Sanctuary at St Augustine’s monastery, Bristol

This case reveals some legal shenanigans on the part of the City of Bristol, which in the 1490s had a bee in its bonnet about St Augustine’s monastery just outside the City boundaries.

Two indictments in the Bristol peace sessions in spring 1496 accused William Robynson, a yeoman of “Alyngton,” Dorset, of theft—he allegedly stole a horse and two silver spoons from John Blakamore, and money, a gown, and other goods from Richard Rowland.

Sidebar: Could John Blakamore possibly have been an African (blackamoor?) Without other evidence can’t push a name too far, but Bristol would have been a logical place for an African-in-England to be. Just putting it out there for those keeping track … #BlackTudors

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(Another) African in Tudor England: John Blanke, from the Westminster Tournament Roll, 1511.

Back to our story: In the indictments, Robynson was not stated to have taken sanctuary; instead, the jurors included the prior of St. Augustine’s monastery in the indictment as an accessory to felony, for having “harboured” Robynson after his crime.

Maybe the prior actually was Robynson’s co-conspirator, but as we’ll see with tomorrow’s seeker, it’s more likely that this was the City of Bristol’s back door attempt to have St. Augustine’s sanctuary privilege adjudicated (and they hoped struck down).

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Several civic governments annoyed by religious houses in/near their towns were pushing test cases on sanctuary into the courts in the 1490s, hoping to have those religious houses’ claims of privilege ruled illegal, probably mostly for economic reasons (more about markets than felons).

Here the point probably was to force Robynson and the prior to plead sanctuary, and in turn force the abbot of St Augustine’s to produce proof that the monastery had sanctuary privileges, which Bristol then hoped he could not do.

But this didn’t work, because both Robynson and the prior simply fled and couldn’t be found to stand trial. They were ultimately outlawed (in 1503 and 1508), and meanwhile Bristol moved on to a different target for its test case.

TNA, KB 9/410, mm. 30-32; KB 29/127, m. 3. Map of Bristol: Historic Cities.

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