A dead Welshman and aristocratic impunity

This case has a few complications, but has a number of features common to homicide indictments in the early Tudor period: a group of men set upon someone in what looks like an assassination; though the homicide took place in the London area those involved were from the Welsh marches and the victim had a Welsh name; those said to have actually performed the deed were a gentleman and several yeomen, while charged as accessory for having ordered the hit is a man of higher rank, in this case a knight. If this was a hit ordered by a high-ranking gentleman – and of course such indictments are not always factual – it also matched the pattern where the ultimate procurer of the assassination is acquitted. Often all those involve walked away – the lower-ranked perpetrators found guilty but pardoned, the higher-ranked perpetrators acquitted or not even indicted at all. When there was punishment meted out, it was the lowest-ranked among those charged, the yeomen retainers, who met their deaths at the end of a noose.

On 12 March 1486, Owen ap Reynold, alias Owen Glyndouere (an interesting alias), was found dead in Westminster. Four men – Roger Pole, John Denys, John Terry, and Thomas Heyton, all from Hopton, Shropshire – were accused of his murder.

According to their indictment, Pole, Denys, Terry, and Heyton had murdered ap Reynold at the command of Sir Richard Corbet, a knight also of Hopton. The four killers all hot-footed it to the Westminster Abbey sanctuary following the assassination.


By Michaelmas 1487, two of the killers – Pole and Terry – along with Corbet, accused as accessory to homicide, were in custody. Terry at least had apparently been arrested in Cheshire, which may indicate that they had all left Westminster and run back towards the Welsh marches.

In custody Terry decided to “turn approver,” to offer evidence against his co-accused to escape hanging – but no luck (this was rarely a high-percentage move). The king personally intervened and indicated that on no account was Terry to be given this mercy and so he was hanged.


I have not located further records on Roger Pole, John Denys, or Thomas Heyton, so their fates are unknown. Sir Richard Corbet, on the other hand, charged with procuring the killing, presented letters from the king stipulating that the charges against him were false, and so he was released.

Maybe the accusation against Corbet was false, but this is an oft-repeated pattern. A gentleman (Pole) with several yeomen (Denys, Terry, and Heyton) commit an apparently targeted murder; an even higher-status man (the knight Corbet) is charged with commissioning the crime. I’m sure there are some examples somewhere, but I don’t think I’ve seen any where the high-status man charged as accessory is convicted. The inconvenience of the indictment is the “punishment” for them, poor fellows.

If anyone paid a price for these gentry feuds – and often all the indicted killers escaped punishment, through pardons or just never being arrested and brought to trial – it was the yeomen listed further down the list of indicted men, especially a yeoman like Terry who tried to snitch.

Totally unlike modern justice systems, high-status men could more or less do what they wanted without fear of facing the punishments others received. But a poor person who stole something of minimal value: string ’em up. As I said, TOTALLY unlike modern justice systems.

TNA, KB 9/370, m. 55; KB 9/375, mm. 45-46; KB 27/905, rex mm. 3, 11; KB 27/907, rex m. 14. Top image Pieter Bruegel.

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