Official incompetence and compensatory bluster

On 11 August 1429, Thomas Pykeryng, a chapman of Gloucester, was in prison in Gloucester castle awaiting trial when he managed to escape, running to sanctuary in the nearby parish church of Holy Trinity. There he confessed to the Gloucester coroners that he had burglarized one Thomas Osteller’s house in 1427. What’s interesting about thisContinue reading “Official incompetence and compensatory bluster”


On 28 May 1429, two fleeing felons, who had committed unrelated crimes but had somehow joined up, took sanctuary together in the parish church of St. Dunstan in Cheam, Surrey. Although the record doesn’t say in their case, in other similar situations the felons had met in prison and escaped together. Jessica Freeman was theContinue reading “Two-for-one”

Domestic homicide, espionage, and women’s vigilante justice

On 27 May 1429 at Whitechapel, Ivo Caret of Brittany murdered his employer, the widow Joan Wynkfeld, and ran off with all her portable goods. Later chroniclers said that Wynkfeld, a wealthy woman, had taken Caret into her home and given him work as an act of charity. This magnanimity was well-intentioned but ill-placed, forContinue reading “Domestic homicide, espionage, and women’s vigilante justice”

Immigrants and judicial exile

On 17 March 1432, a Dutch scrivener, Bartholomew Bertram – alias John Clerk, alias John Bartram – took sanctuary in St. Magnus’s church (one of medieval London’s largest churches, near London bridge). Bertram confessed to the coroner that he had broken into a London pointmaker’s shop in 1428 and then he abjured the realm; theContinue reading “Immigrants and judicial exile”

Mercy and the young Henry VI

Henry VI (r. 1422-60; 1470-71) came to the throne as a baby; in the 1430s and into the early 1440s as he moved through his teens he gradually began to assume personal control of the royal government. A hallmark of the early years of his rule was his determination to govern in a Christian fashionContinue reading “Mercy and the young Henry VI”

No felony, no sanctuary

A curious aspect of medieval English sanctuary is that if you (blameless) were being chased by your foes (bad guys) and spotted the safe haven of a parish church, you could only take sanctuary there if you invented a felony. To receive the “protection of holy church” from pursuers sanctuary seekers had to be felonsContinue reading “No felony, no sanctuary”

Another fake confession

Another felony-inventer, this time to escape creditors. On 6 February 1438, Thomas Homnale, yeoman of Bury, fled to St Margaret, Southwark and confessed a two-year-old horse theft. He abjured, but nine months later he was found in the realm and taken into custody. At King’s Bench the justices asked him whether there was any reasonContinue reading “Another fake confession”

An exile’s after-story

Here, a rare case where we know what an abjurer did when he went into exile across the Channel. On 4 June 1438, William Roper of Goudhurst, Kent, took sanctuary in the church at Marden after killing one John Sponle in what he described as self-defence. Presumably he thought the circumstance would not give himContinue reading “An exile’s after-story”

An abjurer caught in the realm

Another soldier turned to crime in aftermath of demobilization: on 14 April 1440 John Parker of Elmstone, Kent, soldier, took sanctuary in the church of St. Botulph without Bishopsgate in London (here pictured in mid-16th century Agas map, just outside the city walls) He confessed to the coroner the burglary of Richard Hert’s house atContinue reading “An abjurer caught in the realm”

Murder outside a Stewside brothel

On 23 March 1444 a Norwich skinner named John Spaldyng was visiting a brothel in Stewside – the red-candle district on the south bank across from London – when he fell into a quarrel with one John Salman. Spaldyng stabbed Salman with a dagger and then dumped his body into the Thames. About five weeksContinue reading “Murder outside a Stewside brothel”