Taking of the Tower
The rebels were not done yet, having burned legal records and the homes of the gentry and released masses of prisoners. 18 traitors were seized and beheaded on the day that Richard failed to treat with the rebels. With Gaunt away in Scotland, the next traitor that the rebels really wanted was Sir Robert Hales, head of the treasury, and the figurehead of the Poll Tax. He had hidden himself in the Tower of London, and thus the rebels next made their way there. Also barricaded in the keep were Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the king himself.
From the Tower, Richard could see the masses of commoners devoted to him, but desperate to kill his most trusted advisors. Unwilling to surrender Hales and Sudbury, he made the bold step of meeting the rebels again at Mile End, his royal messengers having failed to persuade them to go home. This time, the rebels’ demands were more conservative: upon bended knee, they asked that all men of England be made free, with better employment rights, a cap to rents, a limit to the power of landlords, and an end to punitive fines and taxation in any form.
Perhaps surprised by these chastened demands, and certainly flattered by their evident devotion to him alone, the king surprisingly agreed. They would receive their charter of liberties if only they would just go home, he disingenuously advised. But then he showed his inexperience: he actually told the rebels that they were free to travel England, seeking traitors and bringing them before him for justice. Essentially, he had agreed to what he expected the rebels to ask for, rather than what they actually requested. From this point on, things got very ugly indeed, as royal sanction fortified the already rebellious mood.
Word of the king’s approval reached the men who had waited behind at the Tower, including Ball, Tyler, and the influential Jack Straw, who were ensuring no one escaped. Richard had planned for Sudbury and Hales to escape while the rebels were at Mile End, but had not reckoned on the leaders’ smart strategy. Sudbury and Hales were still in the Tower, and Richard had effectively just given Royal Decree to their arrest. The Tower’s terrified guards, seeing the smoke and chaos across the London skyline, let down the drawbridge. The King Richard-sanctioned day of reckoning had arrived.
In the Tower’s chapel, Simon Sudbury was saying mass. Sudbury was an important target because he was not only fantastically wealthy as Archbishop of Canterbury but was also (until recently) Lord Chancellor, the highest position in English government. This meant that he was held responsible for both the Poll Tax and the tax inspection. The rebels entered, and dragged him through the castle to Tower Hill, where he was beheaded along with Hales and John Legge, suspected to be the instigator of the tax inspection earlier that year. Many more traitors were executed in the streets in the following hours.