Seminar: “Protecting Peasants from Punishment? A Preliminary Picture of Sanctuary in England, 1218–1294”
Kenneth Duggan (Mellon Fellow, PIMS)
Interdisciplinary Research Seminar, Fall Term 2019
Sanctuary and abjuration played a peculiar role in thirteenth-century England’s system of criminal justice. Sanctuaries were religious places (almost always churches in thirteenth-century England) in which individuals could obtain refuge when their lives were in danger – be it from an angry mob or the king’s officials – and from which they could not be taken unwillingly. Abjuration was the process by which individuals obtained licence to permanently depart from the kingdom with their lives, though not their chattels. Even though the crown claimed a monopoly over the trial and punishment of crime and expected all individuals to pursue and capture suspected criminals, it permitted fugitives who reached any consecrated church immunity from pursuers. Furthermore, it allowed confessed criminals to escape the noose under the medieval English state’s very protection. This paper will demonstrate some of the preliminary findings from an in-progress project on “Perceptions, Problems and Usages of Religious Spaces for the Protection of Criminals in Thirteenth-Century England”. In particular, it will discuss: the type of people who fled to sanctuary, how often people sought sanctuary, the reasons for which they sought it and what happened to them after they left sanctuary.