Escape from the Tower

On 29 July 1557 Henry Machyn wrote in his diary that the constable of the Tower of London went to Westminster sanctuary to take “one Waxham” into custody. Waxham, Machyn said, had earlier broken out of the Tower and run to sanctuary. Machyn’s diary entry matches with the minutes of the Privy Council regarding one Edward Vaughan*. Vaughan had been held in the sheriff’s prison in London on robbery, but in early July the Privy Council ordered him to be transferred to the Tower for greater security. Vaughan/Waxham was wilier than the Privy Council expected, however, as by 22 July he’d escaped even from the Tower’s stronger locks, running to Westminster to sanctuary. On 22 July the PC sent the abbot a letter telling him to imprison Vaughan in solitary.

[*Sidebar: Machyn’s spelling of Vaughan as Waxham suggests neither were pronounced by Londoners as they would be today: as a total ignorama, I’m going to guess W=V and both “gh” and “xh” some kind of velar fricative as German “ach”? Expert correction welcome!]

The Privy Council further instructed the abbot to examine Vaughan with questions they would send; providing Vaughan gave a full and frank confession “the Sanctuary shalbe avayleable unto hym,” they said; but if he was less than complete in his account then he would not be granted its privilege.

It seems the abbot complied and sent a report to the Privy Council, but they evidently thought Vaughan was keeping things back. They sent the abbot another letter on 28 July ordering Vaughan to be delivered up to the constable of the Tower. Vaughan, the letter to the abbot says, had only confessed one of the crimes with which he was charged, so they would undertake more thorough interrogation. He would be restored to the sanctuary following this examination “if it shall be his right so to be.” That last part, that he might be restored, the letter cautioned, was to be kept secret from Vaughan, presumably so he’d be more encouraged to cooperate with his interrogators, but at the same time assuring the abbot that the rights of the sanctuary would be respected.

There’s nothing further about Vaughan in the Privy Council minutes until 1558, but Machyn’s diary indicates that Vaughan’s/Waxham’s 1557 adventures were not over (and also that ordinary folk were following these events). Evidently Vaughan wasn’t restored to the sanctuary or at least not as quickly as he wanted: sometime in August he broke out of the Tower a second time and ran back to sanctuary at Westminster.

On 10 September 1557, Machyn reports, the Privy Council once again ordered him back to the Tower. But then on 15 September – again from Machyn’s diary rather than Privy Council minutes – he was “restored unto Westminster to sanctuary again.” One way or another he evidently satisfied the Privy Council?

But it seems that other issues overtook Vaughan’s individual case. In later 1557 the Privy Council began to get a bit more aggressive with the sanctuary rights of Westminster Abbey, as Loades remarks, asking for a census of those in the sanctuary in December. Then in early January 1558, the abbot was asked to deliver up sixteen people (“bodyes”) “for examination.” Amongst the sixteen, presumably all sanctuary folk and clergy claimants, was Edward Vaughan. It’s not clear what happened to Vaughan or any of them thereafter.

It’s hard to say what would have happened with the Westminster sanctuary had not other events – Mary’s death (on 17 Nov 1558) and the consequent regime change – intervened, but in fact things were not looking too healthy at that moment. Thus sanctuary might have been quashed even had Mary’s reign continued?

Acts of the Privy Council, 6:117, 127-28, 134, 215-16, 251-52; Machyn, Chronicle, fols. 76r, 78v, 79v; D. M. Loades, “The Sanctuary,” in Westminster Abbey Reformed: 1540-1640, ed. Knighton & Mortimer (2003), 84-86.

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