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”

Three sanctuary breaches

The last years of Henry VII’s reign (he died in 1509) are often seen as rife with judicial corruption. That might not be completely fair, but there were lots of cases with odd outcomes in these years. Three sanctuary breach cases ended up in King’s Bench on the same day in 1508. The first involvedContinue reading “Three sanctuary breaches”

Sanctuary in dependent manors

In 1506, a husbandman from Tottenham, Middlesex named Hugh Bradbury, along with an accomplice, broke into the house of widow Joan Iwardeby at Quainton, Bucks, and stole a number of goods. Afterwards Bradbury made his way to the manor of Hoddesdon, Herts, and there claimed the “sanctuary of St Martin.” Bradbury was one of aContinue reading “Sanctuary in dependent manors”

Violent seizures and righteous indignation

In 1506, Hugh Wenwryght, yeoman of Merton, Surrey, broke into the Augustinian priory at Merton and stole chalices and other plate. Later arraigned for burglary at Surrey gaol delivery, he pleaded sanctuary. Wenwryght claimed in court that he had taken sanctuary in the church of St Michael Cornhill in London, not only for that burglaryContinue reading “Violent seizures and righteous indignation”

Davy Jones, sanctuary seeker

Here is another Bristol Temple Fee sanctuary seeker and another difficult 1510s sanctuary case. In November 1517, David Jonys, yeoman of Bristol (who no doubt looked something like the man above…) sought sanctuary for burglary and horse theft. At gaol delivery at Bristol a month later, Jonys pleaded sanctuary, claiming that he had been forciblyContinue reading “Davy Jones, sanctuary seeker”

Den of thieves

A potent criticism of sanctuary in the precincts of religious houses was that those precincts became dens of thieves. Though no doubt exaggerated as a general characterization of sanctuary precincts, it was true in some cases. Here are some who seem to have made Westminster Abbey their base for further crime. In Oct 1520, fourContinue reading “Den of thieves”

The “degree of St Edith”: sanctuary at a nunnery

A curious aspect of sanctuary in 15th-16th century England is that though many different kinds of churches offered shelter, I’ve found only one case where a nunnery provided shelter to a fleeing felon. In 1529, Geoffrey Jenyns, a yeoman of Brentwood, Essex, was hauled into court in 1529 or 1530 to answer to a chargeContinue reading “The “degree of St Edith”: sanctuary at a nunnery”

Bull and Roo: Affirmation of sanctuary at King’s Bench

Two burglars manipulated sanctuary in the early 1530s and the result was something of a surprise: the justices at King’s Bench affirmed the right of felons to take sanctuary – even when they were trying to cheat the system. In May 1530, Maurice Bull & Nicholas Roo, both yeomen of Westminster, appeared before the courtContinue reading “Bull and Roo: Affirmation of sanctuary at King’s Bench”

Abjuration, new style: the 1531 sanctuary statute

In 1531, a new statute changed how abjuration of the realm worked: henceforth abjurers were to proceed from sanctuary in a parish church to a chartered sanctuary, rather than into exile. It was a bit confusing at first. The new statute came into effect on 31 March 1531 but some must have known about theContinue reading “Abjuration, new style: the 1531 sanctuary statute”

Rubbing Cromwell the wrong way

This sanctuary seeker seems to have been another felon who rubbed Cromwell the wrong way, and was not fortunate enough to successfully use Westminster’s asylum to gain time to organize a pardon. In February 1539 a London yeoman named George Brewce was tried for burglary in Colchester. He claimed benefit of clergy in an attemptContinue reading “Rubbing Cromwell the wrong way”