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.

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