Murderer in the stocks

A funny little case from Lincolnshire in 1498. A coroner’s inquest over Thomas Straker of Swineshead found that John Hall and Richard May, labourers also of Swineshead, had assaulted and killed Straker. Both Hall and May fled from the scene with the people of Swineshead in hot pursuit. They caught May and put him “in the king’s prison, that is the stocks of the town of Swineshead,” ready to transfer him to county authorities.

John Hall, however, a bit of derring-do, defended himself with his bow and arrows, and then ran into sanctuary at St Mary’s Abbey in Swineshead, a Cistercian monastery. There, the inquest jurors said, he remained at the time they made their report. It’s not clear whether Hall’s sanctuary-taking was meant to be a permanent stay (ie. that St Mary’s claimed chartered sanctuary privileges) or a prelude to abjuration. I’ve found only one other record for this monastery, later that same year, and it’s similarly ambiguous.

One would think from the coroner’s report that May, in custody, would then be tried, and that Hall, in sanctuary, would either abjure, stay at the abbey long term, or perhaps slip off, leaving the authorities with outlawry as their only weapon. But it turned out the other way around: Hall was the one who ended up before the court to be tried, and the jurors acquitted him (despite what seems a damning indictment in the coroner’s report). And May, on the other hand, was outlawed: he must have escaped from those stocks.

TNA, KB 9/419, m. 7; KB 9/420, m. 76; KB 29/129, m. 22; VCH Lincs., 2:145-46. Top image source.

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