The Stavertons, long-term Westminster sanctuary dwellers

Most of the sanctuary seekers I’ve been featuring have been felons and traitors, but through the early 16th century debtors continued to seek sanctuary, too. One example is William Staverton, a London grocer. Kit French has written an article about William’s wife Katherine Staverton, the source of much of what I say below! Staverton took sanctuary at Westminster for debt in around 1509. He moved into the precinct with wife Katherine and lived there until he died in 1534.

As Kit French suggests, William was a “slippery character”; the Stavertons remind me of supposedly wealthy people who actually have massively negative net worth. They used the protections of sanctuary to avoid paying their bills, much to the chagrin of their creditors. They lived in a grand house in the sanctuary precinct and evidently also operated a tavern there with the not-especially-quaint name of “The Hole” (it’s surprising that name hasn’t been taken up in modern pub-naming alongside the “King’s Head” or “The Mitre”).

Over the 25 years the couple lived in sanctuary together, William had to remain within the bounds of the sanctuary precinct, but Katherine could, and did, step out of its confines, travelling to London for business and legal affairs. Only William was technically in sanctuary; as a married woman, Katherine herself technically had neither property nor debts even if she was involved in William’s business affairs. By the English legal doctrine of coverture, it was the husband alone who was responsible and therefore had need for the sanctuary’s protection.

When William died in 1534, he left behind more than £1300 in debt, a massive amount; Katherine seems to have been able to disown those debts and refused to administer the will. Interestingly, she continued to live in the sanctuary precinct until her own death in 1546.

TNA, SP 1/70, fol. 133; SP 1/238, fols. 72-7; SP 1/239, fol. 275; C 1/822/21; Katherine French, “Wives in Sanctuary: Married Couples and Asylum for Debt in Westminster,” Medieval Prosopography 33, no. 1 (2018). Top image: source

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