The Critically Edited Text of Wat Tyler

PIERS (meeting JOHN BALL.)
You look disturb'd, my father? 1
               Piers, I am so. 2
Jack Straw has forced the Tower: seized the Archbishop, 3
And beheaded him. 4
             The curse of insurrection! 5
Aye, Piers! our nobles level down their vassals— 6
Keep them at endless labour like their brutes, 7
Degrading every faculty by servitude: 8
Repressing all the energy of the mind. 9
We must not wonder then, that like wild beasts, 10
When they have burst their chains, with brutal rage 11
They revenge them on their tyrants. 12
               This Archbishop! 13
He was oppressive to his humble vassals: 14
Proud, haughty, avaricious.— 15
               A true high-priest! 16
Preaching humility with his mitre on! 17
Praising up alms and Christian charity 18
Even whilst his unforgiving hand distress'd 19
His honest tenants. 20
He deserv'd his fate then. 21
Justice can never link with cruelty. 22
Is there among the catalogue of crimes 23
A sin so black that only Death can expiate? 24
Will Reason never rouse her from her slumbers, 25
And darting thro' the veil her eagle eye, 26
See in the sable garment of the law 27
Revenge conceal'd? —This high priest has been haughty— 28
He has oppress'd his vassals: tell me, Piers, 29
Does his Death remedy the ills he caused? 30
Were it not better to repress his power 31
Of doing wrong—that so his future life 32
Might expiate the evils of the past, 33
And benefit mankind? 34
              But must not vice 35
Be punished? 36
               Is not punishment revenge? 37
The momentary violence of anger 38
May be excus'd: the indignant heart will throb 39
Against oppression, and the outstretch'd arm 40
Resent its injured feelings: the Collector 41
Insulted Alice, and roused the keen emotions 42
Of a fond father. Tyler murder'd him. 43
Murder'd!—a most harsh word. 44
               Yes, murder'd him: 44
His mangled feelings prompted the bad act, 45
And Nature will almost commend the deed 46
That Justice blames: but will the awaken'd feelings 47
Plead with their heart-emoving eloquence 48
For the cool deliberate murder of Revenge? 49
Would you, Piers, in your calmer hour of reason 50
Condemn an erring brother to be slain? 51
Cut him at once from all the joys of life, 52
All hopes of reformation! to revenge 53
The deed his punishment cannot recall? 54
My blood boil'd in me at the fate of Tyler, 55
Yet I revenged not. 56
               Oh my Christian father! 57
They would not argue thus humanely on us, 58
Were we within their power. 59
               I know they would not! 60
But we must pity them that they are vicious, 61
Not imitate their vice. 62
               Alas, poor Tyler! 63
I do repent me much that I stood back, 64
When he advanced fearless in rectitude 65
To meet these royal assassins. 66
               Not for myself, 67
Tho' I have lost an honest virtuous friend, 68
Mourn I the death of Tyler: he was one 69
Gifted with the strong energy of mind, 70
Quick to perceive the right, and prompt to act 71
When Justice needed: he would listen to me 72
With due attention, yet not yielding lightly 73
What had to him seem'd good; severe in virtue 74
He awed the ruder people whom he led 75
By his stern rectitude. 76
               Witness that day 77
When they destroy'd the palace of the Gaunt; 78
And hurl'd the wealth his avarice had amass'd, 79
Amid the fire: the people, fierce in zeal, 80
Threw in the flames the wretch whose selfish hand 81
Purloin'd amid the tumult. 82
               I lament 83
The death of Tyler, for my country's sake. 84
I shudder lest posterity enslav'd 85
Should rue his murder!—who shall now control 86
The giddy multitude, blind to their own good, 87
And listening with avidity to the tale 88
Of courtly falsehood! 89
             The King must perform 90
His plighted promise. 91
(Cry without) —The Charter!—the Charter! 92
(Enter Mob and Herald.)
Read it out—read it out. 93
Aye, aye, let's hear the Charter. 94
Richard Plantagenet, by the grace of God, 95
King of England, Ireland, France, Scotland, 96
and the town of Berwick upon Tweed, to all 97
whom it may concern, These presents, 98
Whereas our loving subjects have complained 99
to us of the heavy burdens they endure, 100
particularly from our late enacted 101
poll-tax; and whereas they have risen in 102
arms against our officers, and demanded the 103
abolition of personal slavery, vassalage, and 104
manorial rights; we, ever ready in our sovereign 105
mercy to listen to the petitions of our 106
loving subjects, do annul all these grievances. 107
Huzza! long live the king! 108
HERALD. 108sd
And do of our royal mercy, grant a free 109
pardon to all who may have been anyways 110
concerned in the late insurrections. All this 111
shall be faithfully performed on our royal 112
word. So help us God. 113
               God save the King. 114
(Loud and repeated shouts.)
Now then depart in quiet to your homes. 115
Nay, my good friend—the people will remain 116
Embodied peaceably, till Parliament 117
Confirm the royal charter: tell your king so: 118
We will await the Charter's confirmation, 119
Meanwhile comporting ourselves orderly 120
As peaceful citizens, not risen in tumult, 121
But to redress their evils. 122
Exit Herald, &c. HOB, PIERS, and 122sd
JOHN BALL, remain.
              'Twas well order'd. 123
I place but little trust in courtly faith. 124
We must remain embodied; else the king 125
Will plunge again in royal luxury; 126
And when the storm of danger is past over, 127
Forget his promises. 128
               Aye, like an aguish sinner, 129
He'll promise to repent when the fit's on him, 130
When well recover'd, laugh at his own terrors. 131
Oh ! I am grieved that we must gain so little! 132
Why are not all these empty ranks abolish'd; 133
King, slave, and lord, "ennobl'd into MAN?" 134
Are we not equal all?—have you not told me 135
Equality is the sacred right of man, 136
Inalienable, tho' by force withheld? 137
Even so: but Piers, my frail and fallible judgment 138
Knows hardly to decide if it be right, 139
Peaceably to return; content with little, 140
With this half restitution of our rights, 141
Or boldly to proceed through blood and slaughter, 142
Till we should all be equal and all happy. 143
I chose the milder way:—perhaps I erred. 144
I fear me—by the mass, the unsteady people 145
Are flocking homewards! how the multitude 146
Diminishes! 147
               Go thou, my son, and stay them. 148
Carter, do you exert your influence. 149
All depends on their stay: my mind is troubl'd, 150
And I would fain compose my thoughts for action. 151
               (Exeunt HOB and PIERS.)
Father of mercies! I do fear me much 151
That I have err'd: thou gav'st my ardent mind 152
To pierce the mists of superstitious falsehood;— 153
Gav'st me to know the truth. I should have urg'd it 154
Thro' every opposition: now, perhaps, 155
The seemly voice of pity has deceiv'd me, 156
And all this mighty movement ends in ruin! 157
I fear me, I have been like the weak leech, 158
Who, sparing to cut deep, with cruel mercy 159
Mangles his patient without curing him. 160
(Great tumult.)
What means this tumult? hark! the clang of arms! 161
God of eternal justice! the false monarch 162
Has broke his plighted vow! 163
Enter PIERS, wounded.
Fly, fly, my father—the perjur'd king—fly! fly! 164
Nay, nay, my child—I dare abide my fate, 165
Let me bind up thy wounds. 166
               'Tis useless succour, 167
They seek thy life; fly, fly, my honour'd father. 168
Fain would I die in peace to hope thee safe. 169
I shall soon join thee, Tyler!—they are murdering 170
Our unsuspecting brethren: half unarm'd, 171
Trusting too fondly to the tyrant's vows, 172
They were dispersing:—the streets swim with blood. 173
O! save thyself. 174
Enter Soldiers.
This is that old seditious heretic. 175
(Seizes JOHN BALL.) 175sd
And here the young spawn of rebellion; 176
My orders ar'n't to spare him. 177
(Stabs PIERS.)
Come, you old stirrer-up of insurrection, 178
You bell-wether of the mob—you ar'n't to die 179
So easily. 180
(They lead off JOHN BALL—the tumult 180sd
increases—Mob fly across the Stage—
the Troops pursue them—loud cries and
My liege, 'twas wisely order'd to destroy 181
The dunghill rabble, but take prisoner 182
That old seditious priest: his strange wild notions 183
Of this equality, when well exposed, 184
Will create ridicule, and shame the people 185
Of their late tumults. 186
               Aye, there's nothing like 187
A fair free open trial, where the king 188
Can chuse his jury and appoint his judges. 189
Walworth, I must thank you for my deliverance; 190
'Twas a bold deed to stab him in the parley! 191
Kneel down, and rise a knight, Sir William Walworth. 192
Enter Messenger.
I left them hotly at it. Smithfield smoked 193
With the rebels' blood:  your troops fought loyally, 194
There's not a man of them will lend an ear 195
To pity. 196
               Is John Ball secur'd? 197
            They have seiz'd him. 198
Enter Guards with  JOHN BALL.
We've brought the old villain. 199
               An old mischief-maker— 200
Why there's fifteen hundred of the mob are kill'd, 201
All thro' his preaching! 202
Prisoner! are you the arch-rebel, John Ball? 203
I am John Ball; but I am not a rebel. 204
Take ye the name, who, arrogant in strength, 205
Rebel against the people's sovereignty. 206
John Ball, you are accus'd of stirring up 207
The poor deluded people to rebellion; 208
Not having the fear of God and of the king 209
Before your eyes; of preaching up strange notions 210
Heretical and treasonous; such as saying 211
That kings have not a right from heaven to govern; 212
That all mankind are equal; and that ranks 213
And the distinctions of society, 214
Aye, and the sacred rights of property 215
Are evil and oppressive:—plead you guilty 216
To this most heavy charge? 217
               If it be guilt— 218
To preach what you are pleas'd to call strange notions. 219
That all mankind as brethren must be equal; 220
That privileg'd orders of society 221
Are evil and oppressive; that the right 222
Of property is a juggle to deceive 223
The poor whom you oppress;—I plead me guilty. 224
It is against the custom of this court 225
That the prisoner should plead guilty. 226
               Why then put you 227
The needless question?—Sir Judge, let me save 228
The vain and empty insult of a trial. 229
What I have done, that I dare justify. 230
Did you not tell the mob they were oppress'd, 231
And preach upon the equality of man; 232
With evil intent thereby to stir them up 234
To tumult and rebellion? 235
               That I told them 236
That all mankind are equal, is most true: 237
Ye came as helpless infants to the world: 238
Ye feel alike the infirmities of nature; 239
And at last moulder into common clay. 240
Why then these vain distinctions!—bears not the earth 241
Food in abundance?—must your granaries 242
O'erflow with plenty, while the poor man starves? 243
Sir Judge, why sit you there clad in your furs? 244
Why are your cellars stor'd with choicest wines? 245
Your larders hung with dainties, while your vassal, 246
As virtuous, and as able too by nature, 247
Tho' by your selfish tyranny depriv'd 248
Of mind's improvement, shivers in his rags, 249
And starves amid the plenty he creates. 250
I have said this is wrong, and I repeat it— 251
And there will be a time when this great truth 252
Shall be confess'd—be felt by all mankind. 253
The electric truth shall run from man to man, 254
And the blood-cemented pyramid of greatness 255
Shall fall before the flash! 256
               Audacious rebel! 257
How darest thou insult this sacred court, 258
Blaspheming all the dignities of rank? 259
How could the Government be carried on 260
Without the sacred orders of the king, 261
And the nobility? 262
               Tell me, Sir Judge, 263
What does the government avail the peasant? 264
Would not he plow his field and sow the corn, 265
Aye, and in peace enjoy the harvest too: 266
Would not the sunshine and the dews descend, 267
Tho' neither King nor Parliament existed? 268
Do your Court Politics ought matter him? 269
Would he be warring even unto the death 270
With his French neighbours?—Charles and 271
Richard contend; 272
The people fight and suffer:—think ye, Sirs, 273
If neither country had been cursed with a chief, 274
The peasants would have quarrell'd? 275
               This is treason! 276
The patience of the court has been insulted— 277
Condemn the foul mouth'd, contumacious rebel. 278
John Ball, whereas you are accused before us 279
Of stirring up the people to rebellion, 280
And preaching to them strange and dangerous doctrines; 281
And whereas your behavior to the court 282
Has been most insolent and contumacious; 283
Insulting Majesty—and since you have pleaded 284
Guilty to all these charges; I condemn you 285
To death: you shall be hanged by the neck, 286
But not till you are dead—your bowels opened— 287
Your heart torn out and burnt before your face— 288
Your traitorous head be sever'd from your body— 289
Your body quartered, and exposed upon 290
The city gates—a terrible example— 291
And the Lord God have mercy on your soul! 292
Why be it so. I can smile at your vengeance, 293
For I am arm'd with rectitude of soul. 294
The truth, which all my life I have divulg'd 295
And am now doom'd in torment to expire for, 296
Shall still survive—the destin'd hour must come, 297
When it shall blaze with sun-surpassing splendor, 298
And the dark mists of prejudice and falsehood 299
Fade in its strong effulgence. Flattery's incense 300
No more shall shadow round the gore-dyed throne; 301
That altar of oppression, fed with rites, 302
More savage than the Priests of Moloch taught, 303
Shall be consumed amid the fire of Justice; 304
The ray of truth shall emanate around, 305
And the whole world be lighted! 306
Drag him hence— 307
Away with him to death! order the troops 308
Now to give quarter and make prisoners— 309
Let the blood-reeking sword of war be sheathed, 310
That the law may take vengeance on the rebels. 311
THE END. 311sd

Textual Notes

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.

Collation of Witnesses

Line 1 sd SCENE—SMITHFIELD.]   SCENE I.—Smithfield   Works 1860
PIERS (meeting JOHN BALL)  ]  Piers (to John Ball). Works 1860

Piers. (To John Ball.)  Cleave 1835


Line 24

expiate ]  remedy  Works 1860


Line 34

benefit  ]   remedy   Cleave 1835


Line 48

heart-emoving  ]   heart-moving  Mendam 1850, Cleave 1835


Line 62

Not  ] Nor   Cleave 1835


Line 74

to ]  unto Mendam 1850


Line 81

the wretch  ] a wretch  Works 1860


Line 92 (Cry without) —The Charter!—the Charter!  ] [Cry without, "The charter! the charter!"  Works 1860

Line 108 sd

HERALD ] Herald ( continues)  Works 1860


Line 110

anyways  ]  anywise  Mendam 185


Line 122 sd Exit Herald, &c. HOB, PIERS, and /JOHN BALL, remain.  ] [Exit Herald, &c.  Works 1860

Exit Herald, &c.  Cleave 1835


Lines 169-170

Fain would I die in peace to hope thee safe./ I shall soon join thee, Tyler!—  ]   And let me have the hope to sweeten death/ That thou, at least, hast 'scaped.  Works 1860


Line 172

vows ] word  Works 1860


Line 175 sd

(Seizes JOHN BALL. ]   Works 1860, Cleave 1835


Line 180 sd (They lead off JOHN BALL—the tumult/increases—Mob fly across the Stage—/the Troops pursue them—loud cries and/shouts.)  ]
[Leading him off. / Mob fly across the stage; the troops pursue them; /tumult increases; loud cries and shouts.   Works 1860
(Leading him off.)/(Mob fly across the stage—the troops pursue them—tumult increases / loud cries and shouts.)   Cleave 1835

SCENE—WESTMINSTER HALL ]  SCENE II.— Westminster Hall.  Works 1860


Line 267

sunshine ]   sun shine  Works 1860


Line 269

ought ]  aught  Works 1860


Line 270

the death  ]   death  Works 1860


Line 301

round ]  around Works 1860


Line 311 sd THE END. ] Works 1860
Finis    Hone 1817

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