Abjuration, new style: the 1531 sanctuary statute

In 1531, a new statute changed how abjuration of the realm worked: henceforth abjurers were to proceed from sanctuary in a parish church to a chartered sanctuary, rather than into exile. It was a bit confusing at first.

The new statute came into effect on 31 March 1531 but some must have known about the new system before that, as on 25 February 1531, three men took sanctuary in the parish church in South Weald, Essex, abjured, and were sent to Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire rather than into exile. The three men (two yeomen, John Anwick of Essex and Thomas Harrys of Gloucestershire, and gentleman Thomas Horsey of Wiltshire) had broken into Bicknacre priory in Essex and tied up monk Richard Cressall and stole money and plate from the priory.

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Beaulieu abbey. Source

It’s not clear if abjuring to Beaulieu was their idea or the coroner’s, though the record does say that the three men “voluntarily chose” Beaulieu. But when they arrived at the abbey a week after their abjuration, the abbot refused to take them. Apart from the fact that the new statute hadn’t yet been given royal assent, it’s unclear why the abbot would turn them away. Even if he was unaware of the statute or felt he didn’t need to observe it until it was in effect, he was supposed to accept any sanctuary seeker.

But perhaps the refusal didn’t actually happen: that was Harrys’s story in 1533 when he was caught at large despite his 1531 abjuration. The court put him in prison while they tried to verify his story but he died before his case was finished (it’s unknown what happened to the other two men).

If some anticipated the statute before it came into law on 31 March 1531, others were evidently unaware it had been passed. In a Southwark case on 1 April, tailor John Johnson took sanctuary and then confessed and abjured before the coroner; the coroner sent him on his way to Dover. It’s not clear what happened to Johnson, but the coroner was hauled into court for his negligence in failing to apply the new statute. That seems a wee bit unfair as it had only come into effect the previous day. The coroner’s case passed from term to term without clear outcome.

Statutes of the Realm, 3:332-34 (22 Hen VIII c. 14). Harrys: TNA, KB 9/517, m 92; KB 27/1086, rex m 4; KB 29/164, 34d; KB 29/165, mm 43, 45; KB 29/166, m 13d; SP 1/65, fol. 259 (L&P, 5:117). Johnson: KB 9/517, m 103; KB 29/164, mm34, 38. Similar case KB 9/517 m 146, KB 29/164 m33.

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