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CRIME AND JUSTICE Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London trial punishment fraud rebellion imprisonment pillory ceremony offences

Subject: Punishment of the pillory
Original source: Corporation of London Records Office, Letter Book G, f.138
Transcription in: Henry Thomas Riley, ed. Memorials of London Life in the XIIIth, XIVth, and XVth Centuries, London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1868, 315-16.
Original language: French (English translation by Riley)
Location: London
Date: 1364


Be it remembered, that John de Hakford came before the Mayor, John Not, and the Aldermen of London, in the Guildhall of the said city, on the Monday next after the Feast of St. Peter's Chains [1 August] in the 38th year, to shew to the said Mayor and Aldermen that one Richard Hay, fuller, came to him in the week last past upon Cornhulle, and asked him if he was one of those who were at Haveryng atte Boure, when the people of the City were there with our Lord the King. And he answered –"Yes," and then the said Richard asked if he was a tailor, and knew of the design that was entertained. And to this John answered that he was a tailor, but as to any design, he knew nothing about it; whereupon, the same Richard said to him that there were ten thousand men in the said city, all of one alliance and of one agreement, that, at a certain time, such as should seem to them the best, they would all be ready and prepared with their arms, – those who have arms, and those who have none of their own, with such arms as they may get, – to slay all the best people, and the great folks and officers of the said city : and that as he had not been warned before, he now gave him warning to be ready and prepared, whensoever the cry should be raised. On which charge, the said Richard was committed to the Prison of Neugate, there to remain until, etc.

[... In November Richard denied the charge and an inquisition jury was summoned ...]

Who said upon their oath, that the said Richard was in no way guilty of any of the things to them submitted thereupon. And because that the King himself commanded with his own lips that, if the said information should be found to be false, the same John Hakford should be punished, as an example to other such liars, the said John was remanded by the Mayor and Aldermen to the Prison of Neugate, there to remain until they should be better advised as to their judgment.

Then afterwards, on Saturday the morrow of St. Nicholas [6 December], in the 38th year etc., the Mayor and Aldermen, with the assent and good advice of the Commonalty, gave orders as to the punishment that the said John de Hakford shold have for the falsehood aforesaid, – in form as follows. The said John shall remain in prison for one whole year and a day, that is to say, from Monday the Feast of St. Martin [11 November], in the 38th year aforesaid, the day on which he was convicted of the falsehood, until the same day in the year next to come. And the said John within such year shall four times have the punishment of the pillory, that is to say, one day in each quarter of the year, beginning, for the first day of the pillory, on the Saturday aforesaid, and in this manner. – The said John shall come out of Newgate without hood or girdle, barefoot and unshod, with a whetstone hung by a chain from his neck, and lying on his breast, it being marked with the words, – "A false liar"; and there shall be a pair of trumpets trumpeting before him on his way to the pillory; and there the cause of his punishment shall by solemnly proclaimed. And the said John shall remain on the pillory for three hours of the day, and from thence shall be taken back to Neugate in the same manner, there to remain until his punishment shall be completed, in manner aforesaid.


The pillory was a common punishment for offences against the community, particularly those involving some kind of deceit or fraud; the aim was to expose and humiliate the deceiver publicly. The usual penalty was one or more sessions of an hour each in the pillory, although a session might last as long as three hours for particularly reprehensible offences. The humiliation was not just a matter of exposure to public ridicule or insult, but also through some symbolic act to indicate the nature of the crime, as well as its public proclamation. For example, in 1365 a seller of putrid pigeon-meat had the pigeons burnt beneath the pillory in which he was secured, while in 1376 a cheat had his chequerboard burned beneath the pillory. More common was to hang around the offender's neck, or from the pillory itself, an item associated with the offence. Or, in a case in 1364, a seller of bad wine was forced to drink a draught of the same wine he had tried to foist on the public, and then the remainder was poured over his head. Some mitigation of the punishment was possible in special cases; in 1380, John Bernard was punished for selling sacks of charcoal of short measure, but, due to his advanced age, he was left in the pillory only for as long as it took to burn his sacks under him. Occasionally the humiliation itself was considered sufficiently strong punishment; in 1382 a man who had pretended to be a physician was punished just by being led through the city, accompanied by trumpets and pipes, seated on a horse without a saddle, with a parchment (bearing a false spell) and a whetstone hung from his neck, and a urinal hung before him and another behind him – after such exposure he was unlikely to be given any further business by the citizens.

A case of sentencing a forger to the pillory can be found in Why Thomas Corbett stood in the Pillory.

Slander and malicious rumour-mongering were looked on with considerable displeasure by city authorities, particularly in cases such as this when the spectre of social strife was raised. The fact that Hakford was also a beadle of Cornhill ward may have compounded the gravity of the charge. Compare with the sentence of a single three-hour session in the pillory imposed the same year on baker John atte Wode for trying to increase the price at which he could sell his own grain, by buying up grain from other sellers. Or with that in 1371 on Nicholas Mollere for spreading rumours (suggesting a loss of Londoner's franchises) aimed at stirring up social unrest; he was to stand in the pillory for one hour with a whetstone hung from his neck. Again, in 1382, John de Stratton was convicted of forging a letter for purposes of fraud and, for this deception, was condemned to be escorted by pipers and trumpeters from Newgate, through Cheapside, to Cornhill, to the pillory, where he would spend an hour, and suffer the same punishment the following day, after which he was to remain in prison until he had repaid the sum he had obtained through his fraud; there is no mention of the whetstone in this sentence.

Perhaps the notion of a popular uprising was not entirely a fiction conjured up by Hakford in an attempt to discredit Hay. Hakford evidently had friends with some influence, for in April 1365 the king ordered him released, upon finding guarantors, and putting up a bond of £100, for future good behaviour. One of his guarantors was John Northampton, possibly the draper of that name who later rose to a position of influence – ultimately mayor – and in the 1370s and '80s led a popular and somewhat radical reform movement that aimed to curtail the power of the aldermannic class.



"Haveryng atte Boure"
A location in Essex where the king had a residence.

A symbol for liars.

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

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