Official incompetence and compensatory bluster

On 11 August 1429, Thomas Pykeryng, a chapman of Gloucester, was in prison in Gloucester castle awaiting trial when he managed to escape, running to sanctuary in the nearby parish church of Holy Trinity. There he confessed to the Gloucester coroners that he had burglarized one Thomas Osteller’s house in 1427.

What’s interesting about this case is the wording of the coroners’ memorandum of abjuration, which is both floridly formal and devoid of actual information:

He abjured the realm at the door of the church, and touching bodily the holy gospels of God he swore to go from Gloucester to the nearest seaport in the west part of the realm of England and seek passage from the realm, always to hold to his road, and never to return to England. The bailiffs of Gloucester safely delivered him from the town to the next hundred and delivered him to the king’s official as the custom is.

TNA, KB 9/246, m. 10 http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT7/KB9/KB9no246/IMG_0020.htm

The verbiage, heavy on poetic language and reverence for custom (well beyond the usual formulas in fifteenth-century coroners’ memoranda), seems to be covering up the omission of a crucial detail, the name of the assigned port to which Pykeryng was to be escorted. This memo was submitted to King’s Bench fifteen years after Pykeryng’s abjuration when Pykeryng was back in custody, so the process for writing it up probably went something like this: Pykeryng somehow came to be in custody and was held in the Marshalsea prison prior to an appearance before King’s Bench (as a note on the memorandum indicates); knowledge of his previous abjuration became known to officials; a writ was issued to the Gloucester coroners asking them to provide a copy of the memorandum of abjuration so that his sentence could proceed (an abjuration meaning an automatic guilty verdict if the abjurer was caught back in the realm). On receiving the writ, the Gloucester coroners (who may by this time have been different men, of course) looked at the coroners’ roll from fifteen years back and noticed that the memorandum was missing the name of the port and perhaps other things, too. So some clever person tried to cover up the hole with embroidery, filling it out with content-free boilerplate to make it sound less incompetent than it was.

Could be that it was just the record-keeping that was actually incomplete, rather than the original process of ensuring that Pykeryng got to an assigned port. Could be, in fact, that the Gloucester officials did not actually know what had happened, as fifteen years can erase institutional memory. I haven’t been able to find another record indicating Pykeryng’s subsequent fate or whether the coroners or other Gloucester officials were censured.

TNA, KB 9/246, mm. 9-10. Top image: BL, Add MS 23923, https://www.bl.uk/the-middle-ages/articles/church-in-the-middle-ages-from-dedication-to-dissent

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