Thiefcatchers and felonious priests

One day John Kirkeham, a London “catchpoll” (thief-catcher) arrested Geoffrey Warmyngton, “vicar of St Martin’s,” for an unspecified offence. Warmyngton twisted out of Kirkeham’s grasp and ran to St Martin le Grand for sanctuary. It’s unclear which church dedicated to St Martin was Warmyngton’s place of employment, as there were six churches dedicated to St Martin in London itself and St Martin in the Fields to the west of the city. If Warmyngton was employed at St Martin le Grand, then seeking sanctuary there was very irregular! (Felonious priests were, on the other hand, less rare than you might think.)

The London churches dedicated to St Martin, Source

Kirkeham followed Warmyngton into the sanctuary precinct and tried to seize him again, but a group of clerics of St Martin’s defended the sanctuary seeker and chased Kirkeham off. Kirkeham then sued the clergy of St Martin’s on a plea of trespass for preventing the arrest.


One of those clergy, John Passheley (who was identified, curiously, as both embroiderer and clerk of St Martin’s) complained that he “dyd none other trespas butt in conservacion of the Seintwary as his dute [duty] was.”


If a 15th century English person felt the common law was failing them, they could appeal to the Chancellor, and Passheley petitioned the Chancellor to intervene. As is usual, the petition is all that remains of the case, so we don’t know what happened. It’s also unclear when this occurred: Chancery petitions are (maddeningly) undated and can only be assigned approximate years according to the particular chancellor to whom they’re addressed. This one could be 1433-43 or 1467-72.

So a little vignette, unanchored in time, raising a lot of questions about felonious priests, thief-catchers, and embroidering clerks!

TNA, C 1/45/144. Top image:

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