Getting away with murder

On 20 February 1478, gentleman George Gray of London took sanctuary at the parish church of All Saints, Marsworth, Buckinghamshire. Gray confessed to the coroner that more than a year before he had killed one John Skynner with his dagger in the parish of St Martin in the Fields – which was, indeed, then inContinue reading “Getting away with murder”

A Suffolk mercer goes wild

On 20 August 1487, John Boole, mercer of Westhorpe, Suffolk, took sanctuary in his own parish church. He confessed robberies, thefts, and a murder. About eight months before, Boole and his partner in crime, John Herward, a tailor of Beltham, Essex, had robbed a man at Holkham Market in Norfolk, stealing cloth and various otherContinue reading “A Suffolk mercer goes wild”

Sanctuary breaches and hard resets in Coventry, 1490

There was a real mess of a sanctuary situation in Coventry in 1490 enmeshed in a triangular dispute, featuring the bishop, the city’s government, and the crown. The bishop and the city both played fast and loose with the rules. Seizure #1: In February 1490 William Johnson, tailor of Lincoln, was about to be hangedContinue reading “Sanctuary breaches and hard resets in Coventry, 1490”

Sanctuary and impunity for crime

Many late medieval English people saw sanctuary as a bulwark against judicial corruption. Others saw it as corruption itself, allowing heinous criminals to escape consequences. This seeker was a great example of the latter. On 28 March 1490, a mariner of Brixham, Devon, John Preston alias Westlake, took sanctuary in the church in Bishop’s Sutton,Continue reading “Sanctuary and impunity for crime”

Pleading sanctuary at King’s Bench

Another sanctuary breach case: in 1493, Richard Crokker and John Parker appeared at the bar at King’s Bench and were asked why they should be acquitted on felony charges. Crokker responded that on 9 February 1493 he entered the church of St Anne Aldersgate, London, and sought sanctuary there for several felonies. But while heContinue reading “Pleading sanctuary at King’s Bench”

The savvy criminal

George Sawyer alias Wolmer, a Surrey man variously identified as husbandman, yeoman, and sawyer, was a walking example of the escape hatches, legal and illegal, available to the savvy late medieval criminal. In 1499, Sawyer took sanctuary at St. Mary Overey in Southwark after a string of burglaries in Kent, but three men dragged himContinue reading “The savvy criminal”

The Hospitaller’s cloak

In 1506, two accused felons claimed sanctuary by touching the cloak of a Hospitaller knight rather than more conventionally running into a parish church or monastery. Richard Pulham (harpist from St Mary Hoo, Kent, indicted for homicide) and Ralph Toker (Somerset yeoman who’d previously abjured twice for multiple felonies but been caught in the realm)Continue reading “The Hospitaller’s cloak”

Robbery in Knightsbridge

The canny felon in early 16th-century England could, if smart and lucky, avail himself of an array of different mitigations to escape the noose – sometimes cycling through them until he found one that worked, as this seeker did. At gaol delivery for Middlesex in May 1508, a Westminster yeoman named Thomas David ap HowellContinue reading “Robbery in Knightsbridge”

Hitting for the cycle: sanctuary, benefit of clergy, pardon

Here, another felon cycling through the three major forms of mitigation available to accused criminals in England circa 1500. Though hardly unpunished, George Courtenay of Hampshire was able to avoid the noose and after twenty years walked free. Courtenay, called in different records gentleman or merchant of Romsey, Hampshire, took sanctuary in 1514 in Caistor,Continue reading “Hitting for the cycle: sanctuary, benefit of clergy, pardon”

“The white hare should drive the white greyhound into the root of an oak”: Prophecies and mitigations

Thomas Cheselet was an operator who knew his way around mitigations – and a dab hand at treasonous prophecies. The tale starts in 1519 when Cheselet, a tailor of Mere, Wiltshire, took sanctuary at the Dominican priory at Fisherton Anger. He asked for the coroner, confessing to him that earlier that year he had stolenContinue reading ““The white hare should drive the white greyhound into the root of an oak”: Prophecies and mitigations”