The Colour of Betrayal is the latest whodunit in the popular ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval murder mysteries by author and historian Toni Mount. Inspired by a true story from the 13th century, this new story involves the murder of a London goldsmith whilst he was ‘in sanctuary’ at St Mary le Bow church.
The True Story of Laurence Duket
by Toni Mount
In 1284, Londoners got their teeth into a juicy scandal involving some prominent citizens. Ralph Crepyn, also known as Ralph of Aldgate, was an alderman for Cornhill Ward and a city lawyer. He was well educated, which meant he had taken holy orders, although he wasn’t a priest. He was aged about forty and had served as the Town Clerk of London for ten years in November 1284. He had a mistress, Alice Atte-Bowe. One evening, the lovers were walking together in the street when Laurence Duket, a goldsmith, insulted Alice, calling her a fallen woman. Ralph was livid and determined to fight for her honour, but Laurence knocked him down, causing severe injuries. Alice was distraught, certain her lover was dying. As Ralph was carried home, Laurence Duket fled into the nearby church of St Mary-le-Bow, seeking sanctuary from the law, no doubt afraid his crime of assault might escalate into murder, if Ralph should die.
But it wasn’t Ralph who died; he lived on well into the next century. A few days later, Laurence Duket was found hanging from the mullion of one of the church windows and the rumour was that he had committed suicide, regretting what he had done and fearful of the consequences. As a result, his body was flung into a ditch and left to rot; the price to be paid for suicide. In the official inquest, the sheriff and the coroner, having interviewed various witnesses, declared the matter closed. Justice had been served. However, there was another witness, a young lad, who had been hiding in the church for his own reasons (unfortunately, the records don’t name him nor tell us what those reasons were). At first, he was reluctant to speak out, but he had seen what really happened in St Mary’s on the night Duket was hanged. In time, the truth came out.
Meanwhile, Ralph was so badly wounded that another clerk had to take over his post during his long recovery. He also had to give up his position as an alderman for most of the following year. On 2nd July 1285, Crepyn’s properties in Cornhill, along with his estates in Stepney and Hackney, were all confiscated as the king demanded a new inquest into Duket’s death. As his right of ‘benefit of clergy’, Richard de Gravesend, Bishop of London, took care of the injured clerk, rather than his being in gaol during the royal inquest into what was now being called ‘the vile murder of Laurence Duket, whilst in Church sanctuary’.
The lad who had witnessed the event told everything at the royal inquest; how Alice and a group of Ralph’s friends had broken into the church, violating the conditions of sanctuary, and murdered Duket before stringing him up in the window. The sentence passed on Alice Atte-Bowe was that she be burnt at the stake, which was then the common method of execution for women found guilty of murder. Fifteen ‘ruffians’, whom Alice had persuaded to commit the ‘vile deed’ on holy ground, were hanged. However, there were others involved who were not nameless ‘ruffians’: Sheriff Jordan Godchepe, a friend of Ralph Crepyn, along with other citizens of note, were detained and imprisoned during the months of the inquest. Finally, they, along with Crepyn, were released after paying stiff fines. As the Tudor historian, John Stow said: they were ‘hanged by the purse strings’.
In the following year, 1286, Crepin’s lands were restored to him after he had sworn before the Bishop of London that he was innocent of any part in the crime. Knowing how serious Crepyn’s injuries had been, I doubt the bishop needed much convincing that the clerk was blameless, ignorant of the revenge perpetrated on his behalf. The church of St Mary-le-Bow, having been violated, was boarded up until it could be re-consecrated. Laurence Duket was removed from his humiliating grave in the ditch and properly buried in his parish churchyard.
As a result of this incident and because the Londoners had done little to earn his favour, King Edward I appointed Sir Ralph de Sandwich as Warden of the City, bringing London under royal control and forbidding the citizens to elect a mayor. Thirteen years later, in April 1298, the Londoners were allowed to buy back their liberties from Edward on payment of a fine of 2,000 marks, probably because the king needed the cash to finance his castle-building projects in Wales and war with Scotland, rather than because he believed London should have self-government. But the city was still not safe from royal interference.
In 1321, King Edward II sent the royal justices to look into every corner of London’s civic government, spending six months in inquiry, ‘bent on prising every privilege and penny out of the city’. Again, London had to put up with government under a royal warden until March 1327, when the new king, Edward III, restored the mayor and increased his powers by making him a royal justice, assigned to hear and deliver prisoners confined in Newgate gaol, and also appointed him as the royal escheator (accountant) in the city. Edward also confirmed that, in future, if a city official committed a crime (as had been thought in the Duket case) the perpetrator would be punished, not the entire city forced to forfeit its liberties, as before.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Toni Mount earned her research Masters degree from the University of Kent in 2009 through study of a medieval medical manuscript held at the Wellcome Library in London. Recently she also completed a Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing with the Open University.
Toni has published many non-fiction books, but always wanted to write a gripping medieval thriller series, and her first novel The Colour of Poison is the result and this has been followed by other books in her Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mystery Series, “The Colour of…” books.
Toni’s successful ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval whodunits is published by MadeGlobal.com and the latest book (genre: novella) in this series The Colour of Betrayal is now available as a paperback or on Kindle. To Purchase, click here –> The Colour of Betrayal
Toni regularly speaks at venues throughout the UK and is the author of several online courses available at www.medievalcourses.com.