Seeking sanctuary for debt

In 1429 three Londoners – John and Joyce Shenyfeld, and Rose Barnet, widow – were jointly sued in the court of Common Pleas for a debt of £310 (a very substantial amount of money), which seems to have been attached to the probate of the estate of Barnet’s late husband.

When they failed to appear in court, the sheriffs of London reported that around 1424, all three had gone into sanctuary at St Martin le Grand and could not thus be forced to appear. When a debtor went into sanctuary, by a 1378 statute (2 Ric II, stat. 2 c. 3), their goods left outside the sanctuary (eg. any lands) could be seized by their creditors by court order after fulfillment of a ritualized process: the sheriff had to go to the gates of the sanctuary precinct on five separate occasions, and call out in a loud voice the details of any lawsuit that had been launched against them and the summons to court to answer the suit. Only after five unanswered summonses could seizure of their goods in recompense for their debts proceed.

In the cases of the Shenyfelds and Barnet, the sheriffs reported that they had duly called for them five times, with no response, and presumably whatever goods they had outside the sanctuary were taken.

TNA, CP 40/653, rot. 104; CP 40/673, rot. 282d; WAM, Book 5, fol. 39r

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