A serjeant of the mace slain

On 4 March 1533, John Ode alias Wode, serjeant of the mace (one of the London sheriffs’ officers) had an altercation with George Cornwall, a young Hereford gentleman known for his unruly life. Though the records don’t say so, it seems quite likely that their quarrel had something to do with Ode’s job, which included arresting those wanted for felony cases or debt or trespass suits.

The coroner’s inquest jurors who reported on Ode’s death noted that Cornwall had been aided and abetted by one John Stoughton of Stoke by Guildford, Surrey, also a gentleman. Both men, the jurors said, fled to Westminster sanctuary after the fight. The 1533 Westminster sanctuary census duly lists them both as having entered in early March, for murder.

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As they sat safely in sanctuary, in the Easter term of 1533 Ode’s widow launched an appeal, a private suit, against Cornwall and Stoughton in the royal court for her husband’s murder. Often such appeals settled out of court, with the perpetrator paying the victim’s widow compensation, and that must have been what happened in this case as nothing more survives for her case beyond the opening stages.

Then in May 1534, about fourteen months after Ode’s death, George Cornwall was issued a pardon for the murder; but it took him another three years to present the pardon at King’s Bench to clear the indictment – probably because it took him that long to gather £££ to pay the fine.

It took Cornwall a fair while to put this little affair behind him, but as usual with aristocratic murderers, this youthful indiscretion was no impediment to his career: he went on to be MP for Herefordshire in 1539, was knighted in 1544-45, sheriff in 1547-48 and 1559-60, JP etc, etc.

For Cornwall aristocratic violence mitigated by sanctuary and pardon was family tradition: his father, Sir Richard Cornwall, was indicted as accessory for murder in 1513 and then pardoned; the principals in that murder took sanctuary before also being pardoned. The legal records of the 1530s seem especially replete with stories such as Cornwall’s – a spot of murder in one’s youth was not only permissible in aristocrats but (I suspect) a positive asset in a literally cut-throat political scene.

TNA, KB 9/523, mm. 105-6; KB 27/1087, plea m. 17; KB 27/1105, rex m. 2; TNA, KB 29/166, m. i, 1; SP 1/67, fol. 84 (L&P, 5:208); SP 1/238, fols. 72-73; A. J. Edwards, “Cornwall, George.” Top image source

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