Cornered in the York Minster churchyard

In mid-April 1518 at five in the afternoon, William Stokall of York attacked William Rygg alias Scaff, a yeoman also of York, in the churchyard of York Minster. In order to defend himself, Rygg struck back, killing Stokall.

In describing the circumstances of the killing, the coroner’s inquest gave the standard self-defence narrative of being cornered: Rygg tried to run away but Stokall pursued him up to the stone wall of the minster precinct until he could go no further. As Stokall clearly intended to murder him, the only way Rygg could escape with his life was to strike back with a dagger he was carrying with him. Rygg gave Stokall a wound from which he died the following day.

TNA, KB 9/476, m. 88

On its face this sounds like a plausible scenario, but every self-defence story is exactly the same: crazed assailant chases man (always man rather than woman) until he can run no further, trapped by wall, hedge, or shop stall. Then to save his life, seeing no alternative, the man being chased strikes back, with a sword/knife/whatever he happens to have in his hand (luckily he was always armed), and kills the crazed assailant.

This narrative neatly fulfills the legal requirement for self-defence, which was that the killer must have had no other choice but to strike the assailant to save his own life. (Throughout, the male pronouns are deliberate – women could be crazed assailants, but never [or so rarely I’ve never seen a case] self-defenders.)

Back to our seeker of the day: after the altercation, Rygg immediately fled. He couldn’t take sanctuary at the Minster (C) as he’d committed the felony there, so he ran to the Blackfriars’ convent (W), near the current railway station.

Medieval York (ignore the red dots – they mark the route of the Corpus Christi pageants, for which this lovely map was made). Source

It’s not clear whether this meant that York Blackfriars was considered a chartered sanctuary that could offer permanent asylum, or if it was equivalent to a parish church from which Rygg would have to abjure after 40 days. (There is no record of Rygg’s abjuration.)

In any case Rygg was safe, as he was granted a pardon on 25 October 1518, by reason of self-defence.

TNA, KB 9/476, m. 88; KB 29/150, m. 22d; L&P, 2:1389.

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