The Names of Criminals in Medieval England


Dave Postles, one of the leading historians of medieval English society, has looked into how names developed during the High Middle Ages. His 2006 book Naming the People of England c.1100-1350 tracks some of these developments, and notes how nicknames were used as last names. Postles believes that in some cases these names were “imposed by local society on errant individuals as a disciplinary measure, as a kind of labelling of miscreants. It was the next best action to complete ostracism.”

Here are some examples:

Agnes Daythef took sanctuary in a London church, where she confessed to stealing a surcoat and many other things. She abjurred the realm.

Henry Golichtly was known to be a robber in Coventry.

John le Fatte raised the suspicions of his neighbours over his wealth, because he ate well, drank well and dressed well. While no evidence was presented of any wrongdoing at the time, six years later he fled his home after being accused of stealing pigs.

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