“Legit ut clericus”: Benefit of clergy

On the last day of December 1473 John Huchecock of Southwark, yeoman, took sanctuary in the parish church of St George in Southwark. He asked for a coroner to confess his crime.

St. George, Southwark. Source

He told the coroner that in March 1470 at Fareham in Hampshire he had attacked an unknown man with a sword, beating and wounding him so badly that he died. Why he was compelled more than three years later to seek asylum for this crime he doesn’t say.


He took an oath to abjure the realm, and the coroner assigned him the port of Sandwich to find his boat overseas. By May 1476, he was back in the realm again, in Kent (and as with others like him, maybe he never actually left).

The sheriffs of Kent brought him in to the court of King’s Bench, where he was asked why he should not be executed as he had been found in the realm without special permission from the king.


He answered by pleading benefit of clergy: that is, he admitted he was guilty but as a literate man (even though not a priest) he should be given ecclesiastical punishment, imprisonment, rather than the death penalty.

He was given a book to read, was deemed to “read as a clerk” [legit ut clericus] and was then given into custody of the abbot of Westminster.

TNA, KB 9/946, mm. 17-18; KB 29/106, m. 2; KB 27/859, rex m. 6

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