Abjuring? Stick to your route

A déjà-vu-all-over-again case today. John Marten, a yeoman of London, ran into the church of St. Olave [Olaf] in Southwark at the end of January 1489. When the coroner came, he confessed murder.

A few weeks before he’d been at Kilburn in Middlesex and hit William Alwen on the head with a longbill, penetrating to his brain and killing him. At St Olave’s, he abjured the realm and was sent on his way to Portsmouth to take a ship overseas.


Later that same day he was arrested by the constable of Lambeth and hauled before the justices at King’s Bench. He claimed that he had been doing as told, proceeding from Southwark to Portsmouth, but the crown argued that he’d deviated from his direct route to the port.


Anyone familiar with the geography of the south bank (and the justices at King’s Bench presumably were) would have had to be pretty skeptical of Marten’s claim that he was just going straight to Portsmouth as ordered – Lambeth is definitely not the right way.


We might also note that even in the very early stages of this voyage to the port he seems not to have been accompanied by constables (as supposedly was the practice) but was just sent out on his own – though perhaps he was being watched as they caught him right away.

(Honestly, I know they were short of personnel, etc., but who would really expect that a confessed killer would observe his oath and head straight for exile rather than trying to run off and disappear somewhere?)

The records at King’s Bench for this case don’t have a resolution at this stage: it was supposed to go to a jury at Easter 1490, but I can’t find any indication that actually happened.

Fast forward to 1507, and John Marten appeared again in King’s Bench, and was again charged with having been found in the realm following the same 1489 abjuration. This time he presented a royal pardon – obviously arranged before surrendering himself to authorities – and walked free.

Where was he in the meantime? Sitting in the Marshalsea prison? (Probably not.) Released to continue on with his path into exile and again escaped en route? Or had he actually gone overseas, at least for a while, and then later returned?

I really need that time machine and invisibility cloak [because I’d rather not get noticed spying on these murderers…] so I can go back and follow these people around.

TNA, KB 9/380, mm. 22-23; KB 27/915, rex m. 5d; KB 29/119, m. 11; KB 27/985, rex m. 18. Map at top (St Olave, Southwark), MoEML.

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