Cop killer, 1491

In mid-February 1491, John Wells, glover of Oxford, ran into the church of All Hallows. He confessed to the coroner that a month before he had killed a serjeant, whose job it was to arrest suspected felons.


A draft of a petition to the king from the serjeant’s widow, Margery Ludlow, gives some backstory to Wells’s struggle with her husband. She said that her husband Thomas Ludlow was arresting Wells for the murder of another man, Robert Phylipson, when Wells killed him.


Margery Ludlow said that Wells immediately – not five weeks later when he abjured – took sanctuary in the church. But he refused, she said, to confess or to abjure and so was seized from the church and made to stand trial. He was convicted of homicide. Then others “mightily labored” to have Wells restored to his sanctuary from which, they claimed, he had been illicitly seized. Margery Ludlow prayed that the king would intervene to stop his getting away with these two murders.

There’s no explicit record of what happened at that point, but two hints.

1. There is a record of abjuration (see the image at the top), dated five weeks after Margery Ludlow said he originally took sanctuary for her husband’s murder. So he was probably restored to the church, from which he then abjured.

2. For some reason in 1496 a writ was issued to bring the record of Wells’s abjuration up to the court of King’s Bench; but there’s no indication why this came up again. Maybe he was found in the realm – and then hanged? Or got a pardon that doesn’t show up in my searches?

TNA, KB 9/410 (see the image at the top), mm. 65-66; KB 29/127, m. 2; Herbert Edward Salter and Vivian Hunter Galbraith, eds., Snappe’s Formulary and Other Records (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924), 252-53.

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