The Medieval Coroner
(Courtesy of Bedfordshire Historical Records Society
Bedfordshire Coroners Rolls)
The post of coroner was established in 1194when the justices in the eyre were required to see that three knights and one clerk were elected in every county as ‘Keepers of the pleas of the Crown’ The first county coroner was then elected.
Throughout the middle ages the coroner could be ordered to perform almost any duty of an administrative or inquisitorial nature within his bailliwick. There were specific duties such has holding inquests on dead bodies, receiving abjections of the realm made by felons in sanctuary, hearing appeals by, and confessions of felons and appeals of approvers and attending and sometimes organising exactions and outlevries promulgated in the county court.
There were the ‘pleas’ which the coroner had to keep and he kept them in four ways; by taking the actions just mentioned attaching or arresting witnesses, suspects and others; appraising and safeguarding any lands and goods which might be forfeited and by recording the details. He kept them until they came up for determination before the Kings justices. According to thirteenth century law books and statutes the coroner had many other ex officio duties holding inquests into many felonies, homicides, suicides and into treasure trove and wrecks of the sea, approving the chattels of felons and attending private courts whenever they passed the death sentence.
A Medieval Murder in Kempston Hardwick
After bedtime on 17th June 1270 thieves came to the house of Robert, son of Peter of Hardwicke in Kempston Hardwicke in the parish of Kempston, broke the its west wall and entered. Robert’s daughter Juliana saw that they were thieves and immediately went from the house fled to the vil and shouted. The neighbours came in the hue to Robert’s house and there found his daughter Christiana lying almost dead and speechless with twenty wounds in her head, face and back and almost throught the middle of her head apparently made with a knife. She died about vespers on 20th June. The hue was raised and followed. The neighbours were attached: Henry the clerk by Gerard of Hardwicke and William Swynt. Richard son of Hugh by Robert Godrich and Philip Pipolory. William son of Peter by Arnold of Wootton and Hugh Malerbe all the pledges were of Kempston Hardwicke. Robert who was in the house found pledges Robert le Taylur and John son of Henry, Juliana found pledges for the same reasons as her father and Henry son of Maud.
The inquest was held before the coroner by Wootton, Kempston, Houghton Conquest and Elstow.
Bateman son of Fulke found pledges because of suspicion German Robert and William Blake both of Wootton, John le Whye, Philip Bidim, Reynold Ashil, Richard of Cauldwell, John Ashil, William Cecely, Robert Lawry, William Alexander John Uribere and Richard Ashil until the arrival of the justices.
Henry Coneye of Kempston was arrested and brought to Bedford Gaol on suspicion for the death of Christiana daughter of Peter of Hardwicke. Afterwards he brought the Kings writ Le odioet atia and was delivered in bail to John Binde, Richard and Robert son of Hugh and Ralph son of Clarice, Robert Mariot, Richard Saly, William Annebar, Henry Russell, Walter le Wyne, John Turnur and Richard Scutard of Kempston.
Henry Coneye was said to have been arrested at imprisoned at Kempston in Devorguilla de Balliol’s liberty, escaped, was recaptured, brought into the full court of the liberty and hanged by judgement of the court. For this, and for the escape, judgement was passed against the court and the liberty was taken into the Kings lands. The suitors were later fined
Bedfordshire Historical Records Society Bedfordshire Coroners Rolls
Curtesy of Bedford Record Office