A coincidence of Smerthwayts?

The records for sanctuary seekers are always missing key info, but sometimes more than others. Two men named Smerthwayt were invoked by seekers at Durham in December 1479 and February 1480: Connected? Coincidence?

On 27 December 1479 Robert Burton of Dent, Cumbria, sought sanctuary at Durham on an indictment for cattle theft. He had been indicted, along with Edward Smerthwayt, of stealing away Henry Tatham’s ox seventeen years before, but he didn’t do it. It’s not completely clear if the indictment had also taken place seventeen years before, or just the theft – in some ways it is more logical if it was the latter, as otherwise he would have been wandering around with a live indictment over his head for seventeen years. He sought sanctuary because he feared the law though innocent (or so he said).


Six weeks later, on 2 February 1480, Robert Colynson of Lancaster sought sanctuary because in early September 1479, at Lancaster, he had feloniously beaten a certain Edmund Smerthwayt with a clubstaff, wounding him on the head and killing him.

One is Edward, the other Edmund; one was 17 years before, one 6 months prior; one in Lancaster, one in Dent (24 miles apart—so not too far). And I just noticed that Dent is near Sedbergh, so maybe it’s all connected to the Sedbergh feud?

Did Robert beat Edmund Smerthwayt because of the 17-year-old cattle theft accusation that had just come to light? Did this long-ago felony arise again for Burton because of the death of Edmund Smerthwayt? Or are these two cases just unconnected and the coincidence of Smerthwayts just that, a coincidence? Another sanctuary mystery…

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