Pleading sanctuary at King’s Bench

Another sanctuary breach case: in 1493, Richard Crokker and John Parker appeared at the bar at King’s Bench and were asked why they should be acquitted on felony charges.

Crokker responded that on 9 February 1493 he entered the church of St Anne Aldersgate, London, and sought sanctuary there for several felonies. But while he was in the church, the local constable came and forcefully removed him, against his will.


Crokker thus pleaded sanctuary, ie. asked the judges to restore him to the church so that he could proceed to abjure the realm. The king’s attorney Henry Harman, however, argued instead that Crokker had not been in the church at all, but outside on the street when arrested.

This was the standard crown response for a plea of sanctuary: the attorney didn’t deny the general principle of sanctuary, just that this particular accused hadn’t actually been within a church at the time. (Standard response, but could still of course have been true.)

In sanctuary pleas, the question of fact – whether the accused had been inside or outside the sanctuary – was to be put to a jury, and that was to be the next stage here. There is, unfortunately, no record of the verdict, but it must have been in the crown’s favour in this case, for a further record indicates that both Crokker and Parker subsequently successfully claimed benefit of clergy (which Crokker wouldn’t have done if he had been restored to the church).

In the hierarchy of mitigations, pardon was best (it wiped out the charge, though there might be fines to pay); sanctuary seems to have been second in preference to the third choice, claiming benefit of clergy. A clergy claim tended to be a fallback rather than a first line of defence.

Crokker and Parker did end up (literally) escaping punishment, however, because they and a number of other “clerks attaint,” as convicted benefit of clergy claimants were called, later broke out of the abbot of Westminster’s prison, where they were being held.

They weren’t found again, as far as I know, but the abbot was assessed a huge fine – £1300 (£870,000 in 2019 currency according to this source) – for allowing the escape.

TNA, KB 15/42, fols. 31v-32r; 42v-43r. Top image: source.

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