A Suffolk mercer goes wild

On 20 August 1487, John Boole, mercer of Westhorpe, Suffolk, took sanctuary in his own parish church. He confessed robberies, thefts, and a murder.

Westhorpe parish church. Source

About eight months before, Boole and his partner in crime, John Herward, a tailor of Beltham, Essex, had robbed a man at Holkham Market in Norfolk, stealing cloth and various other things from him. A couple of years before that, they had broken into a house in Norfolk to burgle it and killed the owner in the process.


Boole abjured the realm and was supposed to get himself to Ipswich to take a boat overseas. He probably didn’t do that, as within a couple of months he was back in custody again. Brought before the court, he admitted his guilt but pleaded clergy: as a literate layman he claimed his right to be punished by church rather than royal authorities, i.e. to be imprisoned rather than hanged.


He was probably released after a few years, as was common at this time for “clerks convict,” as they were called. I always wonder what happened to them afterwards…

TNA, KB 9/375, m 7. Top image, BNF.

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