Sanctuary men and Oldcastle’s Revolt

On 9-10 January 1414, Sir John Oldcastle led an ill-fated and probably poorly conceived uprising against Henry V, which may (or may not) have been inspired by Oldcastle’s adherence to ideas of an unorthodox religious group, the Lollards. Although the insurrection was suppressed, Oldcastle himself escaped and remained on the loose for the next several years. In the immediate aftermath of the revolt, some of his followers apparently took shelter in the Westminster sanctuary, and perhaps Oldcastle himself did, too, as the archdeacon of Westminster may have been a sympathizer.

The connection of Oldcastle to the Westminster archdeacon is speculative, because the source of the tale is a rather dubious confession made by Richard Makerell, a soldier (alas, not in the Medieval Soldier database). In November 1414, after indictment for various robberies, Makerell attempted to “turn approver,” that is, to give information about felonies and treasons committed by others to save himself from execution.

TNA, KB 9/205/1, m. 15

In his statement to the coroner, he said that he had returned to England from France on 2 February 1414 and immediately took sanctuary as a debtor at Westminster Abbey, as his creditors were breathing down his neck. A few days later, the archdeacon of Westminster asked to speak to him and two other sanctuary men, Robert Bolle and William Tuttebury, in the abbey church, and once they were alone, the archdeacon opened his robes and revealed that he was armed and fully dressed in armour. He offered each of the sanctuary men 20s if they would ride with him and one of Oldcastle’s men, then in the sanctuary, to where Oldcastle was hiding, to move Oldcastle to a new location.

Makerell claimed that he and the sanctuary men refused the money, and then an hour or so later Thomas, duke of Clarence, with an armed retinue, raided the sanctuary looking for Oldcastle and his followers. By that time, the archdeacon and Oldcastle’s man had fled, and so Clarence’s raid turned up nothing.

Whether Makerell’s story was reliable is unclear; in the fall of 1414 the Oldcastle revolt was still front and centre and he may simply have been inventing a story that he hoped would save him from the noose. It’s unknown what happened to Makerell; Oldcastle himself was captured finally in 1417 and executed.

TNA, KB 9/205/1, m. 15. Top image: Henry V sets forth to put down Oldcastle’s Revolt, 1414, illustration from JWE Doyle, A Chronicle of England, 1864.

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