A London mercer in sanctuary: John Baron

In 1476, with his wife Alice, mercer of London John Baron fled to sanctuary at Westminster to escape imprisonment for debt. (Kit French has written about the Barons in an article in Medieval Prosopography). John Baron is a good example of the advantage that merchants could take of sanctuary protection.


On going into Westminster, he transferred all his property to trustees, who were to provide an annuity for the couple. This worked for the Barons, at least for a while. The Barons lived comfortably in the sanctuary precinct at Westminster, leasing a tenement from the abbot. John had (mostly) to stay within the precinct boundaries or he risked arrest, but Alice could come and go, as by the English legal doctrine of coverture the debts were John’s, not hers.

Though John was generally confined to the precinct, in 1485 and 1486 he was given a special safeconduct from Henry VII to conduct business overseas on the new king’s behalf. This royal patronage, however, didn’t presage his emergence from his financial troubles. Both John (d. 1503) and Alice (d. 1505) lived out the rest of their lives in the sanctuary. Alice became quite involved in the parish of St Margaret’s Westminster, within the precinct. They were part of a varied sanctuary population.


See on the Barons, Katherine L. French, “Wives in Sanctuary: Married Couples and Asylum for Debt in Westminster,” Medieval Prosopography 33 (2018)

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