The Eclipsed Scourge: The Pestilence of 1361 and the Origins of the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381
By Benjamin Harry Farr
Bachelor of Arts Thesis, Middlebury College, 2009
Introduction: King Richard II rode out to Mile End accompanied by all of the members of his Council – with the exception of Robert Hales and Simon Sudbury – to discuss the grievances of the rebel delegation. As soon as the royal entourage left the protection of the Tower of London, a small group of rebels under the command of Wat Tyler gained access to the Tower in search of those guilty of the peasants’ oppressed state. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Sudbury, presiding over mass in the Tower chapel, heard the din outside. The doors of the chapel burst open and the rebels flooded inside. Sudbury, at peace, displayed no sense of fear and replied to the shouts of hatred directed towards him: “It’s good that you have come, my sons. Here I am, the archbishop you are looking for, though no traitor or plunderer.” Paying no heed to the Archbishop’s words, the rebels dragged him out of the chapel and up to Tower Hill along with Robert Hales (master of the Hospital of St. John and treasurer of England), John Legg (a royal sergeant-at-arms and prominent tax collector) and a Franciscan monk. The four victims questioned the rebel’s motives and threatened that the wrath of God would come down upon their assailants. The rebels beheaded the Archbishop, taking eight blows to finish the job. The other three victims met with the same fate.