All about abjuration

Coroners’ rolls through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries recorded many sanctuary seekers taking refuge in churches and then abjuring the realm. The coroner’s roll for Leicestershire, 1393-1413, for instance, records that John Middleton of Yorkshire fled to the church of St. John the Baptist at Dalby on the Wolds on 1 June 1400, confessing theft. He “abjured the realm,” through Dover. (TNA, JUST 2/61 rot.8)

Abjuration had been a common-law practice in England from the 13th century: accused felons fled to a churchyard or church, called for a coroner, confessed their felonies (which were recorded on the coroner’s roll), and swore to go into exile rather than face trial and potential execution. Abjurers were given a white cross to carry and sent on their way, in theory (not always in practice) accompanied by a relay of constables, to a port to take the first ship overseas.

There’s a lot of important scholarship on sanctuary and abjuration: see especially WC Jordan’s From England to France, Karl Shoemaker’s Sanctuary and Crime in the Middle Ages, 400-1500, and Kenneth Duggan has work forthcoming. On abjuration in 15th and 16th century: Jessica Freeman, “And He Abjured,” in Freedom of Movement (2007); Krista Kesselring’s “Abjuration and its Demise”.

Top photo: Photo of coroner’s roll at the Anglo-American Legal Tradition, JUST 2/61, rot. 8.

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