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The Murder of a Priests Son in Bromham in 1272

Volume XLI of Bedfordshire Historical Records Society is a series of translations by R. F. Hunnisett of medieval coroner's rolls for the county, entry 123 reads: "In the early night of 25th February 1272 Ralph son of Ralph vicar of Bromham went into the road opposite the east end of Bromham church towards William Passeleuwe's house [i.e. Bowels Manor?]. Robert Bernard of Wootton, Robert of Shefford, Richard Norman and Roger Brien [later stated as, of Bromham, carpenter] came, and Robert Bernard asked Ralph who he was. He replied: a man, who are you? Thereupon Robert, because he was drunk, sprang forward and struck Ralph across the crown of the head with a "spart" axe, giving him a wound 5 inches long and through the middle of the bone in depth, so that blood and brains immediately flowed out, he immediately lost his speech and died thereof about midday on the morrow". An inquest was held at which the people from Bromham said that Robert Bernard alone was identified as the killer, he had come from Robert Malin's tavern. The people from Biddenham disagreed, saying that Robert was the killer but the others "consented to do any other misdeed and were waiting to do injury to someone else there". Those attending from Stagsden and Stevington said the same, implying that these men might well have been well known locally as troublemakers. As a result of this all the other members of the gang were arrested too.

At this time clergy were supposed to be celibate though many seem to have had children. The murdered man had a wife named Agnes and she went to the County Court in March of that year to appeal [i.e. accuse] the men held responsible for her husband's death. Her statement added the detail that Ralph was assaulted at the crossroads of the road from the courtyard of William Malerbe to the Vicarage and a road from the east side of the churchyard to William Passeleuwe's house. She further accused Robert of Shefford of striking Ralph with a "denesch" or Danish axe "on his loins, breaking them, of which blow he could have died if he had not died of the first wound". She also accused Robert Norman of hitting him with a wooden staff called a "clobbe" on his left side, breaking two ribs "of which he would have died if he had had no other blow". Furthermore Roger Brien hit him between the shoulder blades with an oak "clobbe" "of which he would have died had he had no other blow". Agnes also accused the innkeeper, Robert Malyn and Malina, his wife, of harbouring the felons. The text reveals that Ralph and Agnes had a son, William.

Agnes went to court three times more to make the same accusation but each time those accused failed to attend. Robert Bernard was outlawed because no one would fine surety for him. The others involved found people to be their sureties, all bar one people of Stagsden, again implying the people were well known in the district. Eventually Malyn and his wife along with Richard Norman attended court and were gaoled whereas Robert of Shefford and Roger Brien never did and were outlawed. The last that records mention of the case is that at the Eyre no one knew of any goods or chattels of Bernard, Shefford or Brien "because they were strangers"; the others were once more committed to prison. Alice, for some reason did not attend the eyre to sue those in prison and so she, too, was arrested and fined and Norman, Malyn and his wife went free.