Tag Archives: Hereford

St Winifred and the Shrewsbury captives

I am currently working on a paper which focuses on rather hostile intervention by the Welsh in the medieval English borderlands (on William Herbert and associates, and their foray into Hereford in the 1450s) but, while looking at the King’s Bench plea rolls for 1456, came across a case which highlights a rather different sort of cross-border intervention, namely the help said to have been given by St Winifred to a Shrewsbury man, (allegedly) held captive and tortured by extortioners in North West England.
There is a petition in the National Archives (SC 8/96/4769) relating to this incident, presented by or on behalf of Shrewsbury men, William Bykton and Roger Pountesbury, but I don’t think the related KB document has been collated with this before – so I’m claiming it as a ‘find’. KB 27/781 m. 110 is also quite a lot clearer than the petition (even though it is in Latin rather than the petition’s English) which helps with working out the story.

Bykton and Pountesbury alleged that they had been seized, carried off to various lairs of Robert Bolde and his associates in Lancashire, tortured in creative and prolonged ways, and made to promise and hand over large sums of money. St Winifred comes in in the story of Roger Pountesbury, who gave a particularly detailed narrative about being hung up in specially constructed stocks – he put his eventual escape down to the saint’s intercession.

St Winifred (in Welsh, Gwenfrewi, and in the KB roll, it’s ‘Wenefride’) was, according to the ODNB entry by T.M. Charles-Edwards, around in the mid-7th century. She was a nun, and the most memorable part of her story involves being decapitated by a prince, incensed that she would not give in to his sexual desires, followed by the miraculous rejoining of head to body and subsequent virtuous nunnish life. Needless to say, where the head dropped, a miraculous well sprang up (with, of course, healing powers), and there were many posthumous miracles.

It is interesting in terms of my current article that there is this positive story about a Welsh saint in English records, relating to English people. It may not be hugely surprising that a Shrewsbury man held Winifred in high regard – since her relics had, by the time of these events, been in Shrewsbury for more than 300 years (see ODNB), but it is interesting to see mention of her in a document intended to have an impact on ‘national’ authorities. Even in a century which had seen Welsh rebellion and highly discriminatory laws, as well as a Welsh-English (or Welsh-Marcher-English) dimension to lawlessness, it is assumed that talking about a Welsh figure is a good move for an Englishman in want of a favour from Englishmen. Just another ingredient in the fascinating bara brith of the Welsh borderlands.

There is a lot more to think about here: no doubt the underlying incidents need to be fitted into a wider English political context too – I’m on the trail of Robert Bolde and his associates, who seem interesting. Also, from a more purely legal-historical point of view, this raises issues about the on-off inclusion in legal records of accounts of the divine and supernatural, about the petitioning process and the efficiency or otherwise of justice at this difficult period for ‘central government’. My ‘to do’ list has just expanded by several lines: thanks a lot, St Winifred.

GS
28th April, 2017.

A Hereford hanging: lynching, lack of due process or lawful?

The Easter 1457 record and report of a Hereford appeal make intriguing reading.  I will be examining several aspects of this case in my forthcoming book on women in the medieval common law. It is also of great interest for the history of Herefordshire and the Welsh marches in this troubled period, for the history of the ‘Wars of the Roses’ and for the history of  subjects’ rights and due process of law. The case is Agnes Glover v Walter Devereux, William Herbert and others, YB Pasch. 35 Hen. VI f. 57b-58b; Seipp 1457.022. I identify this with KB 27/784 m. 85 (AALT image 180).

Agnes brought an appeal against Walter and several others (thirteen others are named in the plea roll) for the felonious homicide of her husband, John Glover, dyer.

The accused defended themselves by saying that the dead man had been convicted. at a session of the peace held at Hereford, of aiding and abetting ‘J.W.’, the murderer of one ‘J Vowant’, (who might, I speculate, be a Vaughan, connected with, or to be identified with Watkin Vaughan, killed in 1456). JW and the deceased husband were, they said, arrested tried, pleaded not guilty but convicted and hanged. The accused said that they were ready to show this and that they were not guilty of felony.

The Year Book dwells on the argument as to whether this was correct pleading, or whether they should just have pleaded ‘not guilty’. Were things different when someone in authority, as opposed to some stranger, had executed a man, and his widow claimed that this was done without proper process or warrant? There are some interesting discussions of the rights of widows and heirs of felons more widely, and of the scope of orders for execution.

The report gives more information about the accused – prominent men many of whom seem connected to the Herbert/Vaughan families. It also sets out Agnes’s case. She or her lawyer made the hanging of John Glover sound as much as possible like a lynching.

Most of the accused did not turn up. Matters dragged on and in the end, Agnes appears to have given up (or settled the case informally) and the accused were acquitted. We cannot know whether John Glover was indeed guilty, but, even if so, Agnes probably had little chance against the combined influence of the men she had tried to take on.

Gwen Seabourne

11/1/2014

Postscript

The case took a few more twists and turns as I pursued it backwards in the King’s Bench Plea Rolls. There are relevant entries on KB 27/781 Rex mm. 1d and 26d (AALT images 592 and 650) and KB 27/782 Rex m.22 (AALT image 299). The homicide in question was indeed that of Walter Vaughan. The part of Agnes in proceedings becomes more interesting – she was initially herself on trial as an accessory, but was acquitted because the indictment was insufficiently specific. There may have been some confusion about her husband’s name as well – some records call him John Dyer, others John Glover, Dyer. But he was accused as a principal not an accessory = the year Book report is confused on that point, perhaps because there were other accessory accusations in the case – with regard to Agnes, and with regard to the large group involved in John Glover’s hanging.