Parish chaplain helps Irish horse thief escape

A Middlesex jury reported in October 1403 that Nicholas Cusak of Ireland had stolen a horse at Uxbridge from an unknown man, and then fled to the church of St. James in the Fields (now in Piccadilly – then literally in the fields between London and Westminster).

Cusak confessed his crime to the coroner. The coroner left three constables to guard Cusak at the church to prevent his escape before he could be sent on his way out of the realm, but the next night William Cave, chaplain, came “with force and arms” and stated that “the aforesaid church has such liberty that no minister of the king may come into the church to keep watch or guard any felons, on pain of excommunication.”

The chaplain proceeded to assault the constables and lock them out of the church, allowing Cusak to escape. At King’s Bench soon after the chaplain William Cave was pardoned for allowing the felon to escape; no word on what happened to Cusak.

Constables and townsfolk generally were tasked with guarding felons who took sanctuary, to stop them from escaping before they could properly abjure and go into exile, a significant and resented burden on the locals that sometimes resulted (as here) in quarrels with the parish clergy.

TNA, KB 9/186, mm. 44, 50; KB 27/570, rex m. 8d. Top image: a plate in More Pictures of British History by E.L.Hoskyn, B.A., London, 1914, p.20.

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