On 1 December 1424, John Hore or Hurne of Ireland, identified as a “scholar,” took sanctuary in the parish church at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Two things about Hore’s identity – being Irish, being a scholar – make his case intriguing.
Several days after Hore took church at Beaconsfield, the coroner came and Hore confessed that he had stolen a black horse at Uxbridge. He swore to abjure the realm and the coroner sent him on his way into exile, never again to return to the English realm (at least in theory).
So, first: could an Irishman who abjured the English realm go to Ireland? The answer to that is ambiguous: as JL Bolton discusses, in the fifteenth century the Irish were sometimes considered “aliens” or “strangers” born “outside the king’s dominion” (as the expression went), and sometimes considered subjects of the king. You’d think that technically Ireland was indeed in “the king’s dominion” and thus that Hore could not choose his homeland as his place of exile. On the other hand, the chances that anyone would follow up, especially if he went to Gaelic Ireland, were very small indeed. Likely, however, the coroner wanted to make a trip to Ireland as inconvenient as possible, as he sent Hore to the port of Lynn in Norfolk, from which a trip across the Irish Sea would be very difficult.
Mind you, who knows if Hore would even have wanted to go back to Ireland; certainly there’s no evidence that he tried to go there. In fact, we don’t know that he ever left England, as within three years he was still in England (or at least had returned from wherever he went) and in custody.
When he appeared before King’s Bench in 1427, it was his status as a “scholar” that came into play. “Scholar” in this period is somewhat ambiguous, but likely meant a student at one of the universities. It would certainly have meant he was literate and likely a cleric at least in minor orders. So this time he pleaded benefit of clergy and was handed over to the ecclesiastical authorities for imprisonment, neatly avoiding the hangman’s noose.
Why did Hore not make a benefit of clergy claim right from the start, rather than seeking to abjure the realm? Individual circumstances and preferences obviously affected decisions a fleeing felon made – but it was not uncommon for benefit of clergy to serve as “Plan B” rather than “Plan A.” Exile – or even just trying to hang out incognito in the realm for three years as perhaps Hore did between 1424 and 1427 – might have seemed preferable to a stint in a bishop’s prison. Luckily for Hore, he had several cards in hand, so when his first strategy didn’t work out, he could play his clergy card.