Death of a stranger

In October 1518 a coroner’s inquest was called in St Clement Danes parish, just west of the City of London, over the body of one Anthony Niger alias Liegard. Niger’s name suggests he was likely a stranger, the term used then for foreigners: perhaps Dutch? The coroner’s inquest jurors found that Niger had died from wounds sustained six weeks before, when Anthony Edway, with “premeditated malice,” had struck him with a staff. Edway was the servant (likely the apprentice) of a local fletcher or arrow-maker.

As usual we get no context for this altercation, but it might be relevant that the 1510s saw a good deal of hostility towards immigrants. Without further details, though, it’s impossible to say what precipitated this quarrel.

Right after the attack, the parish constables went to the house of Edway’s master, Geoffrey Lloid, to ask him to ensure Edway wouldn’t flee while they waited to see if Niger died. Lloid answered “I am myself a constable and you can trust me to see Edway will answer for it.” The next day, as Niger lay languishing but not yet dead, Edway fled, despite his master’s assurances. At this point, Edway had only committed assault, which wasn’t a felony (likely result at most, a fine). Nonetheless, because Niger could potentially die, Edway fled to sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. It was fairly common to take sanctuary for the trespass of assault as a precaution, as the assailant would be liable for arrest for homicide from the moment the victim died.

So Edway at first took sanctuary for trespass and then changed his sanctuary registration to felony homicide when Niger died. Lloid was on the hook, though: the coroner’s inquest jurors accused him of negligence for allowing Edway to escape arrest. Though the jurors stopped short of accusing Lloid as an accessory to homicide (which was a capital felony), it’s quite possible they suspected or knew he was actively complicit. Someone must have been giving Edway economic support: staying in the Westminster sanctuary wasn’t cheap.

Edway was never brought to justice for the killing and was outlawed in 1519. But Lloid didn’t get away scot-free though his punishment was mild: he was assessed a mild 100-shilling (£5) fine in 1522 for permitting Edway’s escape.

Lloid’s responsibility for his servant, who evidently lived with him (and, as above, could well have been his apprentice), was not a strict legal liability: Edway was over 14 and as such an independent adult in law. But, just as now, adolescents in early 16th century England had a liminal status culturally as regards their responsibility for their own actions. As a member of Lloid’s household, Edway was under Lloid’s governance. The governance of a master entailed both power and a sometimes burdensome responsibility – as, for example, when your servant goes out and murders someone. Master’s dilemma: to see they face consequences for action? or to protect them (especially if you sympathize with their stranger-bashing)?

Maybe Edway really did escape from Lloid’s house despite Lloid’s best efforts to keep him there, but I think the jurors wouldn’t have accused him as they did unless they thought he actively helped Edway flee.

TNA, KB 9/969, m. 8; KB 29/150, m. 36d; KB 27/1042, Fines. Top image source

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