14 June 1381: The archbishop of Canterbury loses his head
The Peasants’ Revolt claims its most high-profile victim
The Tower of London is an imposing fortress, looming intimidatingly over the banks of the Thames. However, it isn’t completely impregnable – that much was proven in the most dramatic fashion in June 1381 by a group of rebels hell-bent on securing social justice.
During the early summer, an uprising had gathered pace in England – a “pitchfork rebellion” of the common people against the government. Known to posterity as the Peasants’ Revolt, the disorder reached a climax on 14 June when rebels broke into the Tower through an open gate, aiming to arrest and punish some of the most powerful men in the realm.
The rebels didn’t find King Richard II inside the fortress – he had already ridden out that morning to make terms with the “peasant” army at Mile End. However, they did discover Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury (whom they regarded as one of their chief oppressors), cowering in the chapel of the White Tower.
Unfortunately for Sudbury, his captors weren’t in a merciful mood, and he was soon dragged away to Tower Hill to meet his maker. It allegedly took eight clumsy blows to remove his head, which was then paraded through the streets before being impaled on London Bridge.
Sudbury’s skull survives to this day, and is held in St Gregory’s Church in Sudbury, Suffolk – a grisly memento of a momentary shift of power from the hands of the elite to the people of England. | Written by Helen Carr
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14 June 1811
Birth in Litchfield, Connecticut, of abolitionist and writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. In 1851 her influential anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin was serialised in the National Era, an abolitionist newspaper.
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In a paper delivered to the Royal Astronomical Society Charles Babbage proposed his Difference Engine, a hand-cranked mechanical calculator that could compute astronomical and mathematical tables.
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Edward FitzGerald died in Norfolk, aged 74. FitzGerald was a poet, student of the battle of Naseby and translator and adaptor of the collection of poems, originally in Persian, known as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
14 June 1940
German troops entered an undefended Paris, marching past the Arc de Triomphe on what was the 140th anniversary of Napoleon’s decisive victory over the Austrians at the battle of Marengo.