Two-for-one

On 28 May 1429, two fleeing felons, who had committed unrelated crimes but had somehow joined up, took sanctuary together in the parish church of St. Dunstan in Cheam, Surrey. Although the record doesn’t say in their case, in other similar situations the felons had met in prison and escaped together. Jessica Freeman was the first to notice that the two records, now in different files, came out of the same coroner’s hands that day (Freeman, “And He Abjured,” in *Freedom of Movement,* ed. P. Horden, 290).

The first of the Cheam seekers, Richard Estham of Estham, Norfolk, told the coroner that he had killed John Langley at Godston, Norfolk, back in 1423. The second was John Grene, a labourer from Ireland, who confessed that he and a number of other men assaulted and robbed a gentleman and a chaplain near Redhill, Surrey. The coroner assigned them two different ports: Estham was to leave from Winchelsea, and Grene from Dover.

Neither apparently actually left the realm, however, at least not permanently, as both showed up again in custody. A note on Estham’s memo indicates that he was hanged, but Grene had better luck: the Irishman claimed benefit of clergy, “read as a clerk,” and was handed over to the ecclesiastical authorities for punishment.

http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT7/KB9/KB9no225/IMG_0056.htm
“Dicit quod ipse est clericus et legit ut clericus. Et liberatur ordinario Westm'” — He says that he is a clerk and he reads as a clerk. And he is delivered to the ordinary [ecclesiastical official] of Westminster [ie the archdeacon of Westminster Abbey].” KB 9/225, m. 28d.

As labourers could not normally read Latin in the mid-15th century, perhaps Grene had actually originally come to England as a scholar but had dropped out of university, like this sanctuary seeker a few years earlier; another possibility is that he learned to read while in prison awaiting trial.

TNA, KB 9/1046, mm. 27-28; KB 9/225, mm. 27-28.

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