Gentry violence in Lincolnshire, 1427

In 1427 a gentleman in his 50s assembled a small private army to ambush an enemy. The enemy was killed in the affray and the gentleman ran to sanctuary – but then later was acquitted of the charge. He went on (of course) to be an MP and sheriff.

On 10 August 1427, a coroner’s inquest over the body of John Warde of North Scarle, Lincolnshire, found that John Pygot, esq., of nearby Doddington, had gathered together many men, arrayed in “doublets of fence” and carrying weapons, and lain in wait to attack and kill Warde at Eagle, halfway between North Scarle and Doddington.

KB 9/223/2, m. 58

The jurors said that Pygot then fled to sanctuary at Westminster. Pygot was subsequently “appealed” of the homicide (privately prosecuted) by Warde’s widow and appeared in court to answer the case in winter 1428, so by then he had emerged from sanctuary.

TNA, KB 27/667, plea m. 20

Pygot denied the charge, and the case was to go to a jury, but on the appointed day the widow didn’t appear, and so her suit was dismissed. (This sometimes meant that two parties settled out of court.) Pygot was subsequently acquitted of the “king’s suit” (the felony charges) and he walked free.

Who knows if Pygot was guilty; of course, it could have been a false accusation, but on the other hand it would have been business as usual in Lancastrian England for a man of his stature to wriggle his way out of a homicide.

A bit of googling on Pygot turned up Jonathan Mackman’s DPhil thesis on the Lincolnshire gentry, which does not discuss this case but has a good deal of other material on Pygot. He was in 1427-28 a man in his mid-fifties; soon after he married a rich 18-year-old heiress Elizabeth Belesby, and the wealth that brought elevated him in Lincolnshire gentry society. In 1432 he was appointed sheriff of Lincolnshire and sat as its MP, and he was knighted by 1437. He died in 1451, in his later 70s.

Whatever happened with John Warde in 1427 apparently did nothing to impede his progress.

TNA, KB 9/223/2, m. 58; KB 29/61, m. 28; KB 27/667, plea m. 20; Mackman, “Lincolnshire Gentry,” 96, 98, 240, 273, 311. Top photo: photo: Philip Bedford.

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