Face of 14th-century Archbishop of Canterbury revealed

The face of Simon of Sudbury, the controversial former Archbishop of Canterbury, was revealed last week – 630 years after he met his grizzly end during the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381.

Using skeletal detail taken from his part-mummified skull, forensic artist Adrienne Barker from the University of Dundee has employed state-of-the-art reconstruction techniques to recreate Sudbury’s facial features and complete a series of 3-D bronze-resin casts of his head. The skull has been kept at St Gregory’s Church at Sudbury in Suffolk for more than six centuries.


The University’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, who have in the past reconstructed the faces of German composer Bach and Cleopatra’s sister Arsinoe, were commissioned for this project. Adrienne carried it out as part of her MSc Forensic Art studies under the tutelage of renowned facial reconstruction expert Professor Caroline Wilkinson.

Sudbury was made Chancellor of Salisbury, and Bishop of London, before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury in 1375. He crowned King Richard II, and became Lord Chancellor of England in 1380, but was unpopular with rebellious peasants due to his role in introducing the third Poll Tax.


A year later, insurgents stormed the Tower of London and seized the Archbishop, before dragging him to Tower Hill and beheading him. It is believed Simon’s head was placed on a spike on Tower Bridge, where it was spotted by a man from Sudbury who grabbed it in the middle of the night and brought it back to his home town.

Ian Copeman, a local schools worker, and the-then curate of St Gregory’s Church Rev Jenny Seggar decided to engage Dundee’s world-leading expertise in facial recognition in order to gain a more complete picture of the local celebrity.

The skull was carefully removed from St Gregory’s and taken to West Suffolk Hospital for CT scans, which Adrienne then used to reconstruct Simon of Sudbury’s face. The models will be unveiled at the church at 4pm on Thursday, 15th September.

‘I hope people in Sudbury like what we’ve done but he’s a strange-looking fellow so it’ll be interesting to see their reactions,’ said Adrienne.


‘The first thing we had to do was carry out an initial assessment of the skull to determine its age, sex and ancestry. We then sculpted each muscle of the face and built this up on the cast we made of the skull before adding a final layer which represents the skin.

‘The only problem we really encountered was that there was still facial tissue attached to the skull, which we managed to remove using a computer modelling software before sending the CT data away for a rapid prototype model of the skull to be made.

‘The past year has been the best of my life as I’ve immersed myself in this reconstruction. It has been absolutely fascinating to learn the story behind Simon of Sudbury and to get involved in this work.’


Adrienne has made a total of three heads. One of the models will be on permanent display in St Gregory’s Church alongside Simon’s original skull, while a second will be used by Ian Copeman as part of his schools work projects.

The third head will be donated to Sudbury Town Council, who will in turn present it to Canterbury City Council.

Adrienne also created a website detailing how the reconstruction worked step-by-step. This is designed to teach children from Suffolk about an important piece of local history, as well as explaining how facial reconstruction works by bringing together art and anatomy.

Ian Copeman from the local Christian schools charity Future Vision, said he was delighted with the end result and that it was a big day for everyone in the local area.


‘It has been a very long wait but it’s definitely been worth it,’ he said. ‘I travelled to Dundee last week to collect the head. It’s taken over two years to get to this point, so it’s very exciting and satisfying to now be in a position to unveil it.

‘A lot of organisations and individuals have contributed in various ways and worked with us to make this happen and it’s fantastic for them to be able to see the finished head. It should mean a lot to the people of Sudbury and further afield, as well as people with an interest in medieval history.’

Professor Wilkinson is one of the world’s leading figures in facial reconstruction. She is a regular expert on TV shows, including the BBC Two series History Cold Case, which also starred colleagues from the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification.

Source: University of Dundee