Death and the Knitster in Knightrider Street

In 1492 a coroner’s inquest was held in Knightrider Street, London, over the body of Robert Scoley, plumber. Every time I read the name Knightrider St, I see David Hasselhoff …but I doubt there were muscle cars involved. Instead: knitting.

Scoley the plumber had been peacefully minding his own business, the coroner’s inquest ruled, when Richard Hampton, a London dyer, stabbed him with a knife. Scoley died and immediately after, Hampton fled to St Martin le Grand for sanctuary.

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The inquest jurors also reported that a certain Alice Goodwyn of London, identified as a “knytster,” aided and abetted him. She didn’t escape to sanctuary but was instead arrested and put into the sheriffs’ custody. It was very exciting, I must say, to find a “knitster,” a woman knitter. The use of the word in the indictment predates the previously earliest known use of the word by a couple of centuries: following the original post on this on Twitter and Susan Wabuda’s pointing out to me the unusual use of the word, the Oxford English Dictionary promised it would revise its entry on knitster (though the wheels of revision chug slowly at the OED and it’s still not up). As I’m a knitster myself, the word has now made its way into my Twitter bio.

Later in 1492, Alice Goodwyn was tried on accessory charges, but she was able to argue that the indictment against her had been improperly drafted and thus was invalid. Fascinatingly, she argued, and it was accepted, that “knitster” was not a clear enough occupational identifier: so ironically the earliest known use of the word was a contention that the word didn’t really mean anything!

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So Alice Goodwyn walked free. By the fall of the following year, Richard Hampton had also come out of sanctuary and surrendered himself for trial. He pleaded not guilty and a jury trial was scheduled. Meanwhile, he was allowed free on bail.

Almost invariably, accused felons who were bailed were then subsequently acquitted, so that was certainly a good sign. And indeed within a couple of weeks this bail was extended “de die in diem quousque etc” [from day to day until etc] – in other words, indefinitely.

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So who knows what was happening in this case overall: both of the accused wiggle out of the indictments in an oblique fashion, not acquitted, but on a technicality for one and the case just quietly dropped for the other. Hmmm.

Of course, I’m sure Alice the Knitster was innocent anyway.

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TNA, KB 9/395, mm. 20-21; KB 29/123, m 2d; KB 27/925, rex m 7d; KB 27/929, rex m 3d; top image, Bertram von Minden, the Buxtehude altarpiece.

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