Walking the boundaries: Bland, the St Martin’s sanctuary man

Though Perkin Warbeck’s stay at Beaulieu Abbey was short, some of his followers remained in sanctuaries long term, including well-known sanctuary men of St Martin le Grand (SMLG) in London.

In the 1530s, Henry VIII mandated a royal enquiry into the boundaries of the SMLG precinct as part of a long-running dispute between the City of London and St Martin le Grand over immigrant craftsmen’s work inside the ecclesiastical liberty outside guild supervision.

TNA, STAC 2/20/323, m1

Both inhabitants of St Martin’s and London citizen neighbours gave fascinating testimonies about the precinct, much of it focused on its sanctuary privileges (which were intertwined with the other jurisdictional rights regarding craft work). Some depositions reached back into the 15th century.

Witnesses mentioned two sanctuary men who had been Warbeck’s followers, both of whom lived in the precinct for decades. For the witnesses, these Warbeck followers’ openly tolerated presence was clear proof of the power of sanctuary at SMLG: it could protect even open traitors.

The first was a man named Bland (we see the second in this post). Ralph Twyne, Dutch shoemaker living in SMLG, said Bland “was privileged [as sanctuary man] for treason because he came in with Perkin Warbeck.” He also murdered one of Sir Gilbert Talbot’s servants, Twyne said.


Twyne said Bland lived in SMLG for 20 years and his movements literally marked the boundaries of the precinct. When he walked up St Martin’s Lane, “he did use to go sometimes on one side of the street, and sometimes on the other” (ie both sides of the lane were safe sanctuary) until he came to the bottom end of St Martin’s near Cheapside, where only one side of the street was within the precinct. “Then he would always turn over the street and go on the [east] side, and would never go on the [west] side.”


The boundary was marked by a wall separating two properties, the southernmost of which was not in the precinct. From there a notional line went out to the drainage channel in the middle of St Martin’s lane. From there into Cheapside, the drainage channel marked the boundary.


Bland was safe, clear traitor though he was, as long as he walked only on the east side at the bottom of the lane. Bland seems to have lived in SMLG from 1497 until about 1517. (The witness Twyne, Dutch shoemaker rather than sanctuary man, had moved there about 1509.)

There was an alley off St Martin’s Lane called Bland’s Alley, and Twyne’s testimony suggests it was named after this famous sanctuary man: he says that Bland lived “in the Broadgate, which is nowe called Blandis Aley.”

TNA, C 24/3, “Abbas,” mm. 15-16, 16-17; STAC 2/23/266, mm. 56-60, 61-64; STAC 2/20/323, mm. 19-23. I wrote an article on the interesting topography of the St Martin le Grand precinct, in case you’re interested.

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