Rubbing Cromwell the wrong way

This sanctuary seeker seems to have been another felon who rubbed Cromwell the wrong way, and was not fortunate enough to successfully use Westminster’s asylum to gain time to organize a pardon.

In February 1539 a London yeoman named George Brewce was tried for burglary in Colchester. He claimed benefit of clergy in an attempt to escape execution, but his victim argued that he was ineligible due to a weird technicality in an already weird legal loophole. Brewce, it was contended, had been married twice; benefit of clergy was available to laymen, but only those eligible for the priesthood. Men who’d been married once and widowed could be ordained, but those who’d married twice could not (though remarriage was otherwise perfectly legal).

Brewce denied the allegation of having been twice married and so he was held in custody in Colchester castle while the matter was investigated. Eight months later somehow he escaped and ran to sanctuary at the Hospitaller house at Clerkenwell. Within an hour or two or his arrival, however, he was seized from the Hospitaller precinct by “a certain Amadas, gentleman,” and others. This was likely John Amadas, which is interesting for two reasons.

1. Amadas himself had taken refuge in a church in 1529 when pursued by enemies; in a submission to Star Chamber about that case he waxed lyrical about churches as holy places of safety. Wonder if he thought of that as he violated sanctuary 10 years later.

2. Amadas (a royal sergeant-at-arms and future MP) was a servant of Thomas Cromwell. Though Cromwell’s role in this case isn’t explicit in the record, it’s very likely Amadas was working on his orders.

The outcome also suggests Cromwell’s influence. Brewce was brought before the justices at King’s Bench the same day he was seized and promptly pleaded sanctuary. The attorney general responded that the plea was “insufficient in law” (although again there was nothing technically wrong with it). The justices didn’t rule immediately, taking the issue under advisement, but two months later they returned the judgment that the plea was indeed invalid. So Brewce was sentenced to hang.

TNA, KB 9/548, mm. 188-89; KB 29/172, m. 22d, 31d; KB 27/1113, rex m. 5. Top image British Museum.

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