Asylum at the Bristol Temple Fee

In 1516 three Bristol men (John White; John Johnson; and Edward Fowler) were indicted for a murder in the Kingswood forest outside Bristol, bringing up another problematic sanctuary case. When brought before King’s Bench weeks later, they pleaded sanctuary, claiming that they had taken asylum at the Temple Fee in Bristol, a property originally belonging to the Templar order but from the early 14th century in the hands of the Hospitallers.


The wording of the indicted men’s sanctuary plea was an elaborate rehearsing of the history of the two military orders and the property in Bristol; as in previous cases, this oration must have been provided to them by someone attached to the Hospitaller order.

Normally a sanctuary plea was to be put to a jury, but in this case the king’s attorney (amid general uncertainty about sanctuary) asked for deferment. From 1516 to 1522 the case hung without further process, each term the prisoners being brought to court, then returned to prison. At one point around 1520 Johnson’s name disappeared from the term-by-term accounts of these deferments: he had likely died in prison. Then in 1522 the record simply ceases, undetermined. Though in effect their sanctuary claims had been denied, judicially there was no decision.

There was a lot of passive-aggressive refusing to rule on these sanctuary cases between 1516 and 1522: no doubt there were things going on in the background, but in the end there were no actual legal decisions affecting sanctuary.

TNA, KB 27/1020, rex mm. 21-22. Top photo by Alex Gilbert: Source

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