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Between the early Middle Ages and the sixteenth century, thousands of people sought sanctuary in English churches to escape execution for crime or treason or to evade their creditors. Below are some of their stories.

Timeline generated by Knightlab

Starting at the beginning of 2019 through March 2020, I wrote a Twitter series called Sanctuary Seeker of the Day: a vignette of a man or woman who sought sanctuary in England between the 1390s and 1557. The stories came from archival research I undertook for my 2017 book, Seeking Sanctuary: Crime, Mercy, and Politics in English Courts, 1400-1550 (Oxford University Press). Once I’d finished, I realized that these posts needed a permanent home — and here we are.

You can access the Sanctuary Seekers posts through the timeline above, using the search function, or browsing below.

Posts

Quarrel over a “frowe”

On 30 November 1394, after sundown, three men were amongst a large group drinking in the King’s Head tavern in St Magnus’s parish near London bridge. Two, Herman Stokfyssh and Nicholas Clarebount, were ‘Doche’, a word late medieval English people applied to anyone coming from the lower Rhineland area that now includes the Netherlands, Belgium,Continue reading “Quarrel over a “frowe””

All about abjuration

Coroners’ rolls through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries recorded many sanctuary seekers taking refuge in churches and then abjuring the realm. The coroner’s roll for Leicestershire, 1393-1413, for instance, records that John Middleton of Yorkshire fled to the church of St. John the Baptist at Dalby on the Wolds on 1 June 1400, confessing theft.Continue reading “All about abjuration”

Robbery at Charing Cross

A coroner’s memorandum records that on 5 November 1395 Richard Bone of London took sanctuary at St. Stephen’s church within the palace at Westminster. He confessed to the coroner that in September 1392 he had robbed a man on horseback of 20d [pence, i.e. 1 shilling] in money at Charing Cross. When someone took sanctuaryContinue reading “Robbery at Charing Cross”

Missing the target

A Middlesex jury charged with giving information on local crimes reported to the court that on 29 June 1399 a hosteler (innkeeper) of Clerkenwell, Thomas Redyng, hired Robert Stanwardyn to kill Robert de Malteby of London, a bladesmith. Stanwardyn missed his target and instead killed Malteby’s servant Nicholas Roper. Afterwards Redyng and his wife ElizabethContinue reading “Missing the target”

Escape from sanctuary

On 23 March 1405, William Holt, esquire, of Sussex took sanctuary in the church of St. Martin in the Fields (now on Trafalgar Square). He confessed to the coroner that he was an accessory to a decade-old homicide. The coroner, however, was suspicious about the long time lag: he thought Holt had already abjured forContinue reading “Escape from sanctuary”

A stolen rosary

On 20 April 1401 William Clerk, a hosier, took sanctuary In St. Saviour’s church in Faversham, Kent. He confessed to the coroner that in December 1400 he had stolen beads (probably a rosary) worth two shillings from Agnes Thomson at Newcastle-upon-Tyne – a very long way away from Faversham! He abjured the realm through Dover.Continue reading “A stolen rosary”

Murder over a board game

In 1401 a board game – chess, chequers, backgammon? – in a London brewhouse turned into a deadly brawl, with the killer running to the safety of sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. A coroner’s inquest was held on 25 September 1401 in the parish of St. Michael Queenhithe, near the docks on the river Thames, overContinue reading “Murder over a board game”

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Content may be freely shared as long as Shannon McSheffrey is acknowledged as the author.