A Mediaeval Burglary
By Thomas Frederick Tout
The Bulletin of the John Rylands Library (1915)
Introduction: The burglary, about which I have to speak to-night, I did not discover by ransacking the picturesque and humorous annals of mediaeval crime. I came across the details of this incident when seeking for something quite different, for it happened when I was attempting to investigate the technicalities of the history of the administrative department known as the king’s Wardrobe.
But so human a story did something to cheer up the weary paths of Dryasdust, and he hands it on to you in the hope that you will not find it absolutely wanting in instruction and amusement. Now my burglary was the burglary of the king’s treasury, or more precisely, of the treasury of the king’s wardrobe, within the precincts of the abbey at Westminster. The date of the event was 24 April, 1303.
More precisely, according to the chief burglar’s own account, it was on the evening of that day that the burglar effected an entrance into the king’s treasury, from which, he tells us he escaped, with as much booty as he could carry, on the morning of 26 April. Who had committed the burglary is a problem which was not quite settled, even by the trials which followed the offence, though these trials resulted in the hanging of some half a dozen people at least.
But after the hanging of the half-dozen, it was still maintained in some quarters that the burglary was committed by one robber only, though charges of complicity in his guilt were in common fame extended to something like a hundred individuals. And in this case common fame was not, I think, at fault.