A “certificate of persons within St Martin’s sanctuary,” 1525

In 1525 – probably as a result of a fact-finding mission directed by the king’s right-hand man Cardinal Wolsey – a “certificate” of the “persons within St Martin’s sanctuary” was drawn up. This is a fascinating snapshot of 1520s sanctuary seekers. There were 12 people listed, 11 men, 1 woman. In another post I looked at the woman, Elizabeth Troublefeld. The men include Walter Hall, “of the kyngis barbary,” which might sound as if he was a pirate but in fact is more prosaic: he was a barber who’d worked in the king’s barber shop!

For five, the reason for taking sanctuary wasn’t indicated, including Hall and Troublefeld, and also John Carre, tailor; William Wodde, vintner; and Thomas Lewes, yeoman. Of the seven whose offences were recorded, 3 were there for murder: Thomas Talbot, Thomas Craker, and Richard Grene. Two were there for “felony,” the generic word for serious crime, which in this context likely meant theft: Robert Cokkis, a tailor; and William Broun, a sherman. John Floyd, tailor, had entered for debt. Lastly Thomas Johnson, turner, “late servant of Charles Knevet,” took sanctuary for trespass. Knevet, a retainer of Edward Stafford, duke of Buckingham, had been whistle-blower at the latter’s treason trial in 1521. It’s unclear how or if Johnson’s trespass connects to Knevet.

The “certificate” was organized by where they were living in the precinct. Some were “lodging with” non-sanctuary folk: in Bland’s Alley, Hall lodged with Thomas Morehous and Elizabeth Troublefeld with Anne Jenyns; Robert Cokkis stayed in Cock Alley at Simon Bright’s house.

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Others seem to have rented rooms on their own – and interestingly, all lived either in Cock’s Alley or Bland’s Alley, on the west side of St Martin’s lane. (Possibly this is only part of that “certificate” – other pages with other inhabitants of lanes having been lost?)

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If this is complete, twelve seekers in one of the most important sanctuaries in the realm is not as many as we might expect – suggesting either that the number of sanctuary seekers in general was not that high, or that by the 1520s St Martin’s was not a major sanctuary anymore.

I’d say it’s more the latter, as a similar 1533 census for Westminster had more than ninety seekers. Also:

  1. Seeking sanctuary wasn’t the same as remaining in sanctuary: I suspect many seekers registered for sanctuary but then had to leave because they couldn’t support themselves financially.
  2. And St Martin’s remained a sanctuary, but its main focus had shifted to hosting immigrant craftsmen who couldn’t work legally in the city of London; sanctuary seekers and stranger artisans co-existed, but by the 1520s the latter hugely outnumbered the former.

This certificate seems to have been simply informational, I’d guess for Wolsey’s eyes; maybe it’s a stray survival in a larger survey of sanctuary dwellers. It’s hard to know what those who commissioned it did with the information.

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TNA, SP 1/33, f 148; L&P, 4/1:473.

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