Poaching in the king’s deer park

Though we often think of deer-poaching as a medieval thing, Henry VIII still kept deer parks where only he and his companions could hunt. In 1526, an altercation between the king’s gamekeeper and a poacher ended in the poacher’s death.

One day in late May, yeoman Thomas Otefeld of Narborough, Leicestershire, entered the Chase of Leicester, the king’s deer park, to hunt venison, contrary to the king’s laws and a recent proclamation. Thomas Parker, royal gamekeeper, “by virtue of his office” tried to arrest Otefeld, but Otefeld refused to submit and drew his sword against Parker. Parker struck back in self-defence, hitting Otefeld with a forest bill on the left thigh. Otefeld mounted his horse with his injured leg, but soon fell off and died.

A forest bill. Source

Though the inquest jurors said he’d acted in an official capacity and in self-defence, Parker fled. Three weeks later we catch up with him again in sanctuary at Grey Friars in Leicester (now famous for a certain dead king in a carpark), about five miles away. Though the coroner’s inquest verdict over Otefeld’s body clearly indicated that Parker had only been defending himself, an indictment at the Leicestershire peace sessions accused of Parker of murdering Otefeld.

Parker decided not to take a chance with a trial: four days after the indictment he abjured the realm. His outlawry the next year has a marginal note indicating that it had been self-defence, but he’d abjured, so he had to be outlawed. I can’t find a later pardon.

TNA, KB 9/502, mm. 90, 145, 146; KB 29/158, m 20

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