Escape from the Marshalsea prison

On 12 July 1418, Thomas Corbet, gentleman of London, was in the Marshalsea prison, incarcerated there to force him to answer to a trespass suit launched by one Matthew Preston. A Lombard named Alexander Jon (Alessandro Gianni?) “fraudulently machinated” so that Corbet was able to escape from the Marshalsea and flee to sanctuary at Westminster.Continue reading “Escape from the Marshalsea prison”

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”

Angry townspeople vs. cathedral clergy

In 1425, the bailiffs and citizens of Canterbury drew up a list of complaints against the prior of Canterbury cathedral; one grievance was that the prior refused to hand over to them a goldsmith “from across the seas” named Bernard Oswyck, who had taken sanctuary in the priory precinct. The early historian of English sanctuaryContinue reading “Angry townspeople vs. cathedral clergy”

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”

The curious case of the Welsh knight

Another felony-inventor, this time a curious case of a Welsh knight who took sanctuary for an already-pardoned killing. His chequered career – including dabbling in Lollard revolts – suggests he was quite a guy. In London in 1431, Sir Nicholas Conway “of Caernarfon in parts of Wales,” recently returned from the war in France, killedContinue reading “The curious case of the Welsh knight”

Henry VI: Defender of sanctuaries

In 1448, a prisoner named Thomas Brodeley escaped from pre-trial custody in Wakefield, Yorkshire and made his way to the (impressively large) parish church of Wakefield to take sanctuary. The sheriff of Yorkshire seized him from the churchyard and took him to the presumably more secure prison in York castle. The archbishop of York promptlyContinue reading “Henry VI: Defender of sanctuaries”

Fake your own death, run to sanctuary

One day in 1452 William Bowre, pre-trial prisoner in Cambridge castle, fell mortally ill and called for a priest to hear his last confession. The castle’s keeper, believing Bowre was living his last hours allowed him to go out to the castle garden with the priest to confess in privacy. Bowre was, of course, fakingContinue reading “Fake your own death, run to sanctuary”

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”

Parishioners fight off a sanctuary breach

The realm returned to ordinary time, and ordinary people taking sanctuary, in 1472. Around then John Creymer of Canterbury was put into the town prison for several debt and trespass lawsuits. Creymer managed to escape from the prison and ran next door to the church of the Holy Cross at Westgate, “and there toke saintwaryeContinue reading “Parishioners fight off a sanctuary breach”