Westmorland coroner screws up

When early modern governments introduced new legal procedures, a challenge was to make sure those who had to implement the new policies knew about them. Sometimes apparently that didn’t happen, as in this tale of a Westmorland coroner in 1542. I feel certain that he was really apologetic.

Way up in the north in the Pennines, in Brough under Stainmore, Westmorland, one William Kerk was found dead in July 1542. The coroner’s inquest jurors found that Cuthbert Rud of Brough had killed Kerk, after which he fled to the parish church and took sanctuary. Rud stayed in the church for the next three weeks before confessing his crime to the coroner. Then – as the record ambiguously says – he abjured according to “the custom of the realm.” Given that the “custom” had changed only two years before, it’s not clear what the coroner meant.

TNA, KB 9/552, m. 130

Possibly Rud was sent on his way to a monastery (which had been the “custom”/law from 1530), but of course monasteries had ceased to exist. Possibly – if the coroner was REALLY out of touch – he was sent into exile, as had been “customary” for abjurers for centuries before 1530.

The reason we know about Rud’s case was not because he himself was caught (apparently he got away) but because the townspeople of Brough were charged with allowing his escape. Not sure why it was their fault and not the coroner’s…

TNA, KB 9/552, m. 130. Top image: from Anthony Fitzherbert’s Handbook for JPs, sheriffs, bailiffs, and coroners, 1541 (STC 10985). Obviously the coroner should have had a copy.

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