Sanctuary and coups d’état

The issue of traitors in the sanctuary arose again in 1451, when on 23 November of that year Sir William Oldhall, speaker of the House of Commons, took refuge in St Martin le Grand. He knew perfectly well what he was doing.

Oldhall was not only speaker but also chamberlain to the duke of York; the asylum-seeking happened when York (pictured) was beginning to challenge openly the king’s fitness to rule, and Oldhall was implicated 1450-51 in the duke’s manoeuvres.

Though once again the dean of St Martin le Grand, Richard Caudray, dissuaded the king from ordering Oldhall’s seizure, in January 1452 supporters of York’s rival the duke of Somerset went ahead anyway and grabbed him. Dean Caudray convinced the king to order Oldhall’s return to the sanctuary, although with the proviso that Oldhall was to be kept under royal guard. Oldhall remained in the sanctuary for more than three years, in the meantime being attainted for treason in parliament and indicted for various felonies in King’s Bench.

He finally left St Martin’s after the Yorkist victory at St Albans in spring 1455; sanctuary had saved his bacon. Charges against him were dropped in a Yorkist-controlled King’s Bench and he walked free. He died in 1460, just before the Yorkist overthrow of benighted Henry VI.

TNA, KB27/777, rex m3; C 1/17/278; JS Roskell, “Sir William Oldhall,” Nottingham Medieval Studies 5 (1961): 104-7. Top image: Richard, duke of York.

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