Henry VIII and the sanctuary men of St Martin’s

In the King’s Book of Payments, three times between late 1514 and mid-1516, Henry VIII gave 100 shillings (£5) for the support of two men in the sanctuary of St Martin le Grand. The two men, John Gamlyn and Thomas Porter, were termed in the records “prisoners, sanctuary men.” But why was the king supporting them? Such royal largesse was definitely not conventional for sanctuary men or prisoners, suggesting that these men had some tie to the king.

A wilder conspiracist might hypothesize that they must have done some dirty deed for the king. In other cases, when a retainer killed or robbed on behalf of his lord, that lord would indeed pay that sanctuary man’s expenses in recompense. Of course, the king himself could easily see that indictments were quashed or that any convictions were pardoned, so that probably doesn’t exactly explain Gamlyn and Porter. And yet….

Tracing Gamlyn’s and Porter’s crimes has not proven fruitful; there was a John Gamlyn associated with the accused felon Giles Covert, alias “Giles Tennisplayer” (my favourite alias) – but this St Martin’s Gamlyn is not the same man, as Covert’s accomplice was still alive after this one died.

So what we know is that for a couple of years in the mid 1510s Gamlyn and Porter lived in the precinct of St Martin le Grand at the king’s expense (and they were well-supported, too – they were given £10 a year, a gentleman’s income, which would get you very fair lodging and food).

But then Gamlyn and Porter seem to have fallen out. At 10 P.M. on 1 June 1516, probably coincidentally the exact date of the king’s last 100-shilling payment, Porter stabbed Gamlyn with a “peny knife.” He gave Gamlyn a wound from which he died about seven weeks later.


Porter fled the scene and I’ve uncovered no evidence he was ever found again. At least the king saved a line item on his budget.

L&P, 2/2:1466, 1469, 1471; TNA, KB 9/472, m. 73; TNA, KB 27/1029, rex m. 17

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