When you gotta go, you gotta go

This is a case that Euan Roger has tweeted about, with a toilet humour twist, but also some interesting early uses of mitigation claims in court (i.e. defendants’ appeal to loopholes to escape capital punishment). On 4 February 1402 a coroner was summoned to the church of St. Mary Somerset in London to hear theContinue reading “When you gotta go, you gotta go”

The multiple mitigation man

Some medieval felons used every escape hatch — also known as mitigations — available to them. Often they started with sanctuary. In a 1423 case, the sanctuary seeker moved on to grassing up his mates before claiming the benefit of clergy. Third time was the charm. In April 1423, John Digelot, a yeoman of HolmburyContinue reading “The multiple mitigation man”

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”


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”

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”

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”

Felonious monk

William Lane, a monk at Abingdon Abbey, fled to a church after having been indicted of horse theft. He abjured the realm, but did not actually leave; when he was caught and brought before the king’s justices, he then claimed benefit of clergy. He was delivered into the custody of the bishop of London, whoContinue reading “Felonious monk”

Benefit of clergy: another escape from the noose

On 30 December 1465, yeoman John Wynterbourne of Aldbourne Wiltshire took the church of Chipping Lambourne in Berkshire. He confessed to the coroner that on 6 June of that year he had murdered fisherman John Parker in Oxfordshire, near the Thames. After Wynterbourne killed Parker, he dragged his body to the river and threw itContinue reading “Benefit of clergy: another escape from the noose”

“Legit ut clericus”: Benefit of clergy

On the last day of December 1473 John Huchecock of Southwark, yeoman, took sanctuary in the parish church of St George in Southwark. He asked for a coroner to confess his crime. He told the coroner that in March 1470 at Fareham in Hampshire he had attacked an unknown man with a sword, beating andContinue reading ““Legit ut clericus”: Benefit of clergy”

Felonious priests and benefit of clergy

On 3 September 1475, a chaplain named Richard Parenet of Warwickshire took sanctuary at St Augustine’s priory in Daventry, Northants. He confessed to the coroner that 16 years before he had committed murder. Together with two yeomen of Lincolnshire, in 1459 he had assaulted William Saunderson of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, in Gainsborough, with a bastard (orContinue reading “Felonious priests and benefit of clergy”