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Sanctuary at All Saints

All Saints about 1900 [Z1130/49]
All Saints about 1900 [Z1130/49]

Volume XLI by Bedfordshire Historical Record Society was a volume devoted to translations of medieval coroners' rolls for Bedfordshire held at the National Archives by the late R F Hunnisett.

"On 24th May 1379 William Palmere, dwelling in Leighton Buzzard, who was indicted and outlawed for the death of Thomas Wydenhale of Wrestlingworth, was arrested at Leighton Buzzard and put in the stocks, but he broke them, escaped, fled to Leighton Buzzard church and stayed there for 13 days. On 6th June he was examined before William of Fancott, county coroner, and confessed that on 5th June 1370 he killed Thomas at Wrestlingworth, for which felony he sought the liberty of the church and it was granted to him. On the same day before the coroner at the church gate he chose his route and the port of Chester and was given the port of Dover, and he abjured the realm of England".

This shows that medieval justice could be slow, in that it had taken nine years for Palmere to be accused of the crime. Perhaps the fact that the distance between Wrestlingworth and Leighton Buzzard was great helped him to stay at liberty. If he was put in the stocks in the Market Place at Leighton he would have had to flee the length of the High Street to reach the church.

By receiving sanctuary he was allowed to follow the shortest route to a port and to go overseas into exile. If he left the road, or did not use the shortest route, it was legal for him to be killed. He had presumably chosen the port of Chester because it was a simple journey north-west along Watling Street, the roads to Dover would have been less obvious to a man from Leighton, so the coroner was probably not being charitable in allotting him this route.