Welsh swords for hire

On 14 April 1474 William Forster alias William Launder sought sanctuary in the church of St Clement Danes, west of London. The coroner’s memo of the abjuration is unusual: it was written in the first person, from the point of view of the abjurer.


Forster identified himself as a yeoman of London but also of Hereford and “of the consanguinity of Bolt in Wales” – one of the many men of Welsh and Welsh border origin who sought sanctuary in the London area between the 1470s and 1530s. As his confession showed, he moved around.

In the memo, Forster said that he sought sanctuary because in 1462 at Beverley in Yorkshire, “with force and arms I feloniously struck Thomas Benet of Boroughbridge in Yorkshire with a certain long sword, on the left side of his chest up to his heart.”

He then abjured and was to leave the kingdom by the port of Sandwich. Two years later, though, he was found in the realm again, but was able to present a royal pardon and walked free.

In later cases where we have more details, that pattern – Welsh “yeoman” who commits homicide and then presents a royal pardon – is connected to targeted assassinations where the Welsh retainer of English aristocrat does the dirty deed and then walks away when the aristocrat organizes a pardon.

TNA, KB 9/342, m. 53, KB 29/106, m. 10d. Top image: Getty Museum.

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