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CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval Oxford coroner jury trial homicide prostitution university students misadventure

Subject: Homicides investigated by the coroner
Original source: Coroner's roll, Bodleian Library, and documents now known only through Twyne's transcription of 1624
Transcription in: 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.
Original language: Latin
Location: Oxford
Date: Late 13th and early 14th centuries


[Revenge killing]

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. Although this selection of extracts may reflect 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. Second, that many of the homicides occurred after curfew. 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.

  • 4 February 1297, John Metescharp died after having on 2 February been shot by an arrow when he responded to a hue and cry raised against three clerks (probably students) who were going through the streets around curfew, armed with swords and bows, and assaulting any pedestrians they encountered. The culprits escaped.

  • 20 January 1298, Thomas Yve found Robert de la Marche tawyer dead outside a house near the north gate and immediately raised hue. Around twilight the previous evening he had ventured outside the north gate, where he encounted four Irish clerks (probably students). For reasons not explained, one stabbed Robert with a knife under his left arm; the attacker fled, but the others of the group were later arrested.

  • 17 June 1298, William de Heyworth died of a hatchet wound to the skull, a wound received on 27 May from an assault by Reginald le Messer, a poor resident of the Hospital of St. John; Reginald had meanwhile fled.

  • 23 April 1300, Roger the son of Emma de Hereford having been found dead the previous day, the inquest found that Emma had, along with many other poor people, been present at a distribution of food at the house of the Archdeacon of Buckinghamshire on the 21st. The throng of the crowd knocked her down and she was trampled underfoot. She miscarried a stillborn son the following day. No blame was assigned.

  • 2 August 1300, William de Bangor, an Irish clerk was found dead near a dam of the Abbey of Osney by Richard de Hayle, who raised hue. William had no marks on him and the jury concluded he had drowned while trying to bathe in the river Thames. Death by misadventure.

  • 17 August 1300, Gervase Maddak, a Welsh youth, having been found dead in St. Edward's Hall, the jury found that he had finally succumbed to a wound received back in February, when he had been struck on the head by a cudgel wielded by Robert le Porter of Winchenden while visiting an inn. The culprit had fled – where no-one knew – leaving behind his cudgel.

  • 16 December 1300, John de Rypon was found dead at curfew time by Thomas Yvo, who raised hue. An inquest the following day found that John had become involved in a war of words with Richard de Malteby, who with his cudgel struck John on the head, killing him. Richard had escaped.

  • 22 December 1300, an inquest on the body of Henry de Bokingeham, a clerk found dead the same day with one wound in his skull, attributed to a hatchet, and a second below his left eye, attributed to a knife, concluded that Henry had been set upon by thieves unknown while on his way into town.

  • 5 January 1301, Robert de Honniton clerk died after lingering since 31 December when he had climbed up the bell-tower of St. Michael's church with some notion of helping ring the bells, but fell out of an opening and, landing on his right side, received so much damage that by the time he died his right side was badly swollen and blackened.

  • 26 June 1301, the bodies of two men – Simon le Fevre and Alan son of William le Strange, were found in a field in the suburbs of Oxford, by Alice de Coventre, who raised hue. Both had deep head wounds. The jury's findings were that the pair had been leaving Oxford at twilight, to return to Wolgaricote (a village where at least one of them lived), and were crossing the field when attacked by thieves; who those thieves were or what had become of them, the jury had no idea.

  • 7 December 1301, Hugh Russel, a Welsh clerk, succumbed in his lodgings to a lung-piercing wound he had received four days previously, as a result of an argument in which he had become embroiled with Master Elias de Monte Gomorry. After wounding Hugh with a knife, Elias had fled.

  • 7 December 1301, the body of John de Neushom, a clerk and a schoolmaster, was pulled from the river Cherwell, his wife Isabella having been the first finder. The inquest found that after lunch on a previous day he had gone off in search of switches to use when punishing his pupils. Having climbed up a willow tree near a millpond, to cut off suitable branches, he fell in the water and drowned.

  • 9 December 1301, John de Hampslape, a clerk from Northamptonshire, was found dead in Cat Street with a knife wound to the heart, Willliam le Schovelere the finder having raised hue. The jury determined that on the previous day around the hour of curfew John had come out of the room where he lodged, on the north side of "the great school", in order to urinate, when he heard an argument underway between two fellow clerks who lodged in a room on the south side of the school. Upon investigating, John saw one of the clerks, Nicholas de la Marche, draw a knife with the intent of attacking the other clerk, Thomas de Horncastel. John thrust himself between the two to try to prevent violence, only to receive the blow intended for Thomas. Because this happened at night, no hue was raised at that time, and Nicholas was able to effect an escape.

  • 12 August 1302, John the son of John Godfrey of Benseye was found dead in the river Thames, the first finder having raised hue. The jury found that on the previous day he and others had spent the day mowing a meadow in sunny weather and, because it was a hot day, had drunk quite a bit and become inebriated. In that state he had decided to cross the Thames in a ramshackle boat, in order to return to his lodgings on the other bank. As he tried to step into the boat, he fell overboard and drowned.

  • 14 June 1303, John de Osgodeby clerk was found dead in the street with multiple wounds to his head, probably from a sword. The jury's verdict was that on the previous day, around curfew time, John crossed paths with Nicholas de Vylers an Irish clerk, Thomas de Weldon clerk, and Thomas' servant John le Northern. They set upon the victim with their swords and, killing him, fled.

  • 29 May 1307, the body of John the son of Sir Miles Stapleton was found in his lodgings; the finder raising hue, the coroner came quickly to view the body and discovered two wounds, a deep wound 3 inches wide in the back next to the spine and a second on the right shoulder. An inquest was immediately summoned and the jurors' conclusion from the investigation was that on the previous day, around the hour of vespers, John (a clerk) was walking along the street adjacent to the city wall on the east side of Oxford when he encountered Robert de Knotton scribe, John Saxendale, Nicholas de Kirkham, and John de Eboraco, all three clerks, friar William de Fimmore, and Richard le Citoler. The group set upon John and he received the knife-wound on his shoulder from Knotton and the sword-wound in the back from Saxendale. John used his remaining strength to break free of them and ran into the high street near the East Gate, where he collapsed. Later some friends of his, coming back into town from the suburban fields where they had been engaged in some sport, found John still alive and carried him back to his lodgings, where he died soon after. Following this verdict, Knotton and Saxendale were arrested and imprisoned, but their accomplices – whom the jurors considered willing accessories to the homicide – were not to be found.

  • 4 May 1314, Henry de Insula clerk was found dead in Grope Lane, the finder raising hue. The inquest held the same day found that, around midday on that date, two factions of clerks [i.e. students] had a "rumble" in St. John's Street and Grope Lane – one faction representing those from the northern part of town, and the other those from southern and western parts. Both groups were armed with swords, bucklers, bows and arrows and other weapons and were clearly looking for a fight. During the fight Robert de Bridlyngton and four other students positioned themselves in the upper room of a hall facing onto St. John's Street, from where they could shoot arrows through the window into Grope Lane. One of Bridlyington's arrows struck Henry in the back and killed him. The jurors blamed the whole group for inciting Bridlyngton. Although not specified, it appears that the group had escaped arrest.

  • 4 May 1314, David de Kirkby was another victim of the above clash, his body also being found in Grope Lane. He had been attacked by several adversaries, receiving a blow to the head from a falchion (a short sword whose blade curves towards its point) wielded by John de Benton, a leg wound from the sword of William de la Hyde, and a dagger wound under his left arm from William de Astele; it was believed that the last of those wounds had proved the fatal one. Again the attackers seem to have evaded the hands of the law.

  • 8 May 1314, Matthew de Kentheleyke of Wales died in Brendhall (a building associated with one of the colleges), and the coroners held an inquest the same day. It reached the conclusion that, late in the day on 2 May, Matthew had encountered John de Fulney in the street near Brendhall and, an argument ensuing, John had drawn his knife and stabbed Matthew, killing him.

  • 20 July 1319, Lucas de Morton was found dead in his house. The inquest jurors determined that on the evening before Lucas had left his house to use the privy in Cat Street when there arrived a group of clerks from the northern part of town, including Elyas Hubberthorp, and clerks from the southern part, with a view to a gang fight. Elyas, believing Lucas to be a member of the opposing gang, struck him on the head with a sword. He was evidently carried back to his own house and given the last rites there.

  • 20 October 1321, William the son of John de Harwendon took sanctuary in the church of St. Mary's for fear of being arrested. He confessed to the coroners of horsetheft and then took oath before them that he would leave England; they assigned him Southampton as the port of departure. William's possessions, forfeited, were given to the Prior of St. Frideswide's, as he had jurisdiction during the time of the fair.

  • 26 December 1321, John Potum's corpse was found in one of the Oxford halls, the finder raising hue, and an inquest being held soon after the arrival of the coroners. It was discovered that Master John de Seton had a grudge against Potum, because of some previous argument they had, and on the previous night had stabbed Potum with a knife.

  • 15 February 1322, John de Bellocampo was found dead in one of the Merton college halls, the finder raising hue. The inquest blamed a fellow student, William de Stodhelm, who the previous night, after an argument between them, pulled a knife and stabbed John to the heart, then disappeared.

  • 5 April 1322, William de Aslebury was found dead in one of the university halls. The inquest jury found that, eight days earlier, in the morning, William while still in bed took his knife and stabbed himself in the stomach. No reason for the suicide was given.

  • 30 June 1325, an inquest was held on the body of Gilbert de Crofton clerk. It found that on 25 June at the hour of vespers and great fight took place between students of the northern part of town and those of the western part, just inside the North Gate of the town. In that conflict, Stephen de Caperugge stabbed Gilbert in the back with a knife. The seriously wounded Gilbert staggered off to Smithgate, where Roger le Norden finished him off with an arrow to the head. The killers apparently escaped.



The coroner was required to determine and record the size of a wound, on which part of the body, and by what kind of weapon it was inflicted. Such things could help determine first, whether they death was accidental, a suicide or a homicide, and second (if a homicide), how serious a charge should be brought, and whether a defendant could be released on bail or not.

"king's hall"
This may refer to one of the university colleges; the clerk was probably a student.

"Crusader" is in the transcription cruisor, but perhaps this was a transcription error and should be cissor or even cervisiarius?

Possibly a spartha, a type of battle-axe

"from which he died"
Possibly it was gangrene that eventually killed Gilbert.

Rogers has the year as 1322, but the date (Sunday the day after SS. Peter and Paul) indicates 1325 the nearest year when the day after that festival fell on a Sunday.

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

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