A coroner’s memorandum records that on 30 April 1397 at the church of St. Martin Outwich in London, John Stokes, “Travelynggeman*, ” took sanctuary. When the coroner appeared, he confessing that he had killed Nicholas Wodyngton, esquire, with a poleaxe, in the midst of an argument. There’s also a second record of the same homicide, also submitted to the court of King’s Bench by the coroner. It’s the document recording the verdict of the coroner’s inquest jury convened on 1 May 1397 over Wodyngton’s body; the jurors also said Stokes had killed the victim, adding that the quarrel was about money Wodyngton owed Stokes.
* A “travelynggeman” was (likely) not a man who traveled (my first thought) but a man who travailed, i.e. he was a labourer or wage-worker. Wodyngton, identified as “esquire,” on the other hand, would have been of much higher status, though evidently he owed Stokes money, so might have been having some financial difficulties. [Even though a travelynggeman didn’t wander, anglo-Canadian readers d’un certain âge may nonetheless immediately start humming this song when they read the phrase “travelling man”:
Anyway, back to our travellin’ man: here is no indication on either record that Stokes abjured the realm (which those who sought sanctuary in a church usually did). For five years after this he disappears from the records. Maybe he was arrested and was sitting in prison, or perhaps he ran off from the church and was in hiding.
In 1402 Stokes appeared again, this time before the court of King’s Bench. Meanwhile out in the world beyond his own personal problems, things had been happening: in 1399 King Richard II was overthrown by his cousin Henry in a coup d’état. At King’s Bench, Stokes’s confession to the coroner back in 1397 led to an automatic guilty verdict and thus he was sentenced to hang. Before that could happen, however, the new king Henry IV through his attorney intervened and instead pardoned Stokes. It would be interesting to know why Henry IV felt moved to pardon Stokes. 🤔 Maybe there was more to this travelling man than at first appears, if he had royal connections.
TNA, KB 9/178, mm. 40-41; KB 27/566, rex m. 8; CPR Hen. IV 1401-05, 167. Top image: A poleaxe: https://talhoffer.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/lessons-on-the-poleaxe-1st-the-oberhau/