A later account itemizes that which was lost and orders its restitution (John of Gaunt's Register in Myers 143-144).

97  the town of Berwick upon Tweed:
Berwick was the chief town on the Tweed, the border between England and Scotland, and because of wartime fluctuations of the border it came to be regarded as part of neither England nor Scotland. It changed hands 13 times before it was finally surrendered to England in 1482.


W.T. Sherwin:
William Thomas Sherwin. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the government's attempt to control sedition by way of stricter printing regulations led it on 12 July 1799 to require that even private presses be registered, and that publications contain names of publishers, printers, and writers. Sherwin's edition of Wat Tyler shows compliance with these regulations. His registration of the text names two printers, one at 183 Fleet Street and the other at 103 Fleet Street.

The Republican  and Sherwin's Weekly Political Register
Sherwin's Weekly Political Register was so named for a few years (1817-1819) before reassuming its old title of The Republican under the editorship of Richard Carlile. Under these titles, the periodical modeled itself after William Cobbett's two-penny Political Register, which took advantage of a legal loophole allowing publications to avoid tax by not printing news. Such publications printed editorials that incorporated news stories as part of an argument. By saving their readers the cost of the tax, such papers were able to disseminate radical political views to the poor—the group that the tax was intended to shelter from political information. See Kevin Gilmartin, Print Politics (Cambridge UP, 1996), 71-80.

Stationers' Hall
Hall of the Stationers' Company, where a register of copyrights is kept. The Stationers' Company was one of the Livery Companies of the City of London, founded in 1556, receiving its Royal Charter of Incorporation on May 4, 1557. It was comprised of booksellers, printers, bookbinders, and dealers in writing materials. The Copyright Act of 1842 provided that no action for breach of copyright could be brought unless the work had been entered in this register. The Copyright Act of 1911 abolished this rule.