Sanctuary-seeking and the residents of St Martin le Grand

On February 8, 1476, a coroner’s inquest jury in the parish of St Anne Aldersgate over the body of a London yeoman, William Duglas, reported that pewterer John Walker had murdered him.


Jurors said that Duglas had been walking in God’s peace and the king’s about 3 P.M. when Walker suddenly attacked him with a pitchfork, hitting him on the head. Duglas languished for six weeks before he finally died.

The killer Walker fled the scene, but the jurors also accused five other Londoners, who they said aided and abetted Walker in the homicide. Afterwards these accessories all fled to nearby St Martin le Grand for sanctuary. Although the jurors do not say so, at least one of the men they named as accessories, John Vyvyan, is found in other records as a shoemaker from Gascony who actually lived within the precinct of St Martin le Grand.

St Martin le Grand was an exempt jurisdiction where immigrants could work outside guild control. The others could also have been SMLG residents: they had possibly Dutch names, included a goldsmith (John Wemme), a haberdasher (Thomas Wyrall), and mercer (Robert Rycherd); the fourth was a chaplain (William Grendell). In other words, some or all of them may simply have lived in St Martin le Grand; that wouldn’t have stopped their taking sanctuary as long as they had not committed the felony inside the sanctuary itself. It actually would have made taking sanctuary much more convenient, as they already had lodging and a living there.

As far as I know the principal felon, Walker, was never tried (he was outlawed a year later), but the four accessories did go to trial in the fall of 1476. They were able to plead “insufficient indictment”: the charge had been drafted improperly. The indictment indicated neither when nor where the alleged aid to the murderer had taken place, nor indicated clearly that the act was felonious. So they went “sine die,” i.e. got off on a technicality – although who knows, maybe it was an unfair accusation anyway.


TNA, KB 9/343, mm. 94-96; KB 9/360, mm. 45, 50-51, 57; KB 27/901, rex m. 26; KB 27/861, m. 9; KB 29/106 m. 19. Top image: St Anne’s parish and St Martin le Grand in Mary Lobel’s Atlas of London c.1520.

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