Politicians Lynched By The London Mob

Politicians and journalists are more unpopular today than ever. But in the past in London they stood a very real risk of being lynched.

One of the many politicians to be lynched was Walter Stapleton, Lord Treasurer of England, who came to a sticky end around 1326.

Victim of the London mob

Not only was he in charge of the country’s finances, Walter was a leading adviser to King Edward II and – typical of the Middle Ages – also the Bishop of Exeter. Men of the cloth often held top political positions. It wasn’t seen as unusual or ungodly. However, the conduct of King Edward II was seen as less than godly – with accusations of sodomy and vice swirling around him.

Edward’s own queen launched a rebellion to overthrow her husband the king in alliance with her lover. Londoners came out in the queen’s support. The king fled towards Wales while his Lord High Treasurer, the unfortunate Walter, tried to lock the gates of the city to stop Queen Isabella getting in.

Stapleton is one of many medieval lynched politicians

However, he’d misjudged the mood of London very badly.

The hapless politician galloped as fast as he could towards St Paul’s cathedral to plead for sanctuary but was intercepted by the mob. They pulled Walter from his horse, stripped his clothes (worth a pretty penny I’m sure) and dragged him naked to the stone cross that once stood in Cheapside.

There, they proclaimed him a traitor and cut off his head – putting it on a pole and processing around with it. The same fate befell his servants whose headless bodies were tossed on a heap of rubbish by the river.

Over fifty years later, a similar gory end came to Simon Sudbury, the Lord Chancellor of England. Like Walter, Simon held some ecclesiastical positions as well as being a politician. He was both Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury – so a top nob in medieval society. But the London mob soon cut him down to size – literally.

Poll tax leads to politicians being lynched

Regrettably, Sudbury supported the introduction of a poll tax. The peasants hated it. They marched on the capital and surrounded the Tower of London where Simon was holed up with the Lord Treasurer Sir Robert Hales.

Eventually, the two men were handed over to the mob and beheaded. Apparently, it took something like eight blows to take Simon’s head off. His skull can still be seen in the church of St Gregory in the town of Sudbury, Suffolk today.

Londoners have frequently rioted and attacked top politicians with no regard to their rank or position. During the 1780 anti-Catholic “Gordon Riots”, the house of Lord Mansfield was thoroughly plundered. In 1815, Lord Eldon – the Lord Chancellor – confronted a mob that was breaking the windows of his home with a shotgun in his hand!

Eldon was hated by the city populace as he’d managed to oppose just about every progressive measure you could imagine including the abolition of slavery and attempts to secure affordable bread for the poor (the Corn Laws). 

But the pelting of Eldon’s house with stones wasn’t a one off incident. Lord Wellington – hero of Waterloo – was assailed in his carriage by Londoners – as was King George III and King George IV.

So if politicians think they’ve got it tough today – pick up a history book. They’re getting off lightly in our times – with just a few hostile tweets. In the past they were lynched – their lives cruelly cut short.

The Peasant’s Revolt: The Death Of Simon Of Sudbury

The death of the Black Prince in 1376 can be equated to an ocean landslide that eventually causes a devastating Tsunami on the other side of the world. I consider it the starting point of the Wars of the Roses, and also the catalyst for all that occurred after the arrival of Edward’s ten year old son on the English throne up to his usurpation in 1399. Putting the many effects of Edwards death aside, I would like to write of one man, Simon of Sudbury, who was caught up in all of this.

His Grace Simon of Sudbury” by Raden Ajeng Wahyuni

It was the events that occurred in six months of 1381 that lead to Sudbury’s violent death. 

Sudbury, as his name suggests, was from the village of Sudbury in Suffolk, its not known when he left this small East Anglian village or if he ever revisited but he certainly had a great fondness for place. He founded St Leonard’s, a leper hospital in 1372 and the College of St Gregory two years later, in which his brother John said to have been warden.

In the late 1340’s Sudbury had studied in Paris, moved to Rome and then back again to England for a post in the court of Edward III. It was as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Westminster Abbey, that he crowned the little son of the Black Prince as Richard II King of England. Five years later it was Sudbury, in his new post as Chancellor of England, that the rioters used to vent their anger.

England had not recovered from the Black Death, workers were few, jobs were many, the treasury was empty and in an effort to counter this taxation was increased. This, of course, angered the the poor, for they had come to like their ‘freedom.’ In 1380, to rectify the situation, a poll tax to raise money to help England financial situation was introduced, those in authority thought it a grand idea the rest of the country did not, consequently, there was trouble. Between 13th and the 15th June over 100,000 peasants marched on the countries capital led by one Wat Tyler. No doubt, watching the proceedings from within the Tower of London, Sudbury may have seen the young king do his bit in appeasing the men, making promises (that he didn’t keep). Sudbury and Robert Hales, England’s Treasurer soon realised that their lives where in danger when they saw that the rioters had siezed an opportunity and entered through the gates of the Tower of London. Hiding in the White Tower, Sudbury was found praying. Both men were dragged out and both were decapitated. Sudbury must have suffered greatly, his ear was sliced and the bone in his neck had more than one cut leading us to believe that it must have taken more than two strokes to take off his head. Both Sudbury and Hales heads put on poles and carried about the city by the rioters. As mentioned earlier, the boy king never kept his promise to the peasants and eventually Wat Tyler’s head was exchanged for that of Sudbury’s.

His body was taken to Canterbury but his head elsewhere.

Sudbury’s mummified skull rest in a small cupboard in St Gregory’s Sudbury and here we can see poor Simon’s skull, with skin still attached. 

In 2011, over six hundred years after his death, forensic artist Adrienne Barker from the University of Dundee reconstructed Sudbury’s head using detail from skull. Adrienne said,

“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.”

Sudbury’s mummified skull rest in a small cupboard in St Gregory’s Sudbury and here we can see poor Simon’s skull, with skin still attached.

In 2011, over six hundred years after his death, forensic artist Adrienne Barker from the University of Dundee reconstructed Sudbury’s head using detail from skull. Adrienne said,

“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.”


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