Sanctuary for cattle theft: 15th-c trends in abjuration

On 11 November 1405, Richard Spenser of Haunton, Staffordshire, fled to the parish church of Nailstone, Leicestershire. The Leicestershire coroner John Folvyll came and heard Spenser’s confession: a few days before he had stolen cattle from neighbours in Haunton. Spenser abjured the realm and Folvyll assigned him the port of Dover. We learn about this not from a memo filed at King’s Bench, as most other 15th century abjuration documents come to us, but from Folvyll’s coroner’s roll.

TNA, JUST 2/61, rot. 9,

Although coroner’s rolls survive fairly plentifully from the later 13th and 14th centuries, they are rare indeed after the first decades of the 15th century. Those that survive, like Folvyll’s, show a significant decline in the numbers of abjurers. The numbers were probably highest circa 1300 (as per WC Jordan): amongst the various duties of the coroner dutifully noted on their rolls, abjurations are quite common recorded in late thirteenth and early fourteenth-century. But in Folvyll’s roll from about a century later, covering 20 years (1393-1413), there were only three abjurations: many felonies were recorded (especially homicides, which were in the coroner’s remit), but most perpetrators were recorded as simply escaping.

Although no coroners’ rolls survive for the late 15th century, the number of coroners’ memos of abjuration submitted to King’s Bench climbed again in the 1480s. Here’s a graph of surviving records of abjuration from all sources, 1390-1540 (and yes, surviving records and actual incidence are two different things … but there is lots of corroborating evidence showing very low levels through the 15th century and a resurgence from 1480s).

More data can be found here.

TNA, JUST 2/61, rot. 9. Top image: Bodleian Library MS. Gough Liturg. 7, fol. 10r

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