|CRIME AND JUSTICE
|Homicides investigated by the coroner
|Coroner's roll, Bodleian Library, and documents now known only through Twyne's transcription of 1624 (Bodleian Library)
|J.E. Thorold Rogers, ed. Oxford City Documents, Financial and Judicial, 1268-1665, Oxford Historical Society, vol.18 (1891), 151-52, 154-55, 165-66.
|Late 13th and early 14th centuries
It happened that on the evening of Thursday, 7 March 1297 a certain William de Neushom a groom of Sir John de Ketegreins died in a certain guesthouse where Sir John had lodged the previous Tuesday, in the parish of St. Martin, Oxford. The following morning, on 8 March, he was examined by the coroner and was found to have a wound on the front of his head, 4 inches wide, 6 inches long, and one inch deep. An inquest was held the same day by the oath of: Nicholas de Overton, Thomas de Boleworth, Roger de Wallingford, Walter de Wycombe, John le Longe salt-dealer, William de Oseney, and John de Abindon, jurors from St. Martin's parish; Walter de Witneye, Robert de Bampton, John Bishop butcher, William le Orfevere, Philip le Gaunter, John de Hakeburn, Robert Smart, jurors from All Saints' parish; William de Brehull, John de Tywe, John Payn, Robert Kepeharm, Hugh le Bastiller, and Thomas le Marshall, jurors of St. Aldate's parish; John de Ardern, Richard le Espicer, John de Weston, Geoffrey le Mercer, Richard de Otyndon, and Alexander de Bloxham, jurors of St. Peter's in the Bailey parish. And all the jurors say under oath that on Tuesday, 5 March 1297 William de Neushom and others of the household of Sir John de Ketegreins came in a hurry to the butchers market after curfew and saw John Beneyt junior standing between two stalls and urinating. William de Neushom drew his sword and with its point slashed John Beneyt across the front of his head. John at once raised hue and cry, went into the house of John Beneyt senior, and looked for his sword. Then he, together with John Beneyt senior and John de Walteford followed them to the guesthouse to which Sir John de Ketegreins, William de Neushom, and his colleagues had retreated from them. In the fight that ensued between them John Beneyt junior, answering force with force, struck William on the head and gave him that wound of which he died on the date mentioned, although he received all the last rites. The jurors say that no-one else is guilty of the death except for John Beneyt junior because, they point out, John Beneyt senior and John de Walteford came only in response to the hue and cry that had been raised, for purposes of protecting the king's peace. John Beneyt junior was arrested and was held in gaol until he could be delivered to trial.
[Killing of a prostitute]
It happened on Sunday, 26 April 1299 that Margery de Hereford died in a certain house in St. Aldate's parish, Oxford. The same day an examination was made by John de Oseneye coroner and she was found to have a wound beside her left breast, one inch wide and 5 inches deep. On the same day an inquest was held before the coroner, by the oath of: Thomas le Marescall, John Bishop, Thomas le Parmenter, John de Twye, Thomas le Turnur, Hugh le Pastiler, and Geoffrey de Langeford, jurors of St. Aldate's parish; William Chaunterel, William le Halte shoemaker, Thomas de Weseham, Gilbert de Dos, John Sewy, and John le Tayllor, jurors of St. Frideswide parish; William le Fletcher, Ralph le Wall, Geoffrey le Sutor, Walter le Cha, William le Plomer, and Thomas de Sutton, jurors of St. Michael Southgate parish; John de Goseford, William de Barton, John de Barton, Richard le Baker, Roger de Haleghton, and Nicholas de Forsthull, jurors of St. Thomas the Martyr parish. All the jurors say under oath that the previous Friday a certain clerk, whose name they do not know, around the hour of curfew led Margery to the king's hall and there had sex with her; and because she asked him for her fee, he drew a knife and wounded her by her left breast, so that she died, but she had all the last rites. The clerk immediately escaped from there, so that he could not be arrested nor could his identity be determined.
[A midsummer's eve revel disturbed]
It happened that on 21 August 1306, around midday, Gilbert de Foxlee clerk died in his lodgings in the parish of St. Peter's in the East, Oxford. The following day he was examined by Thomas Lisewys the king's coroner of the town of Oxford and found to have a wound in his left shin, below the knee, 4 inches in diameter and one and a half inches deep. An inquest was thereupon held before the coroner, by the oath of etc. [names not transcribed]. They say under oath that on the evening of the festival of the Nativity of St. John Baptist [23 June] previous, the tailors of Oxford and other townsmen who were with them, spent the whole night in their shops, singing and entertaining themselves with harps, viols and various other instruments, as is their practice and the custom there and elsewhere regarding the celebration of that festival. After midnight, when they did not expect anyone to be wandering in the streets, they and the others who were with them left the shops and took their choir out into the high street heading for the drapery. As they were enjoying themselves, they suddenly came upon Gilbert de Foxlee with his sword drawn and naked in his hand. He immediately started to argue with them, demanding to join their choir. Since they had among their number some persons of note, they approached him and asked him to go away and not cause anyone any trouble. Gilbert was not prepared to agree to this, but broke away from them and then dogged their footsteps, hurling insults at a certain William de Cleydon and threatening to cut off his hand with his sword unless William promptly surrendered to him his place in the choir. At this, Henry de Beumont crusader [?], Thomas de Bloxham, William de Leye servant, John de Leye, and William de Cleydon rushed Gilbert; Henry gave him a wound on the right arm with his sword, Thomas stabbed him in the back with a dagger, while William de Cleydon felled him with a blow to the head. Immediately after, William de Leye, with a hatchet called a "sparsh", gave Gilbert the wound on his left leg, by the knee, from which he died on 21 August he having lived for 8 weeks and 2½ days and having received all the last rites.
To give a sense of the range of causes of death investigated by the coroner, the following is a synopsis of the other crimes reported in coroners' rolls (Oxford City Documents, 150-74), although probably representing only items selected by the transcribers. Two things may be noted. First, that students appear to have been involved in most of these incidents; the number of females even at-risk prostitutes involved as perpetrators or victims, as well as violence between members of the same family (which accounts for a high proportion of homicides in modern society), are correspondingly small. Although this selection of extracts likely reflects a bias of Twyne or Rogers, the eyre of 1285 paints a similar picture, and it is evident that the behaviour of some of the university students was a serious aggravation to the borough authorities. The second thing is that many of the homicides occurred after curfew, yet resulted from the use of the sorts of weapons carried about as a matter of course; they mostly seem hot-blooded rather than premeditated (or incidental escalations of burglaries), despite the occasional indication of ongoing feuds or night-wanderers looking for trouble. We can see from these inquests that evidence must have been sought by the coroners, as quickly as possible after examination of the scene of the crime, from bystanders or others, and that it was left to the jury to weigh the evidence and declare, under oath, what they considered to be the facts.
"from which he died"
|Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: December 5, 2015
|© Stephen Alsford, 2001-2015