CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London crime community police homicide hue-and-cry frankpledge arrest
Subject: Community responsibility for police duties
Original source: Corporation of London Records Office, Misc. Roll AA, m.2
Transcription in: Helena Chew and Martin Weinbaum, eds. The London Eyre of 1244, London Record Society, vol.6 (1970), 21.
Original language: Latin
Location: London
Date: 1231


In the same year [1231] ... on 13 January, it came about that Robert de Kingestone, a servant of Andrew Bukerel, struck Alice's son Adam on the head with an axe, resulting in his death the following day. Coming to the place where Adam had been attacked, Alice seized Robert and she and her neighbours brought him to the house of John, beadle of the ward at that time, so that he could be kept in custody until the following day. She delivered him to the beadle, who received him but afterwards allowed him to escape. Because this took place during the day, and hue-and-cry was raised so that all the neighbours and everyone living in the ward of Joce fitz Peter, alderman at that time, were made fully aware of what had gone on, yet the wrongdoer was not detained after his capture, they are to be subject to judgement. When the beadle comes [before the justices] he is committed into the sheriffs' custody. Robert was in frankpledge in St. Pancras' parish, in the county of Middlesex. So the sheriff of Middlesex is instructed to make enquiry among his frankpledge and concerning his possessions, and to arrange to have him exacted and outlawed in the county court. Since the mayor and citizens testify that Robert was captured and taken to John the beadle's house at a time when he was not there, John is exonerated. Robert had no belongings. The chamberlain, the sheriffs, and the [ward] alderman knew nothing of this affair, nor was Robert in frankpledge or [resident] of the ward, for he was an outsider; therefore nothing [is due from them by way of fine]. Nothing from Andrew Bukerel, to whose household he belonged, since Andrew is dead.


This was one of a number of old crimes reviewed by the king's justices in eyre, authorized to examine various types of offences infringing royal laws. There had been no previous eyre in London since 1226. Consequently, in the case of the older crimes, many of the accused were no longer to be found, or had died in prison, while many of the witnesses (including neighbours, who were expected to be in the know) had likewise died. The account of the case is a summary of key developments in the proceedings. These accounts, and possibly the proceedings themselves, showed far less interest in the motives for crimes – something hard to arrive at anyway in the frequent absence of victim (usually dead) and accused (usually disappeared) – than in which parties could be fined or what possessions of the accused or deodands (instruments by which a crime was committed, forfeit to the crown) could be confiscated.

There are several instances here indicative of the important role of private citizens, individually or collectively, in bringing wrongdoers to justice. Alice attempts a citizen's arrest on the attacker of her son, and summons the neighbourhood to her assistance – and to witness the results of the crime (so that later in court they can assist with Robert's conviction) – by raising hue-and-cry. This was probably an obligation at first, although subject to abuse – some citizens raising the hue at the slightest provocation; at the 1276 eyre, the London authorities were claiming that raising hue-and-cry and pursuing criminals was optional for a neighbourhood, and failure to do so should not result in a fine.

In 1231, however, the neighbours take responsibility for escorting Robert to where he can be secured until Adam's fate is determined. The inhabitants of the ward are collectively blamed for Robert's escape – since they cannot claim ignorance, they must accept responsibility and face a fine. There are numerous other cases among the London eyre records of the 13th century in which the community of a ward is fined for failing to report something suspicious or being ignorant of activities within ward boundaries.

Finally, reference is made to Robert's frankpledge, a group of friends or neighbours which has some responsibility for knowing the whereabouts of its members and providing mutual guarantees of good behaviour. Frankpledges were often fined by the 1244 eyre for failing in their duty. In this case Robert must have been associated with extra-mural property held by Bukerel since he belonged to Bukerel's household but was not a London resident.

By contrast, the city authorities take care to avoid any risk of being fined themselves, by arguing that Robert was not a citizen and therefore they could not be held responsible for his actions.



"Andrew Bukerel"
A member of one of the most prominent merchant families of the city, specializing in the pepper trade. His father had served as sheriff, and Andrew and two brothers held aldermannic office in the city. This crime of his servant, in which Bukerel seems in no way implicated did not hurt his social status, for he was elected mayor soon after and held the office for several years until his death in 1237.

"allowed him to escape"
The Latin literally reads "permitted him to depart". Dr. Chew's translation "let him go" would suggest a deliberate act on the beadle's part, but his subsequent exoneration (together with Robert's apparent disappearance) suggests more that Robert was not properly secured in the beadle's absence.

"Joce fitz Peter"
Alderman of Farringdon ward.

Exaction, or exigent, was a preliminary to outlawry: in cases where the accused could not be found, proclamation had to be made in court ordering the accused to surrender to justice. In London such proclamation had to be made at three successive husting sessions before (assuming failure to appear) the accused could be outlawed at the folkmoot; unless the accused were a non-Londoner, in which case the exaction took place at four sessions, to give more time for the accused to turn himself in.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: November 23, 2002 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2003