Overstaying 40-day sanctuary

There were established rules for what to do if a sanctuary seeker refused to abjure and leave sanctuary in a parish church after 40 days, but not everyone who dealt with such cases knew those rules – or wanted to follow them.

So it was with Thomas White, who took sanctuary at St. Mary Incombusta in Norwich for homicide. After White refused to abjure or come out of sanctuary, the Norwich sheriffs weren’t sure what to do, so they consulted Justice William Yelverton, Norfolk local and King’s Bench justice.

Justice at the court of King’s Bench

Yelverton advised the sheriffs to issue a proclamation forbidding provision of food, but the bishop of Norwich and the cathedral prior lobbied that this was un-Christian. The City’s recorder wrote “that these questions are very difficult and ambiguous in law to be answered.”

It’s not clear how White’s case turned out – although as Yelverton’s advice was consistent with common law on abjuration, it’s likely it was followed.

Norwich city records, 96. Top image, British Library.

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