Heresy and corruption in 1410s London

London was a very tense place in the 1410s: a new king, a renewed war in France, accusations of corruption, and the first major rounds of heresy executions in the kingdom’s history. In 1416, John Russell, woolpacker, went around London spreading the story that alderman and former mayor Thomas Fauconer had gone ahead with the burning of a convicted heretic Richard Gurmyn, baker, even though the king had pardoned Gurmyn. Russell alleged that Fauconer contemptuously tossed the parchment with the pardon into the fire in which Gurmyn died.

As a result of the rumours, Fauconer was put into the Tower and the king fined him £1000 for having disregarded the king’s command. The London civic response to this was to try to repair Fauconer’s reputation by publicly forcing Russell to retract his accusation; summoned before the London aldermen, Russell said that he, as a humble layman, needed legal counsel to understand the charges against him, and the aldermen set a date for him to return to their court, bailing him by the pledges of twelve citizens who were to ensure he showed up for his next court date.

Russell, however, promptly ran out of London to take sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, leaving his guarantors to forfeit the £100 bail. Russell stayed in the confines of the Westminster Abbey precinct for nine months, at the end of which (according to the City’s records) he “voluntarily” came out of sanctuary in sorrow for his slanderous words and for the losses incurred by his guarantors. He made a full confession – recorded in English in the City’s records – that the words he had spoken and “noised” were utterly “vntrew,” that they had caused “gret disclaunder of [Fauconer’s] worshipfull estat” and “grete displesauns of alle the Aldermen.”

Letter Book I, fol. 195, calendared very fully in Riley’s Memorials of London Life.

Top image: The burning of John Badby, near contemporary to Richard Gurmyn, from John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, 1563, http://www.johnfoxe.org/woodcuts/f0556w.gif

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