July 8th, 2012 Headsman
On this date in 1486,* the knight Humphrey Stafford was executed at Tyburn.
He had a couple of years to cool his heels and work his rosary while the new king, Henry VII, set about securing a reign of dubious legitimacy. One cunning strategem: Henry had his late rival’s supporters (like our friend Stafford) attainted of treason without actually taking action on those attainders, maintaining continuity with the ancien regime while dangling a Damoclean sword over the head of any lord who might step out of line again in the future.
Nevertheless, in the spring of 1486, the already-attainted Stafford emerged from his holy confines to throw the dice on a minor rebellion that never got off the ground. As the whole thing descended into fiasco, Stafford fled back to sanctuary at Culham.
A cozy but ill-fortified sanctuary: St. Paul’s at Culham. Image (c) Rex Harris and used with permission. (Mr. Harris says the church as pictured is a Victorian-era rebuild.)
Henry broke the asserted sanctuary to haul his man off consecrated grounds.
This was a bit of a sticky wicket, juridically, and Henry’s own judges proceeded very cautiously with it — ultimately holding that sanctuaries proceeded from the common-law grant of the king, and specifically that sanctuary may not be pleaded for instances of treason. There’s more about all this in this Google books freebie, which adds the interesting detail that the Pope himself did not fight this interpretation — assenting in a papal bull later that year to a much-circumscribed view of ecclesiastical refuge:
Where a sanctuary man got out of sanctuary and committed mischief and trespass, he lost the benefit of sanctuary although he returned to it. The goods of no sanctuary men were to be protected from their Creditors. If any man took sanctuary for case of treason, the King might appoint keepers to look after him in sanctuary.
“The Rebellion of Humphrey Stafford in 1486″ by C. H. Williams in The English Historical Review, April 1928 — a JSTOR article that seems like it must be in the public domain even if it’s not yet covered by that institution’s free content bloc — is virtually the only semi-detailed source on this affair that’s readily available. Williams’s pithy conclusion: “Henry’s policy towards Stafford and his party was definite enough. Like all problems of statecraft of that period the rebellion ‘was so handled that neither prerogative nor profit went to diminution.’”
Also on this date
- 1771: Henry Stroud and Robert Campbell, for revenge
- 1938: Anthony Chebatoris, in death penalty-free Michigan
- 1538: Diego de Almagro, explorer of Chile
- 1839: William John Marchant
- 1999: Allen Lee "Tiny" Davis, the end of the road for Old Sparky