Quarrel with a “master of fence”

One day in early spring 1538, gentleman Edward Wolff was in the precinct of St Martin le Grand visiting the shop of a goldsmith. Wolff was servant to Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford and brother of the recently deceased Queen Jane. St Martin’s was home to a number of alien (immigrant) goldsmiths, whose work was much sought-after by the aristocrats at court; Wolff was visiting Peter Richardson, a Dutch craftsman who’d arrived in England about 1523, who would later become goldsmith to Queen Katherine Parr.

Richardson had made some jewels for Queen Jane Seymour, Wolff’s patron’s sister, in 1536, and he’d later become goldsmith to Queen Katherine Parr and to do other work for the crown in Elizabeth’s reign. He had a long life, dying a wealthy man in the liberty of the Savoy in 1583.

On that late March afternoon when Wolff went to Richardson’s shop – on his own behalf or perhaps on an errand for the earl – he encountered one John Flynt alias Cutler, whom one report of the incident described as a “master of fence” – a fencing instructor? Flynt attacked Wolff (unfortunately there’s no backstory…). In the usual self-defence scenario, Wolff tried to run away but was backed up against a stone wall and could not escape. So in self-defence (the coroner’s inquest report said), Wolff used his sword and wounded Flynt mortally in the chest.

Of course, Wolff conveniently had a sword with him, even out shopping in London; maybe he expected some trouble, or perhaps felt that he needed protection when carrying the jewels he was collecting from the goldsmith. Mind you, gentlemen in Henry VIII’s England always “carried,” apparently.

The killing was evidently the talk of the town, for it was reported in a letter to Lady Lisle, wife of the Lieutenant of Calais, about a week later. Her correspondent said that following the incident Wolff fled to sanctuary at Westminster.


Though the killing actually happened in a sanctuary – St Martin le Grand – Wolff couldn’t take asylum there, as the rule was that there was no sanctuary for felonies committed within the precinct boundaries. So off to Westminster he went. Of course Wolff had the cards in his favour: he had a very powerful patron in the king’s bro-in-law Edward Seymour, and the coroner’s inquest report helpfully found the killing had been in self-defence. Going to sanctuary at Westminster was mainly precautionary while the pardon was organized.

And so it came to pass: 1 June, three months later, Wolff had the pardon in hand. The charges were dismissed on 7 June. Wolff was still in the service of the earl of Hertford in 1541 and by the reign of Edward VI (when Seymour had become Protector) he was in the King’s Privy Chamber.

TNA, SP 3/14 (L&P, 13/1:265); KB 27/1107, rex m. 4; Page, Letters of Denization, 206; L&P 11:209; 16:286; 19/2:468; Lionel Cust, “John of Antwerp, Goldsmith, and Hans Holbein,” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 8, no. 35 (February 1906): 359. Top image source

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