State visits, royal largesse, and exclusions from mercy

In May 1522, Emperor Charles V visited England. State visits are always an opportunity to showcase the ruler’s brand both domestically and internationally, and the emperor’s stay in England prompted a lavish series of pageants and demonstrations of regal power. As the Emperor Charles and Henry VIII ceremonially processed through the streets on the south bank of the Thames heading into London, the two monarchs stopped before the Marshalsea prison.

The emperor asked the king to give mercy to the prisoners. The king graciously acceded, pardoning “a great number.” But not all: Thomas Banaster, vintner of London, was one of those Marshalsea prisoners, but when he tried to use this pardon in court, it was rejected.

Banaster was awaiting trial on an appeal (private prosecution) for the death of John Hopkyns. The victim’s brother alleged that Banaster had lain in wait and assaulted Hopkyns, hitting him first on the head with a staff and then slitting his throat with a dagger. At trial some weeks after the visit of the emperor and king, Banaster pleaded sanctuary in response to the accusation, claiming that he had been forcibly seized from St Mary Overey churchyard half an hour after he claimed sanctuary there in December 1521.

After his sanctuary plea he added an invocation of that Marshalsea pardon: “the king’s grace and the Emperor gave me and all my company pardon and bade open the gates, and I trust the king’s words will stand. And more I will not say.”

The sanctuary plea was rejected: John Baker has suggested this was because he refused to plead guilty or not guilty to the felony (“more I will not say”) – very possible. In the 15th century a plea of sanctuary had sufficed in itself, but by 1520 the accused also had to plead guilty or not guilty to the felony.

As for why Banaster was not included amongst the pardons granted from that imperial visit: that was likely because his was a private appeal, not a crown prosecution. As Krista Kesselring‘s book (Mercy, 75) explained to me, the king’s mercy did not apply in such instances. Banaster was evidently misinformed.

His misapprehension cost him his life: the record indicates that he was sentenced to hang.


TNA, KB 27/1044, plea m. 64v; Baker, Spelman’s Reports, intro 344; Hall’s Chronicle; Kesselring, Mercy & Authority, 75, 140-41. Top image source.

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