Ordinary life in political chaos

In the midst of political chaos, ordinary and unconnected crises in people’s lives continued. On 12 June 1483, a sawyer from London named John Stokes took sanctuary at the parish church of St. Mary in Reading. Mid-June 1483 was a time of high drama in England: Stokes sought sanctuary just as Richard, duke of Gloucester, was executing a series of steps (arrests, executions, gaining custody of his inconvenient nephews) that led to his usurpation of the throne on 26 June.

St. Mary’s church, Reading

Stokes’s sanctuary seeking had nothing to do with that high drama (although sanctuary was involved in that, too–more in other posts). Stokes confessed to the coroner that in 1482 he had committed a robbery at St Ives in Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire). St Ives had an important trade fair in the Middle Ages and beyond: presumably Stokes robbed someone coming or going to the fair (and perhaps he also met a man with seven wives…)

A medieval fair. BN Latin 962 f. 264

Stokes abjured the realm and was to leave the country by the port of Southampton. But – familiar story – he was caught in England about a year later, in Easter term 1484. Evidently Richard III, a tumultuous year into his usurped possession of the throne, was not inclined to pardon a troublesome sawyer. Stokes was hanged for his felony and for his abjuration.


TNA, KB 9/366, m. 8

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