Highway robberies, escapes, and legal deals

Highway robbery episode: according to jurors in Berkshire, on two occasions in 1484 Thomas Pytfeld, an innholder of Reading, robbed men on the roads around Maidenhead.

On the first occasion, in July, he allegedly attacked Walter Sambourne and stole his grey gelding. The second time in October he assaulted Geoffrey Gwyn, the vicar of Hurley parish, beating him badly and robbing him of £6.

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Pytfeld was not in custody when this indictment was presented at the sheriff’s tourn in Berkshire in 1484, but by late 1486 he had been found in Middx, arrested by the sheriffs there, and handed over at Westminster to the Berks sheriff.

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But something went wrong with the handoff and Pytfeld escaped. He immediately ran to the sanctuary at Westminster Abbey. The next time we see Pytfeld is three years later, late 1489, when he surrendered to undergo trial: somehow, a deal had been made that made this safe for him.

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He pleaded not guilty at King’s Bench and was put to bail while he awaited trial. As I’ve mentioned before, when the accused was allowed bail, that almost always presaged an acquittal at trial, and so it transpired for Pytfeld: in June 1490, he was acquitted.

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Qt9 — quietus, or acquitted.

Pytfeld’s flight to sanctuary was omitted from the official record on the roll at King’s Bench. Indeed, ironically the record states not only that he absolutely did not commit the offences in the indictment, but also that at no time did he flee on account of the accusations.

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He did flee (which, as the formula goes, does suggest guilt). He seems to have disappeared for a couple of years following the indictment, and then of course ran to sanctuary, either staying there or elsewhere in hiding for another several years. But the preference on the official record was to omit complications – especially when there had been some kind of “arrangement” to make the indictment go away, which I suspect there was in this case.

TNA, KB 9/383, m. 88; KB 27/913, rex m. 1. Top image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_d._%C3%84._007.jpg

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