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”

Highway robberies, escapes, and legal deals

Highway robbery episode: according to jurors in Berkshire, on two occasions in 1484 Thomas Pytfeld, an innholder of Reading, robbed men on the roads around Maidenhead. On the first occasion, in July, he allegedly attacked Walter Sambourne and stole his grey gelding. The second time in October he assaulted Geoffrey Gwyn, the vicar of HurleyContinue reading “Highway robberies, escapes, and legal deals”

Ambiguities of sanctuary

Another Durham case with interesting evidence about the ambiguities of sanctuary – how permissible was it to help a felon escape to asylum? Was it an act of Christian charity, or accessory to felony? In August 1484, John Hudson, a shoemaker of Ripon, came to Durham because a week before he and others had assaultedContinue reading “Ambiguities of sanctuary”

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”

Crime and Credibility

This case features a serial horse-thief and serial sanctuary-taker with a wee bit of a credibility problem. In May 1489 John Whatman, a roper of Ticehurst, Sussex, stole a horse at Wadhurst, a few miles away. Then in September 1489 Whatman stole another horse, at Heathfield in Sussex. He was arrested for this second theftContinue reading “Crime and Credibility”

Sanctuary at a deer park?

This is another case of a liberty, this time a royal one, claimed as a sanctuary. In 1493, coroner’s inquest jurors found that John Boteler, a bowyer of Lincoln, had stabbed and killed William Thomas. After the incident, the jurors reported, Boteler fled for the murder to “the franchise of Beaumontrent.” I’ve tentatively identified thisContinue reading “Sanctuary at a deer park?”

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”

Police brutality, 1490s style

Cases from the 1490s show clearly that one thing that really bothered London sheriffs and their underlings was the escape of felons from their custody into nearby churches. Frustrated the H-E-double-hockey-sticks out of them. In 1495 John Calcott was in Newgate prison awaiting trial on felony when he managed to break out and run toContinue reading “Police brutality, 1490s style”

A Berkshire prison break

We’ve seen a few cases of felons awaiting trial escaping from their prisons and running to sanctuary; sometimes a whole gang break out at once and reach safety by running to nearest churchyard, as happened in Berkshire in 1497. In 1497, six prisoners in Wallingford castle in Berks (now Oxon) escaped by the keeper’s negligence.Continue reading “A Berkshire prison break”

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”