Murder was disturbingly common in medieval Ireland with a homicide rate perhaps fifty times higher than it is today. These murders naturally preoccupied the court system of the late middle ages. Here are five of the more unusual preserved in records from the early 14th century documents.


1. Sheer bad luck 

In medieval Ireland crops were one of the most valued foodstuffs. After the harvest fields were gleaned in a process where even loose eaves of corn were gathered. Therefore when John Heire of Cahir Co. Tipperary caught children trying to take some eaves of corn in a recently cut field his reaction was dramatic and unfortunate.

“When John Heire was passing in the field by the reapers of William de Sully his lord at Cathyr before the 1st of August in this year seeing children gathering eaves of corn in the field, he threw a javelin to put them to flight and with that javelin he struck Leticia Saucee in the head and for a week after the blow it was not thought that there was any danger. But for a quinzaine after, she lay and immediately afterwards died.”

Cal. roll. justices itinerant, Edward I 33–34  p. 134. P68

2. Murderous Munchies

Alcohol related crimes are by no means a modern phenomena. This is from Ardfinan in 1305.

“Adam son of John Ketyng Renagh was drinking with a great company in the town of Ardfynan far into the night and wishing to get bread, he with his company aforesaid taking with them Mathew son of Roger, son of Simon McSnan le Poer he approached the house of David Gower in the same town. There [he] demanded bread and when he was answered that they had no bread they took bread and broke the windows of the said house. A certain John Cadygan who was in the house aforesaid got up wishing to the defend the window from them. Adam feloniously struck him in the breast with a lance so he died immediately”

Cal. roll. justices itinerant, Edward I 33–34  p.68

3.Mutual Murder

From a case in 1305 in South Tipperary

“Ralph the Welshman feloniously slew John the skinner and immediately the said John slew the said Ralph so that both died immediately.”

 Cal roll justices itinerant, Edward I 33–34  p. 46

4.The international finance mystery.

In the early 14th century, the banking house – the Riccardi of Lucca were one of the most influential and powerful financial institutions in Europe. They always got their money.

“After Betto le Lumbard was killed by his servant at Clonmel, Robert Lowys then provost of the same town came and sealed the chests of the same Betto and placed locks on the doors of the house. Afterwards Francis Malyzard and other of the society of the Ricardi of Lucca and broke the locks of the said house and opened the chests of the aforesaid and carried away money and other jewels to the sum of 200 marks and more. The treasurer and barons of the exchequere are commnaded to take into the hand of the Lord the king all the lands and tenements of the said Francis and of the aforesaid society and cayuse them to be safely gaurded until the Lord the King be satisfied thereafter”

 Why Betto was killed in this case is intriguing – you cant but suspect the Riccardi of Lucca’s agents had a hand in it somwhere. Incidentally Francis Malyzard was a well known figure in Ireland in this period featuring in other court cases and royal documents.

Cal roll justices itinerant, Edward I 33–34  p. 134.

5. And finally pirates.

The waters around late medieval Ireland were frequented by pirates. While many waited for a ship to depart a harbour these daring  individuals ventured into Wexford in 1297.

“Ralph Elys, a baron of Hastyng, with his ship loaded with corn and other things at Pevencse, set out to Ireland and landed in the port of Weseford [Wexford]. Having discharged his goods, he proposed to go to Chester. Three men came, saying that they wished to cross to England, and agreed with Ralph that he should bring them in his ship to Chester. While Ralph waited for a fitting time to sail, these men one night, being in the ship, suddenly attacked Ralph and his men, and slew all except John Wede, of Pevenese, and a boy, John le Bakere.”

Cal Jus Rolls Vol I

One comment on “Our murderous medieval ancestors…

  1. Martin Aherne on

    Finbar,as well as the riccardi the Frescobaldi of Florence were very prominent in Ireland ,they are still in business ,why don’t you cantact them and see if they have any is my theory ,that this where gombeen man comes from ,gaimbin being the Italian word for surety ,these lombards controlled all wealth and revenue in medieval Ireland.Martin


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