Insult and murder in Staffordshire

In July 1502, Nicholas Stonewall, a husbandman of Longdon, Staffordshire, confronted his neighbour Robert Wright for having called Stonewall’s father a “carlabundum,” a bound churl or serf. That started a quarrel. Stonewall assaulted Wright and Wright struck back, killing Stonewall. The inquest jury might have recounted the fight to put the blame square on Wright: he started it by insulting Stonewall, and then killed him when Stonewall justifiably defended his family’s honour.

But the jury went the other way: they portrayed Stonewall as the one responding intemperately, emphasizing that he’d attacked Wright “with the audacity and maintenance of his friends,” and that although those standing around tried to restrain him, Stonewall couldn’t be stopped.

Wright, the jurors said, had to defend himself and ended by stabbing Stonewall with a dagger that he took from some unknown man who was there. Immediately following this incident, Wright ran to the church of Longdon and took sanctuary.

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Though the jurors labeled this self-defence, their wording didn’t fit the legal requirements to trigger a pardon (that Wright could not otherwise escape with his life), and there’s no sign that Wright received one. Instead, Wright evidently escaped, as he was outlawed in 1505.

Maybe the coroner and/or the jurors were trying to thread the needle here: (a) making clear that Wright had committed a homicide; but (b) also softening the inquest report’s accusatory tone– and potentially facilitating his escape and disappearance.

TNA, KB 9/431, m78; KB 29/134, m2d

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