Abjurers who don’t leave the realm

According to a coroner’s memorandum written at Cowley, Middlesex on 8 November 1400, the villagers of Cowley had arrested one John Smyth of Colham, Middlesex, for felony and imprisoned him, but Smyth escaped and fled to the Cowley parish church. In the church Smyth confessed to the coroner that he had assaulted and killed aContinue reading “Abjurers who don’t leave the realm”

Double robbery and a hanging

Another abjurer found in the realm: in July 1406, John Sutton of Kingston-on-Thames took sanctuary in the church of St. Margaret in Merrow, Surrey. He confessed to the coroner that four days before he had robbed an unknown man on the highway between Kingston and Wandsworth, stealing five shillings; and that on the same dayContinue reading “Double robbery and a hanging”

Mysterious pardons and time machines

Although some seekers, such as John Sutton, were hanged when found in the realm after abjuration, that was not always the outcome: on 1 Dec. 1405, Alexander Copeman was pardoned by the king not only for all his felonies but also for “being in the realm without licence” after abjuration. I’m not sure what exactlyContinue reading “Mysterious pardons and time machines”

Seizing the ring: Claiming sanctuary at Arundel castle chapel

In 1405, the bishop of Chichester’s register tells the story of one John Moot. Moot had been arrested and taken into custody at Arundel Castle for theft and robbery, but then escaped. He ran to the chapel in Arundel Castle, where he “took hold of the ring” of the cloister gates “as a sign ofContinue reading “Seizing the ring: Claiming sanctuary at Arundel castle chapel”

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 hisContinue reading “Murder and robbery”

An Irish scholar makes bad choices

On 1 December 1424, John Hore or Hurne of Ireland, identified as a “scholar,” took sanctuary in the parish church at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Two things about Hore’s identity – being Irish, being a scholar – make his case intriguing. Several days after Hore took church at Beaconsfield, the coroner came and Hore confessed that heContinue reading “An Irish scholar makes bad choices”

Serial sanctuary seeker runs out of luck

Some people took sanctuary more than once — but in this case, the double sanctuary-seeker still ended up on the gallows. In 1425, John Holand, a shoemaker from Stone, Staffordshire, took sanctuary at the parish church in Hackney. He told the coroner that he, together with two soldiers and a horse-dealer, had murdered a LondonContinue reading “Serial sanctuary seeker runs out of luck”

The long road to sanctuary

Some sanctuary seekers taking asylum in a parish church travelled remarkable distances across the kingdom of England committing crimes and then escaping from the consequences. In the late 1420s, one seeker left his home in Yorkshire seeking work in Northumberland; things went awry at his workplace in Newcastle, however, causing him to flee a murderContinue reading “The long road to sanctuary”

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”