1. Starve in a prison cell

In 1331 one of the most infamous murders of the 14th century took place. After discovering that his cousin was involved in a treasonous plot, the Earl of Ulster and Lord of Connacht, William de Burgh, starved him to death in a prison cell in the remote Northburgh castle. This gruesome death of this cousin – Walter de Burgh – had huge implications. Two years later the Earl himself was assassinated in revenge. This sparked a civil war between various factions of the de Burgh family leading to the collapse of  the entire Earldom of Ulster. However, Walter de Burgh was not the only one to suffer such a fate. In 1316, a thief, Roger de Fynglas was convicted and sentenced to death. Instead of hanging he was taken to Dublin castle and thrown in a cell and condemned ‘there to stay without having food until he be dead


2. Violent Accidents

in 1295 when Thomas le Bret a clerk,  was charged with the death of Gillote la Wyte, he didn’t deny the charge. Instead he claimed he actually intended to kill Gillote’s husband, and ‘between them she was killed‘ (Cal Jus Roll Vol I p.13. In a similar situation in 1297,  Robert son of Geoffrey, was stabbed to death by his own brother Richard. Sleeping off booze, Richard was startled when Robert tried to waken him. He ‘angrily rose in his drunkenness and struck Robert with his knife in the throat, so that he died’ (Cal. Jus. Rolls, Vol I p.175)

3. Fall from A horse

Horses were the equivalent of cars in the medieval world so it’s unsurprising many people were killed in horse related accidents. In 1305 Walter Lawless fell from his horse and broke his neck. Meanwhile in the same year Robert Harford while watering a horse at a well, fell from his mount and drowned. (Cal. Mem. Rolls, NAI 2/448/3 p46 & 30)

4. Hit with a javelin by a grumpy man.

1. In 1305 Leticia Savell was with other children  gathering eaves of corn in a field.  John Heire, saw the children and in an effort to drive them off, threw a javelin at them. Although the javelin struck Leticia in the head, the wound did not appear fatal until the following week. Then she began to feel unwell and soon died presumably from some brain injury. (Cal. Mem. Rolls, NAI 2/448/3 pp26-27)

5. Stabbed to death.

Unsurprisingly this was common, many people carried knives and violence easily erupted. One of the more notable murders occurred in Trim in 1305. In the town’s priory of St Peter, brother Robert Mody a canon, was stabbed to death by  Richard Swetman, the prior of the house!  Although the record is only partially preserved it appears that a row broke out in the priory as many other brothers felt they ‘too much restrained by the prior’ as they ‘could not have drink at their will’. They armed themselves but in the following fracas the prior killed Mody. (Cal. Jus. Rolls, Vol. II, pp. 512- 513)

If you enjoy these stories you will love my upcoming book ‘Witches, Spies and Stockholm Syndrome, daily life in medieval Ireland‘. Due for release in November it contains dozens of similar accounts from late medieval Ireland. In the coming weeks I am organising two preview tours through medieval Dublin, where you will get a chance to hear these stories and see the places where they took place, many of which haven’t been heard for centuries! Read more here

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