Murder and robbery

In October 1407 Adam James alias Clifford fled to sanctuary in the church of St. Mary at Hill in London. He confessed to coroner John Dalton that in 1405 at Wroxham, Somerset, he had shot Nicholas Broun with an arrow, killing him. He also confessed a more recent crime, probably the one that drove his flight into the church – just a week before his entry into St Mary at Hill he had robbed a man at Mile End, stealing 6s 8d. The record does not indicate whether James abjured the realm at that point, though he does show up again in custody some time later. This leaves several possibilities:

  1. He did abjure, went into exile, but returned;
  2. He did abjure, but did not actually leave the realm as he swore to do;
  3. He escaped from the sanctuary and scampered off before the abjuration could be administered to him.

In any case, two years later, in October 1409, he was once again in custody. Coroner Dalton received a writ asking him for a record of James’s confession, and he duly sent it to King’s Bench. It’s the document he sent that introduces the uncertainty about whether he abjured: it included his confession, the legally relevant issue at this point, as the court was looking for evidence of his guilt. So – did the coroner omit the record of abjuration because it was irrelevant at this point? Or was it omitted because for some reason James confessed but then did not abjure? Possibly James said “Here’s what I did; come back tomorrow and I’ll do the oath to abjure the realm, but today I’m not quite ready to go,” and then he escaped before that actually happened.

Yes, these are the little details that I spend far too much of my life contemplating.

At King’s Bench in early November 1409, James was asked if, given his recorded acknowledgement of his felonies, there was any reason why his sentence should not be executed, and he admitted there was none. So he was sentenced to be hanged.

TNA, KB 9/198, mm. 42-43; KB 27/594, rex m. 12. Image: Pieter Bruegel, detail from Procession to Calvary.

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