London Sheriffs Get Aggressive, Ep.2

Following William Foyle’s arrest in St Bartholomew’s priory on 22 August 1440, the London sheriffs kept up their campaign to bust the privileges of independent jurisdictions in and near London. They had a second chance on 1 September 1440, when a prisoner, John Knight, escaped. Knight was being led from Newgate prison to debt court at the London Guildhall when suddenly four men jumped out from behind a butcher’s stall in the Shambles and wrested him away from the sheriffs’ men.

Knight and his four rescuers ran to the nearby precinct of St Martin le Grand and sought sanctuary. Not surprisingly, this raised the ire of the sheriffs, and when the canons of St Martin’s refused to surrender the men back into their custody, the sheriffs themselves, with an armed retinue, entered the precinct and violently removed the men and put them in prison.

St Martin’s was headed by a dean, Richard Caudray, who was a political player: before becoming dean he was clerk of the king’s council and chancellor of Cambridge University. (I wrote an article about him; Sebastian Sobecki has also recently identified him as the author of the political work Libel of English Policy — and writes about his work as a royal clerk in this hot-of-the-press article here.)

Caudray was more than a match for the London civic leaders, as the quite mundane case of John Knight’s relatively small debt and the not-usually-seriously-regarded offence of helping someone escape from custody turned into an out-and-out battle between St Martin’s and the City. Each lobbied and submitted claim and counter-claim to the king and his council over whether St Martin’s legitimately possessed sanctuary and other jurisdictional rights.

Long story short: Dean Caudray won, though this was not the last battle in the war between St Martin’s and the City. In late October 1440 Knight and the other four men were restored to sanctuary at St Martin’s by order of the king.

Westminster Abbey Muniments, Book 5, fols. 41r-64r; LMA, Letter Book K, fol. 189r (CLBK, 242); McSheffrey, Seeking Sanctuary, ch 3.

Map at top annotated from Mary Lobel, ed. HIstoric Towns atlas of the City of London, http://www.historictownsatlas.org.uk/sites/historictownsatlas/files/atlas/town/maps/london_1520_map_2_south.pdf

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