On surrendered stolen goods

In the 1410s, tensions between the City of London and the two metropolitan-area sanctuaries, Westminster Abbey and St Martin le Grand, began to heat up. In 1417, a London citizen, Edmund Chymbeham, sued two canons of St Martin’s, Simon Floure and William Gerveys, in the court of Common Pleas.

image of manuscript CP 40/534, rot. 452, http://aalt.law.uh.edu/H5/CP40no634/aCP40no634fronts/IMG_0913.JPG

He claimed that a thief named John Rudeville had stolen Chymbeham’s goods and then fled to St. Martin’s for sanctuary; Rudeville had surrendered the goods to the canons on his registration in the sanctuary, those goods becoming by the privileges of St Martin’s (according to the canons) the property of St Martin’s.

Some liberty jurisdictions did have the right to “waif” (surrendered stolen goods), so the canons’ defence was not wholly out of line, although one can see Chymbeham’s point that this implicated the sanctuary as an encourager of crime. It’s not clear that the case ever came to a conclusion (it dragged on for years), although later the dean of St Martin’s was to cite it as a precedent confirming the church’s sanctuary privileges.

It’s notable, though, that although Henry VI fully confirmed St. Martin’s sanctuary privileges in the mid-15th century, the implicit quid pro quo was that St Martin’s lost the right to waif, and any stolen goods surrendered by sanctuary seekers were to be returned to their owners.

TNA, CP 40/634, rot. 452; CP 40/647, rot. 111d; WAM, Book 5, fols. 63v-64v. Top image: Detail from Marinus van Reymerswale, The Banker and His Wife.

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