“The liberty of the town of Knowle”

In 1492 John and Robert Tayllour, sons of husbandman Richard Tayllour of Little Inkberrow, Worcestershire, killed their neighbour Thomas Mershe with a “battestaff.” Afterward, they fled to “the privilege or liberty of the town of Knowle.” This is the earliest evidence as far as I know for the sanctuary town of Knowle, Warwickshire. A manor held by Westminster Abbey, Knowle was amongst a number of monastic properties exercising sanctuary privilege from the late 15th century without a church as the central node.

This was the other side of the intertwining of the sacral elements of sanctuary – where the church’s holy space was invoked as protective – with ecclesiastical institutions’ jurisdictional independence (the “liberty”). In these cases, and there are more examples in the 16th century, the link to religious house, in this case the big daddy, Westminster Abbey, confers the sanctuary privilege. These arguments were accepted by the common-law courts, although the language was often less about sacredness than about jurisdiction.

In this case, both the Tayllour brothers got off, on the same technicality that Alice the knitster did: the indictment was defective as it hadn’t indicated the accuseds’ place, county, and occupation – those details were provided only for their father.


They were probably young adolescents, but those were the rules: all indictments had to include details about the identity of the accused, so even teenagers, if indicted, had to be given an occupation or status. The coroner screwed up: and two young thugs walked free.


TNA, KB 9/397, m. 21; KB 27/935, rex m. 3d. Top image source

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