CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Leicester crime trial theft homicide coroner investigations
Subject: Crimes investigated by the coroner
Original source: Leicestershire Record Office, Leicester archives, coroner's rolls
Transcription in: Mary Bateson, ed. Records of the Borough of Leicester, (London, 1899-1901), vol.1, 376, vol 2, 2.
Original language: Latin
Location: Leicester
Date: 1320s


[Trial and punishment of a thief]

John the son of Thomas of Rothwell near Pontefract was caught red-handed in Leicester, in the house of Henry Dowel of Leicester, on the accusation of John Dun, with a Coggeshall cloak and a red fur-lined hood. He was taken to the portmanmoot court held on 18 August 1320 and there brought to trial on the accusation of theft made by John [Dun]. He stated that he was in possession of the cloak and hood by the agency of Henry's maid and that he did not steal them. On that [defence] he submitted himself to an inquest, which said under oath that he was guilty of the theft. Consequently he was hanged. The cloak and cap were delivered to John for laying the charge. He [i.e. the thief] had no possessions.

[Investigation of a homicide]

At evening was falling on 27 June 1327, there arose an argument between William Hauberk of Scalford and William the son of John le Blake of Leicester, in John le Blake's house. They took the quarrel between them out into the street, where they insulted each other in the vilest terms, with the result that William le Blake stabbed William Hauberk with a knife on the left breast, piercing his heart; he died of the wound immediately. John le Sponere was the first to find the corpse and he straight away raised the hue as far as the four town gates of Leicester. The townspeople assembling, together with the frankpledge, the coroner and bailiff of Leicester were summoned. Before whom was held an inquest, which says that it suspects no-one of the death except from William le Blake, who had fled immediately after committing the deed. He had no possessions nor was he in tithing, because he was a clerk.


These represent two of numerous records of crimes consigned to parchment by the coroner. The coroner was an officer who conducted investigations into "pleas of the crown", notably thefts and homicides, but potentially any crime from which a fine or amercement might be due the king – even in cases of accidental death there would likely be some object, instrument or animal associated with the cause that was forfeit to the crown. The coroner had to make a record of what he discovered; this might involve, as at Ipswich, keeping duplicate records of cases tried in the borough court. He did not try the crimes, strictly speaking (although in Ipswich, and conceivably elsewhere, may have assisted borough executives in reaching judicial decisions) but determined to which authorities they should be referred. In most cases these were royal justices, usually in eyre; the infrequent visits of the eyre to any locality meant that the coroner's records could play a valuable role in identifying crimes and suspects.

The record of these cases, as of most, are brief and to the point: a crime was reported, an inquest gave a verdict, the criminal was punished if in hand, there is a report on whether the criminal had property that would be forfeit to the crown.



Coggeshall was an Essex village with a reputation for its cloth-making industry.

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Created: August 18, 2001. Last update: January 8, 2019 © Stephen Alsford, 2001-2019