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Medieval Murder in Wyboston

Volume 41 produced by Bedfordshire Historical Records Society in 1961 is devoted to 13th and 14th century coroner's rolls for Bedfordshire from the National Archives, edited and translated by R. F. Hunnisett.

Entry 40 reads: "About midday on 26th October 1271 Osbert of Bath distrained Richard de Colestone, Adam of Basmead's man, by [seizing] a cow [presumably for unpaid debts or some similar cause], and Adam ordered Walter of Hook Wood and William the Cook, his men, together with John Chanu, the King's bailiff, to deliver the distress [the fine, debt etc.]. They therefore came to the King's highway between Osbert's court-yard and John Rungefer's croft at Wyboston in the parish of Eaton Socon and met Thomas Snou of Somerset, a servant and of the mainpast [household?] of the said Osbert, while Osbert was at his plough in the fields of Wyboston. Walter asked Thomas with whom [the cow] was and struck him lightly with a staff on the left shoulder. Then came Osbert, Nicholas of Bath and Walter Smod of Somerset and a quarrel arose between them. Walter Smod struck Walter of Hook Wood across the top of the head with a "spart" axe giving him a wound six inches long and through the skull to the brain so that blood and brains issued forth; he died of the wound about prime on 30th October, having had the rites of the church".

"Inquest before the same coroner [Ralph of Goldington] by Eaton Socon, Sudbury, Colmworth, Staploe and Wyboston. It was therefore ordered that Walter Smod be arrested and that Osbert and Nicholas of Bath, Thomas Snou and Walter Figge be attached. Afterwards in the next full county court Eaton Socon presented that Walter of Hook Wood pursued Osbert to his door in Wyboston and that Walter Smod killed him as above in self-defence and in defending Osbert, his lord, and that nobody but Walter was guilty of the death; it was therefore ordered as before, that he be arrested. They also said that he had no chattels to their knowledge".

The story is continued in the next entry: "On 2nd November 1271 Aubrey of Hook Wood came to the Bedfordshire county court and appealed Walter Smod of Somerset in that between nones and the eleventh hour [5 p.m.] on 26th October, while she and her son Walter were on the King's highway between Osbert of Bath's capital messuage and John Rungefir's croft in Wyboston, he came and assaulted her son and struck him with a "spart" axe, of which the handle was hazel and the blade of iron and steel, on the right side of the head between the ear and the crown, giving him a wound six inches long, three inches wide and in depth through the middle of the skull, so that blood and brains issued forth and he died thereof. Aubrey promptly raised the hue and pursued it from township to township, to the King's bailiffs, and so to the coroners and the next county court. She offered to prove or deraign against Walter as against a felon in so far as the King's court should award that a woman can or ought to sue or prove against a man, and found pledges to prosecute, Richard de Colstone and John Mariot of Wyboston".

Aubrey also appealed Osbert of Bath in that he was present and ordered Walter to commit the felony, and harboured him both before and afterwards; and also because he hit her son with his right hand under the left ear with a "coilun" [flint] stone, so that if he had not died of the previous wound he would have died of this blow. She also appealed Nicholas of Bath, Osbert's brother, of force and aid, in that he held her son by the right arm with both his hands while he was killed and that he would not have been killed unless [Nicholas] had held him. She also appealed Thomas Snou of Somerset in that he struck her son on the left arm between the hand and elbow with a hazel staff; John of Hardwick in that he struck him across the loins with a "freyne" [ash] staff [held] with both his hands; Henry Figge of Wyboston in that he held him by the neck with both his hands while he was killed; Maurice Figge of Wyboston in that he likewise held him by the right leg. Aubrey offered to prove and deraign all this against them as felons in so far as the King's court should award that a woman can or ought to prove or sue against men, with the same pledges. If she should default in her suit through death or illness, her daughter Maud offered to sue or prove against them in like manner by the same pledges".

"At the county courts of 30th November, 21st December and 25th January 1272 Aubrey came and prosecuted her appeal against all the appellees, who were exacted three times and did not come. Therefore by judgement of the county she was given a day ay the next county court. At the county court of 22nd February she came and prosecuted her appeal against Walter Smod. He was exacted a fourth time and did not come, nor did anyone go surety for him. He was therefore outlawed by judgement of the county. On the same day she prosecuted her appeal against the other appellees, the case was adjourned by a writ to the sheriff, dated at the Tower of London, 5th February, to come before the justices of the bench at Westminster in the Quindene of Easter, with the attachments and everything relating to it, and to tell Aubrey to be there to prosecute it if she should wish. This was because Ralph of Goldington, coroner, was her kinsman and was therefore said to favour her in his plea". Sadly no more is written about this fascinating case.