Today my theme is sanctuary, worth a blog post for the sheer pleasure of typing the name Dyfnwal, the Bald and Silent. Dyfnwal was an early Welsh king credited with inventing the concept of sanctuary. Did he, or didn’t he? We may never know, but it’s a great name anyway, Dyfnwal. Better even than Ethelred, the Ill-Advised.
Once you were inside a place of sanctuary and had surrendered any weapons you had forty days in which to decide whether a) to stand trial or b) to forfeit all property to the Crown and abjure the realm, allowed to return only if pardoned by the King, otherwise on pain of death. If you chose exile you were required to declare it publicly - ‘Quick, everybody down to the church, Jethro Juggins is about to abjure the realm.’ It would have been a hot ticket.
The coroner would then tell you which port you must sail from and you would be despatched, barefoot and carrying a wooden cross, instructed to keep to the King’s highway, not to dally and to sail on the first available vessel. Of course some fugitives never made it to their designated port. Some went on the run, some fell foul of summary justice meted out along the way by aggrieved victims or their relatives.
People also sought sanctuary for political reasons. This was particularly true during the Wars of the Roses when fortunes swung back and forth according to the outcome of each battle. Edward IV’s Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, took sanctuary twice in Westminster Abbey. On the first occasion she was pregnant and gave birth there to her first son of that marriage, the future Edward V. After her husband’s death she ran for sanctuary again and took a quantity of furniture with her. Sanctuary didn’t necessarily mean privation.
The Clink Liberty was the fiefdom of the Bishop of Winchester. It had its own prison which gave its name to prisons in general. And among its other claims to fame was a very accommodating view on the licensing of brothels and theatres. The Globe and Rose theatres were both situated within the Liberty of Clink and its bawdy houses were serviced by women known as Winchester Geese. Pandarus speaks of them in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.
My fear is this,
Some galled goose of Winchester would hiss,
Till then I’ll sweat and seek about for eases
And at that time, bequeath you my diseases.
Sanctuary, Liberties, both places where once upon a time a person could go to earth, buy a little time, enjoy a bit of leeway, as long as he knew where to go. I suppose these days there’d be an App for it.