Quarrel over a “frowe”

On 30 November 1394, after sundown, three men were amongst a large group drinking in the King’s Head tavern in St Magnus’s parish near London bridge. Two, Herman Stokfyssh and Nicholas Clarebount, were ‘Doche’, a word late medieval English people applied to anyone coming from the lower Rhineland area that now includes the Netherlands, Belgium, and north-western Germany. The third, Angelo Lettere, was probably Italian.

Lettere threw a crust of bread in the face of a certain “frowe” (a Doche woman), and as a result Lettere and Clarebount exchanged “contumelious and argumentative words.” Lettere punched Clarebount in the throat, and the two moved into the street and began to fight in earnest. Stokfyssh followed them out and attacked Clarebount, too, pulling out a dagger. He stabbed Clarebount in the right side, so deeply that it reached his heart. Clarebount staggered several streets over to the parish of St Martin Orgar in Candlewick street, where he soon after died.

Stokfyssh immediately fled from the scene of the quarrel to the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey, taking his dagger with him, and (as the coroner’s inquest jurors put it) ‘for fear’ of arrest he remained there. The sheriffs of London were ordered to take him, if he could be found outside the sanctuary.

About five months later, in May 1395, the King’s Bench records indicate that Stokfyssh surrendered himself to the officials of the court of King’s Bench; he pleaded not guilty to the charge of homicide and (as usual) was taken into custody. As he presumably knew or at least hoped would happen, however—and this explains his exit from the sanctuary and surrender to authorities—before his trial proceeded further he received a pardon from the king for the felony, and in June he presented it to the justices and was released sine die (“without day,” meaning that the court did not assign any further dates in the case, effectively ending it).

Stokfyssh is amongst the earliest instances I have found of a seeker taking permanent (“chartered”) sanctuary at Westminster Abbey, as opposed to the much more well-attested form of 40-day sanctuary in a parish church prior to judicial exile (abjuration).

TNA, KB 9/173/2, mm. 32-33; KB 27/536, rex m. 20d

Top image: The Temperate and the Intemperate, about 1475–80, Master of the Dresden Prayer Book. Flemish. The J. Paul Getty Museum.

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