Death of a Spanish merchant

On 15 July 1539, a Spanish merchant named John de Ordonna was found dead in the courtyard of another Spanish merchant, Fernando de Verdesey, in London. A coroner’s inquest was convened to investigate the cause of his death. The inquest jurors determined that Ordonna had been killed by the servant of Alvarowe de Astudelio, another Spanish merchant. The servant, named as yeoman John Caryon in the record, was likely also Spanish.

Ordonna and Astudelio were business partners who had received a royal license to import woad (blue dye) from Toulouse in 1532. Toulouse was the centre of woad (pastel) production in the early 16th century.


So this was a quarrel within the small Spanish merchant community in London – but of course subject to English common law processes as the killing occurred in England. The outcome indicates that Spanish merchants knew how to take advantage of the loopholes in the English system. Immediately after the killing Caryon fled to Westminster Abbey for sanctuary. Unlike the case of the Cholmeley killers earlier that year, there’s no sign that Caryon was seized. He remained out of custody, quite possibly in the sanctuary, for the next several months.

We know with hindsight that these were the waning days of a robust sanctuary-seeking system in England; it’s hard to know to what extent people living in 1539 knew this, too. It had already decline; from 1535, records indicate that the number of sanctuary seekers had slowed considerably. Sanctuary still worked for some, but not for others as those Cheshire feud cases showed. We’ll see similar inconsistency of outcomes in cases from 1539-40.


Caryon was one of the lucky ones: everything proceeded as it had for fifty years before this, as if nothing had changed. Someone, probably Astudelio, lobbied for a pardon for Caryon, and by early November the fine had been paid and Caryon was in court with the pardon in hand. So he walked.

TNA, KB 9/544, m. 157; KB 9/548, mm. 159-60; KB 27/1113, rex m. 6; KB 29/172, m. 23d. Top image Metropolitan Museum.

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