The Tower of London History: The Only Time It Was Breached (Mystery Solved)

Updated on March 5, 2019
Anusha Nimrod profile image

A medical undergraduate with special love and taste for world history. Special interest is on Tudor Dynasty.

Peasants Revolting in London
Peasants Revolting in London | Source

This famous superstition depicts how the Tower of London, its ravens and the Great Britain are intertwined. This majestic fort, dating back to the reign of William the Conqueror, has a gruesome history of its own filled not only with royalty, but also with high profile prisoners, traitors and bloody executions. These ancient walls guard mysteries which are sometimes more than half a millenium old. Modern interventions and attempts of some inquisitive minds have paved way for us to unveil some of its darkest mysteries. Well, let's walk through one of them.

The infamous peasants' revolt sent a shivering down the spine of most of the London's nobles during the reign of Richard the Second. New taxes imposed by the government and injustice of nobles sparked a fire among Englishmen far away from bustling London. The ultimate result was a civil uprising which rose from each and every corner of England which consisted of furious men who were ready to slaughter any nobleman that they met across the way. The mob entered London on 13th June 1381, leaving the young king helpless because even his military officials were at war in France during that time.

Simon Sudbury
Simon Sudbury | Source

King went into the protection of the tower at this moment. Actually Richard had his government inside the tower and among the officials gathered there was one man who was known as one of the holiest men in whole England. He was Simon Sudbury, who was then the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor to the king himself. Suddenly a peculiar thing happened; the king left the tower to reach Mile End, leaving behind the archibishop inside the tower. And, what's more? Despite the tower being the most guarded place and the strongest fort in whole England, peasants entered the tower and beheaded Sudbury on the spot. They never forgot to celebrate their victory by displaying the late archibishop's head on a spike.

What puzzled historians for decades was that how did these countrymen, most of whom had never seen London before, could enter through the gates of this mighty fortress to kill the archbishop. If you have ever visited the tower, this may have puzzled you too, because you may have witnessed and amazed at the security measurements they had taken in protecting the gates. So, what?

Recently, a document written by Thomas Walsingham provided us with the answer.
Thomas was an English chronicler. His "Chronica Maiora" is the only source that provides a full history of lengthy peasants revolt. (However, there are two other sources too that provide information on a part of the revolt; "Westminister Chronicle" and "Chronicon Henrici Knighton") Date of his death is recorded as 1422, so it is highly possible that he was alive in 1381 to eye-witness the height of peasants' revolt.

Thomas Walsingham
Thomas Walsingham | Source

According to Walsingham, most possible answer is that the archibishop was a bait! The above source suggests that the king himself asked his guards to lighten the security measures at gates. It also mentions that the archibishop spent the whole day before praying and confessing. This proves that he was waiting for his death to come.

"The Archibishop indeed was well aware of their plan, and imminent arrival, and had spent the whole of the preceding night in making his confession and saying his holy prayers."

— Thomas Walsingham (Chronica Maiora)

The crowd was looking for somebody from Richard's government to take their revenge upon. If Richard hadn't deserted the tower, that "somebody" would have been the king himself. The king would have known it. But, there was another problem. There was a higher posibility that the crowd would follow the king all the way to Mile End. To avoid that, there should be somethng to keep the peasants involved till the king settles down at Mile End. Opening the gates of the tower for the angry mob and leaving his top-ranking official there to be killed might have appeared as a ruthless, but anyway a good idea.

Actually, Sudbury sacrificed his life to protect the boy-king Richard who was 14 at that time. Peasants got their prey and while they were distracted, Richard settled down and he even met leaders of the revolt later for a peace-talk. The event was not a success and Richard was not able to keep his promises. So the revolt took much time to be supressed. Even so, Sudbury's sacrifice paved way for Richard to save not only his own life but also the monarchy of England from the threats of peasants!

Skull of Sudbury at St. George's Church
Skull of Sudbury at St. George's Church | Source

Sources

  • Chronica Maiora (Thomas Walsingham)
  • Bloody Tales of the Tower (National Geographic Channel)

Did The King Make the Right Decision?

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Questions & Answers

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      • Anusha Nimrod profile imageAUTHOR

        Anusha Nimrod 

        3 weeks ago from Colombo, Sri Lanka

        Definitely Liz.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        3 weeks ago from UK

        The Tower of London is a long-standing historical monument with many stories associated with it through the years.

      • Anusha Nimrod profile imageAUTHOR

        Anusha Nimrod 

        3 weeks ago from Colombo, Sri Lanka

        rishabh, what do you mean by my site? :)

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