Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury

Born: c. 1316

East Dereham, Norfolk, England

Died: June 14, 1381

Tower Hamlets, London, England (Age c. 65)

Canterbury in History

The early life and career of Simon Sudbury is fairly obscure, but by 1344 he had received his doctorate in civil law and in canon law by the end of the decade (both most likely at Cambridge). He was involved in a dispute involving the bishop of Norwich and the abbot of Bury St Edmunds, which forced Sudbury to depart England for two or three years to avoid arrest. When the situation blew over, Sudbury returned to his homeland and began to attract the attention of both King Edward III and the pope, who were impressed by his abilities, and was awarded a number of positions within the church. In addition, Sudbury was frequently used as a diplomat and papal legate, attempting to make peace between the  often-warring England and France. Sudbury received his highest honor to date when he was consecrated as bishop of London (1362). The new bishop would spend a majority of the next ten years or so concentrating on his duties at his see, while continuing his duties as a foreign diplomat and counselor.

Sudbury's greatest honor came in 1375 when he was created Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest position within in England's church. Canterbury continued further still in his diplomatic and ecclesiastic duties (though he took some criticism for his sympathetic views towards the Lollard preacher John Wycliffe) and became a major figure in the government of the new King Richard II by the 1380s. He was appointed chancellor of England (January 1380), an appointment that would prove to be fatal for the elderly archbishop, as he took a large part of the responsibility for passing the highly unpopular flat poll tax of 1381. This tax was the primary catalyst for the peasant's revolt of Kent and Essex (led by Wat Tyler among others) in which Canterbury was personally named as one of the king's evil counselors that needed to be removed from power. When the rebellion spread into London, and the king failed to successfully negotiate with the rebels, Canterbury was forced to take shelter in the tower with a number of other members of the royal party. While King Richard was meeting with the rebels in another attempt to negotiate a truce, it appears that a separate group decided to take the initiative and make sure the hated favorites were punished. The misguided rebels burst into the tower, dragged Canterbury and treasurer Robert Hales out to the street and beheaded them both. For all of Canterbury's loyal services to the church and the crown, he was only remembered for his part in the poll tax, a part that would cost him his life.

Canterbury in Jack Straw

In Jack Straw, the Archbishop of Canterbury is one of those who stays completely loyal to Richard II and advises him to deal with the rebels harshly, condemning their actions as treasonous. There is no mention as to Canterbury's execution at the hands of the rebels, as was the case historically.


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