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Robbery with Violence in Medieval Biddenham

Volume XLI of Bedfordshire Historical Record Society is a series of translations by R. F. Hunnisett of medieval coroner's rolls for the county. A number of entries indicate how violent life in the Middle Ages was. The first two entries date from 1276.

"Richard son of William of Biddenham avowed before the coroner that Richard le Vaus, his brother Ralph, Henry Compray and Walter Cugel, all of Turvey, broke the house of William Jon of Biddenham furtively and by night, carried away all William's and Richard's goods and cut the sinews of their legs". This particularly nasty crime shows that the coroner was not interested solely in deaths at that date but in other crimes against the person, too. Houses in those days were made of wattle and daub and any enterprising individual with an axe could break through the wall and get inside. No doubt William's and Richard's sinews were cut to prevent them pursuing as well as a warning to keep quiet. the next entry also refers to this particular crime

"Richard son of William and William Jon, both of Biddenham, came to the county court and sued against Walter Cugel who had been arrested and brought into full county court because he had robbed and maimed them; they jointly found pledges to prosecute, Payn de Ford and Thomas son of Marsilius of Biddenham".

This case was even more serious: "On 14th June 1316 Sibyl Aldyth entertained two unknown thieves, and at night they strangled her by her throat with a belt, so that she imemdiately died. The thieves immediately fled. Margery Aldyth first found her, raised the hue and found pledges, Henry Alddyth and Robert Frelove. The neighbours [were attached]: William Byktons by William of Crosshall and William Muryel; William Lanaleye by Robert Drew and Nicholas the Miller; Robert Pyrot by William Frelove and Robert Davy; Robert the Smith by Walter the Shepherd and Roger le Coupere. The belt was appraised at 1½d., for which Biddenham will answer".

At the following eyre the jurors stated that the thieves were unknown and that they did not know where they went. By then Margery Aldyth and two of the neighbours had died (courts did not visit the county regularly at this time and could take years to return). One of the neighbours was a smith and one a cooper, or barrel maker. It is tempting to put this sad event somewhere around The Green where such tradesmen might have their businesses. A smith was operating on The Green by the 18th cebtury.