chapter  7
10 Pages

Social Composition

The names and occupations of some of the leading figures were well known to the chroniclers nearest in time and place to the revolt, W alsingham and the Anonimalle chronicler being the best informed. These leaders were, of course, Wat Tyler, whose surname may well have been a correct occupational description, John Ball and John Wrawe (priests) and Geoffrey Litster (dyer). But even at this date, surnames were not entirely fixed and hereditary and many names may have been pseudonyms or nicknames, rather than names which would have been entered on a rent roll or tax list. Jack Straw, about whom nothing is known, sounds like a nickname. Knighton thought it was an alias for Wat Tyler. The Dieulacres chronicle also attributed the role usually played by

Tyler to Jack Straw and suggested that this was the pseudonym of a black sheep from the Kentish gentry family of Culpeper. This chronicler even thought one leader was Piers Plowman, and clearly such names as Jakke Mylnere, Jakke Carter andJakke Trewman, supplied by Knighton, come into the nickname category. Who provided the nicknames? The Evesham chronicler evidently thought that all the names were pseudonyms, given by the rebels to those whom they chose as leaders (sibi judices et praenuncios vel capitaneos eis praeficerunt huiusmodi nomina imponentes . ... ),' such as Jak Sherp, John Wraw, Thomas Meller, Watte Taylor (sic), Robbe Carter and Jak Straw. If the letters supposed to be dispatched by John BaH and others, and recorded by Walsingham and Knighton, are authentic, these would confirm that the pseudonyms were chosen by the rebels rather than attached in a derisory way by the chroniclers. If anything, they tend to stress the rural origins of the leadership with their emphasis on agricultural associations. The fact that there seem to be positive echoes in them from William Langland's Piers the Ploughman does not contradict the suggestions, though it does pose interesting problems about lower-class culture at this time.