Murder-for-hire

On 25 April 1446, three men of Geddington, Northamptonshire – two yeomen and a labourer – lay in wait to attack one William Shirwode. According to the indictment, the two yeomen attacked Shirwode with swords drawn, and the labourer, William Campyon, with a pitchfork.

It was Campyon who struck the fatal blow, hitting Shirwode on the back of the skull with the pitchfork, killing him instantly. The killing was allegedly ordered by a local gentleman, Thomas Mulsho of Geddington, son and heir of a former sheriff and MP. Mulsho was charged as accessory; we might guess the two yeomen were his household retainers and Campyon a thug-for-hire. Following the attack, the yeomen fled and were eventually outlawed. Campyon sought sanctuary at the parish church in Geddington, where he abjured before the coroner and was set on his way.

The three killers thus disappeared without further process – inconvenient, perhaps, but they also had little (in material terms, at least) to leave behind. For the landed gentlemen who ordered such contract killings, disappearance would have been impossible as they were tied to their landed properties for their income and status. Luckily for them, it was rare for gentlemen accessories to be convicted and this case ran true to form. The last record for this case indicates Mulsho pleaded not guilty, put himself “on the country” (asked for a jury trial), and was bailed.

Although the verdict on the trial doesn’t survive, as he died in 1460 and no pardon survives, it is most likely he was acquitted at trial.

TNA, KB 9/252/2, m. 20; KB 29/78, m. 31d; KB 27/746, rex m 19. Top image Bib. Nat. Fr. 2644, fol. 159v.

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