Death of a tinker

A 1526 coroner’s inquest jury reported that Stafford dyer John Ithel had been minding his own business in the suburb of Forebridge when tinker Gilbert Hethe attacked him. Ithell struck back (the jurors said) in self-defence. Immediately after their encounter, as Hethe hung between life and death from the wound Ithell had inflicted on him, Ithill fled “to the sanctuary of St John” in a house belonging to one Margery Withnall, leased from the Hospitaller Order.


Following the flurry of questionable hospitaller sanctuary cases circa 1516-22 there are few instances of people taking sanctuary in private houses that just happened to be leased from the Hospitaller Order, but this case (sort of) shows that people still thought it was possible. Mind you, questions likely arose about how secure such a sanctuary was, for when Hethe succumbed to his wound, converting the trespass of assault to the felony of homicide, Ithill decided move to a second, less ambiguous sanctuary, at the Austin Friars, also in Forebridge.

By the summer of 1527 Ithill had found a way out of the felony charge, facilitated both by the breathing room sanctuary provided and by the self-defence finding of the coroner’s inquest jury. He surrendered himself to authorities, was released on bail, and then the next year was able to clear the charge with a pardon.

TNA, KB 9/973, m. 40; KB 29/159, m. 2

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