Tag Archives: inquest

Wythcok man comes to a sticky end; ‘Clapp’ implicated

It’s been a while since I noted a medieval death story. This one (JUST 2/59 m. 3; AALT IMG 0009), coming from a Leicestershire coroner’s Inquest at Wythcok on Friday 23rd  March, 1386, has just one small point which captured my attention – and no, it was not even the rude-punnable location of the death. (FYI the deathplace seems now to be known as ‘Withcote’ – much less snigger-worthy …). The thing which drew me in was to do with what the entry shows about medieval popular understanding of science.

The entry tells it like this …

John Ludon of Wythcok, whose body was being viewed, had come a cropper in the fields of Wythcok, the previous day, at around the ninth hour of the day. Evidently he was out in a storm, and had the extreme bad luck to be hit by lightning. Or that is how we would see it. The entry, however, says that what hit him was a ‘thondurclapp’. I have undoubtedly gone on about how I like it when the usual Latin of these records breaks down and the writer reaches, instead, for a more earthy English word or expression. There is all sorts of very learned discussion of ‘code-switching’ in literature, and the trilinguality of the common law, but sometimes, it just feels as if the clerk did not know the right word in the more professionally exclusive languages. This one also gives us a little glimpse into ideas about how storms worked. John is hit in the arm by the thunderclap itself. I am not sure I have any grand conclusion on the basis of this – and certainly the idea that it was lightning and not thunder which hit people was known in classical antiquity – but, still, it is an interesting way of putting it. And another tiny snippet – the result of the ‘hit’ by the thunder-clap was an ictus (blow/wound) on John’s arm, and it was from this that John immediately died. Unlike the possible conclusion in classical antiquity (person hit by lightning is not to get proper religious burial, because such zappings were the will of the gods), however, John’s death was held to be a ‘misfortune’ or ‘accident’, and so he would have been fine to make his way into some consecrated Wythcok ground. A tiny bit of comfort then. I do wonder what medieval body-inspectors would have made of the characteristic scarring pattern found on (some) lightning strike victims, the Lichtenberg figure. That would probably have seemed pretty spooky, I would have thought.



Photo by Michał Mancewicz on Unsplash

Dangerous driving, medieval style

A sad but informative little snippet from a 15th C coroner’s inquest … (well, I suppose you know it’s not going to be a jolly tale when you look at ‘an inquest on the body of …’).[i]

This death took place in 1419, between Whitechapel and Mile End, in modern London. John Waryn of Stratford Langthorne died in a cart accident – the two separate records describe it slightly differently, but the main point seems to be that John dozed off and the cart overturned. An obstacle or ditch may have been involved, and John may or may not have struggled to get things under control, but, one way or another, the cart and/or one of the horses squashed him.

At the risk of seeming callous, I will note that this sad little tale does, incidentally provide someOn –  interesting information about medieval transport. First of all, we learn a bit about the cart – it must have been a reasonably substantial vehicle, with its iron-clad wheels, and its team of four horses. Then we learn that one of the horses had a special designation –  ‘the Thyllehors’ (in this case, a bay). Not a horsey person, but the trusty Middle English Dictionary tells me that this was the horse which worked closest to the wheels, in between the shafts. There is some more Middle English as well – the description of the dozing is somehow rather charming: within the Latin record, we have the specific description that this is not full lack of consciousness – it is partial sleep ‘ commonly called Slomryng’. All very peaceful. Until it wasn’t. Poor John.




[i] Records can be seen here, here and here. It is also quite interesting from a deodand point of view.