A King Under Siege (The Plantagenet Legacy, Book 1): The Coffee Pot Book Club Blog Tour.
Richard II found himself under siege not once, but twice in his minority. Crowned king at age ten, he was only fourteen when the Peasants’ Revolt terrorized London. But he proved himself every bit the Plantagenet successor, facing Wat Tyler and the rebels when all seemed lost. Alas, his triumph was short-lived, and for the next ten years he struggled to assert himself against his uncles and increasingly hostile nobles. Just like in the days of his great-grandfather Edward II, vengeful magnates strove to separate him from his friends and advisors, and even threatened to depose him if he refused to do their bidding. The Lords Appellant, as they came to be known, purged the royal household with the help of the Merciless Parliament. They murdered his closest allies, leaving the King alone and defenseless. He would never forget his humiliation at the hands of his subjects. Richard’s inability to protect his adherents would haunt him for the rest of his life, and he vowed that next time, retribution would be his.
THE MURDER OF ARCHBISHOP SUDBURY
Trigger warning: violence.
Wat Tyler led his men into the outer passage. “This way,” he shouted. Passing through a doorway and down a couple of steps, they found themselves in a viewing gallery which overlooked the royal chapel. A hush fell over the group as they spread out, leaning against tall piers that supported the roof. They couldn’t help it; this was a house of worship unlike anything they had ever seen before—light and airy, hung with gold-embroidered banners. Those in front shushed the men behind them, for one good push and they would be shoved off the edge.
Even Wat stopped for a moment, but he could barely contain himself. There was no mistaking the man below, making the sign of the cross over Treasurer Hale’s head. “There he is,” sputtered the rebel leader, almost overcome by excitement. He pushed his way past a few incautious companions and ran to the far turret, taking the staircase down one flight. They had to backtrack through the banqueting hall, joining forces with Farringdon as he was leading his men, weighed down with ill-fitting helmets and shiny new weapons. Wat pointed toward the chapel. “The traitors are inside.”
That was all Farringdon needed to know. He forced the door and stopped just inside the room as the archbishop finished his prayers, trying to ignore the interruption. The doorway filled up with gloating predators, ready to pounce on their victims.
Finally Sudbury straightened and crossed himself, saying “All the holy saints, pray for us”. Then, taking a deep breath, he reached for his crosier. William Appleton, a friar and Gaunt’s physician, handed it to him.
The rebels could wait no longer. “Where is that traitor to the kingdom?” shouted Wat Tyler, enjoying the way his voice echoed from the vaulted ceiling. “Where is the despoiler of the common people?”
Archbishop Sudbury stood still, projecting a calm he did not feel. “Good, my sons, you have come; behold, I am the archbishop whom you seek, but not a traitor or despoiler.”
Shouting in glee, the rebels surrounded him, grabbing his sleeves, his hood, his arms—anything they could get their hands around. William Appleton was next. As the mob dragged the priests from the chapel Farringdon pointed to Treasurer Hales, who was trying to sneak out a postern door.
“Stop him,” he bellowed. “Don’t let him get away!” Two men threw themselves on the treasurer, knocking him to the ground. He started yelling but someone punched him in the side of the head, shutting him up. They pulled Hales off the floor and shoved him after the archbishop, through the banqueting hall and down the turret stairs. Hales tripped on the top step and fell on the men before him, but such was the glut of bodies that he didn’t fall far. Farringdon took a strong grip on the neck of his tunic and pulled him back onto his feet before thrusting him forward again. No one in the chapel escaped their wrath: they captured John Legge, the king’s sergeant-at-arms and a lawyer Richard Somenour, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
By then, Tyler had reached the main door and his men goaded the prelate down the exterior stairs. They burst into the inner bailey and drove their prisoners back the way they had come—over the drawbridge, through the gates and out onto Tower Hill. The assembled rebels shrieked their elation—sounding, a later chronicler said, like the devilish voices of peacocks. On and on the ruffians dragged the archbishop until he was in the midst of the vast assembly on Tower Hill. Someone had brought up a stump, and it was to this spot that the victims were drawn.
Sudbury knew he was doomed, but he tried one more time. “What is it, dearest sons, what is it that you propose to do?” He knew that only the ones nearest to him could hear above the uproar, but the clamor dimmed somewhat when he spoke. “What sin have I committed towards you? Beware lest, if you kill me, who am your pastor, prelate and archbishop…” Someone shoved him and he fell to his hands and knees. But he pushed himself up again, rubbing his bruised hands. He raised his voice, trained to fill the space of a cathedral: “The fury of a just vengeance shall fall on you; certainly for such a deed all England will be laid under an interdict!”
But the rebels were beyond caring. “We fear neither you nor the pope!” someone shouted. “You have no choice but to submit to the will of the people!”
“You are a traitor and deserve to die!”
The cries became unintelligible again, and Sudbury ceased to resist as strong arms grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him to the ground, stretching his neck onto the log.
The headsman was one of their own and his axe looked like it had seen plenty of tree trunks. Laughing at a joke from someone behind him, he spit on his palms, took the axe and swung it heartily at the quivering archbishop’s neck. “Ohhh,” groaned the crowd when he missed the mark, gashing the neck but not severing it. Sudbury shrieked and put his hand on the wound.
“Ah, Ah! This is the hand of God,” he cried, but the axeman took no pity. The blade came down again, severing the tops of Sudbury’s fingers and sinking deeper into the neck. Blood spurted over the executioner, but still the job wasn’t done. Sweating now, the axeman struck again and again, this time hitting the head, next the shoulder. At least his victim was insensible by then. Finally, on the eighth blow, the head rolled away from the body and the archbishop’s corpse hit the ground with a thud.
They were just beginning; the headsman had more victims to dispatch. As Wat dragged the body away from the stump, Farringdon pushed down the treasurer who was already half-dead with fear. Luckily for him, the executioner paid more attention and Sir Robert Hales quickly followed his fellow victim, his head severed in one stroke. The last two men were also decapitated, almost as an afterthought because the rebels on Tower Hill were busy jumping up and down, congratulating each other, and drinking to their success.
Sudbury’s head lay on the ground, face up. The eyes bulged and the mouth gaped open in a perfect expression of terror. Wat Tyler stood contemplating the archbishop’s face, when suddenly he had an idea. “A hammer,” he shouted. “Bring me a hammer and a nail.” There was some scrambling around, and while he waited Wat pointed to the other bloody heads. “Put these things on poles so we can show the world we are free from these traitors!” As his followers complied, someone handed him a hammer. “Good. Bring that traitor’s skull over here.” Everyone knew whose skull he meant, and a willing accomplice plucked the still-bleeding head from the ground, its neck shredded and ragged. Wat picked up the archbishop’s mitre. “How can people recognize you without this?” he laughed, brandishing the red hat. He put it on Sudbury’s head, stepped back, straightened it, and held out his hand for the nail. It only took a moment to hammer the archbishop’s mitre onto his head, then Wat shoved the skull onto a spear.
As the four grizzly trophies rose into the air, the crowd howled even louder, if that was possible. “Go ahead. Make our archbishop give our treasurer a kiss,” Wat shouted. The pole-bearers obliged, smacking the two heads together to the great entertainment of all. “And now, our triumphal procession!” Some of the makeshift musicians banged their drums and two shepherds came forward with their bladder pipes, making a shrill and demanding screech. Leading the way, the players started down the hill and back into the city, followed by the leaders, the pole-bearers, and the executioner who hung the fatal axe from his neck in front and a dagger down his back, boasting about his exploits. A large number of Wat’s followers, came next, ready for more violence.
The four corpses lay where they fell, still seeping blood. No one dared touch them.
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Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.
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