Escape from the bishop’s prison

In March 1418, Peter Hughebard, labourer of Woodchurch, Kent, was arrested for theft and put into the prison of Christchurch cathedral priory in Canterbury (presumably because he had been arrested within the liberty of the priory). Though we don’t usually think about churches as needing prisons, English bishops and other ecclesiastical leaders often acted as secular rulers of the precincts around their churches and thus needed somewhere to keep arrested felons and the like in custody.

Hughebard escaped from the prison, however, and fled to the Blackfriars (Dominicans’) church in Canterbury to take sanctuary. When the coroner arrived, Hughebard confessed that he had killed one John Sadeler at Boreham, Sussex, but when the coroner asked him if he wanted to abjure the realm or stand trial for the felony, he said he wanted neither. After a while he tried to leave the church, but he was caught and put in prison.

Some six months later – for unknown reasons – king Henry V (then on campaign in France) issued a pardon for him and he walked free. Probably this was in some way in return for agreeing to serve in the king’s forces in the French war, as normally a labourer wouldn’t have the strings to pull to get a pardon otherwise.

CPR, 1416-22, 176. Image: Detail from a plan of Christchurch Cathedral priory in Canterbury,

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