Durham as a royally-chartered sanctuary

On 22 July 1464 William Hogeson of Fulford, Yorkshire sought sanctuary at Durham Cathedral. Before the constable of Durham, cathedral clergy, and others, he confessed that “in defence of his body” he had killed John Staynton also of Fulford.


He sought and was granted “the immunity and liberty of St. Cuthbert,” the patron saint of Durham cathedral: i.e. chartered, permanent sanctuary rather than 40-day asylum plus abjuration. Hogeson’s is the first surviving 15th century record for a sanctuary seeker at Durham Cathedral.

Hogeson claimed self-defence, which triggered a pardon if proved at trial; but likely his situation wouldn’t have met the very strict definition of self-defence used in court: that the killer had only two options, their own death or kill their attacker (eg. couldn’t flee). Many seekers who followed Hogeson at Durham likewise in the confessions of their felonies also minimized their guilt in various ways, saying in effect “yes, I killed someone, but really it wasn’t MY fault,” although in law it was still a felony.

Some time around the 1460s – perhaps with Hogeson’s case – the bishop of Durham seems to have decided to get on board with other great ecclesiastical institutions (eg. Westminster Abbey) to claim that his church could also offer permanent, royally chartered sanctuary.

The bishopric of Durham already had a highly independent (palatinate) jurisdiction, but by the 1460s sanctuary was becoming the gold standard of ecclesiastical jurisdictional rights, and it makes sense that the bishop of Durham would want to be amongst sanctuary providers. Over next decades, hundreds of other men (but no women at all) would seek sanctuary at Durham cathedral, mostly for homicides: see here for other posts about Durham and here for a discussion of why there were no women. The entry records were all edited (by an anonymous scholar) in the 19th century:


There is also a wonderful modern online calendar (summary) of the full registers into which the sanctuary entries were written at the Durham University Library Archives site.

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