1381, the Peasants’ Revolt. Ah yes, it trips as easily off the tongue as 1066 and 1485. Well, there are other outstanding dates too, of course, but I’ll stick with these three as times of huge upheaval in England’s history. Not necessary for the better either, especially in the case of 1485.
Simon Sudbury was Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England. In the latter capacity he was responsible for the Poll Tax that finally ignited the great revolt by a people driven to desperation by crippling taxes, inequality and cruelty by an upper class that simply could not or would not see it needed to reform if peace was to be maintained. In the summer of 1381 it all came to a head and there was rebellion on a huge scale, which ended with invasion of the Tower of London, where Sudbury and others were hiding. On 14th June 1381 the archbishop was dragged out and beheaded.
At the time England was ruled by Richard II, still only in his early teens. I think everyone knows the story of the boy-king’s heroism in the face of the angry rebels. He was courageous on that occasion, although maybe he felt safe in the conviction that he was God’s Anointed. Maybe. Whatever, he calmed the situation after the bloody death of one of the rebels’ leaders, Wat Tyler. Of course, Richard had to go back on all his promises, because he wasn’t free to act of his own accord, and those in charge of him weren’t about to concede one iota of their powers to the common man.
But that’s another story, because this article this article is about Simon Sudbury, who hailed from Sudbury in Suffolk. After his execution, his head was displayed on London Bridge, as were the heads of most traitors. When it was removed it was taken to St Gregory’s Church in Sudbury, and it’s still there, concealed in a glass case in a wall and able to be seen by appointment. I’ve seen it on TV, and it’s a grim sight, retaining sufficient tissue for the man’s face to see be clearly made out.
With such a grisly relic within its fabric, it’s maybe to be expected that St Gregory’s has Simon’s ghost pacing around. It seems that in 1974 some bellringers, while practicing, heard the archbishop’s ghostly footsteps.
To read more about St Gregory’s and Simon Sudbury, go to the above link, but don’t visit the church itself after dark…unless you’re ghost-hunting.