This is the first in a series of posts that will look at homicides from medieval London. In this case a pelterer named Joice de Cornwall, was found dead in the street near the church of St Mary Bothaw.
This case comes from a set of records known as Coroners’ Rolls. In England, the office of the Coroner dates back to about the eleventh-century – their job was to investigate an unusual or sudden death, including murders, suicides or accidental deaths.
If a dead body was discovered, the coroner would gather a jury of local men who would report on how the circumstances of the death, offering details such as when and where the death occurred, what led to the death, and, in the case of murders, what happened to those they accused of causing the crime.
Several years of records from Coroners’ Rolls have survived from late 13th and 14th century London, giving us a glimpse at homicides in this medieval city.
Our first case here deals with what was probably a typical altercation – a fight that started in a tavern. On the evening of Monday, March 5th, Joice and Thomas de Bristoll were at the house of Alice de Wautham, which was doubling as a tavern that sold ale. Two men were playing a game of checkers on a bench when three other men came in – Robert de Exeter, Roger de Lincoln and Henry de Lincoln – along with an unnamed women. Somehow, the woman knocked over the checkers, leading Thomas to complain. Robert de Exeter responded by seizing “Thomas by the shoulders and stripped him of all his clothes down to his girdle.” At this point he found that Thomas had a dagger amongst his clothes and grabbed it. Thomas ran to an upstairs room, while Joice fled outside the building. However, Thomas followed Joice and at the corner of Paternosterlane stabbed him with a dagger on the left side of chest under the breast. Joice tried to continue running away, but fell dead in the street.
The jurors added that Robert, as well as Roger and Henry, fled the scene, but they did not know where to. The Coroner sent an order to the Sheriff of London to have them three men arrested if they could be found. It is typical for these records to have little information on what happened to the accused, such as if they were caught or put on trial.