Gruesome Deeds Grimly Done: the London Medieval Murder Map
Updated: Feb 16, 2022
The London Medieval Murder Map has been compiled by the Violence Research Centre of Cambridge University. The map pinpoints the locations of 142 murders in the City of London detailed in the Coroners' Rolls of between 1300 and 1340, each scene of crime mapped onto either the Braun and Hogenberg map of 1572, or the City of London 1270 map by the Historic Towns Trust (you choose which one you want). Nor is this the only choice you are able to make when exploring the murders: you can also filter the results by gender, year, location, weapon used and whether the crime was in public or private.
Sadly, only nine of the Coroners' Rolls survive and there are some missing years: 1302-1315; 1317-1321 and 1327-1336. Even so, the detail contained in the reports of 'unnatural deaths' makes for some fascinating reading. For example, there is the case, in 1324, of a clergyman murdering a retired soldier during a quarrel as they made their way to the townhouse of the Bishop of Bath and Wells. It may surprise some that a man of the cloth could be involved in such a crime, but priests and clergy seem to have been just as prone to murderous rages as anyone else. In 1324, just after St Valentine's Day, a priest discovered his mistress with another man and stabbed him to death. And yet another murdered a gardener when he was discovered stealing apples!
Some records are rather sad, such as the five-year-old boy who died after being cuffed around the ear for stealing a small bit of wool, or the woman who was killed by a hefty kick to her stomach after intervening to save the life of her husband. Others would have made a good tabloid headline, such as 'Pottour Murders Portour' - yes, a porter murdered by a potter.
Although the murders shown do not represent all of the homicides committed during those first forty years of the 1300s (due to the lost rolls), they do give an idea of the murder rate overall. It works out to an average of 16 per year which doesn't sound a lot compared to today's rates. However, when you take into account that the population of London at that time was considerably less (between 40000-100000), that makes it an extremely violent place to live, on a par with some of the most dangerous cities in the world today.
As well as plotting the incidents on a map, the cases have also been categorized and analysed by the filters mentioned above. It seems that the weapon of choice was knife of one kind or other, and that the majority of murders were committed in a public space such a street. The most dangerous time to be about was Sunday evening probably because, being a rest day, people may have spent the day drinking and getting into arguments.
This brilliant research really does give a snapshot of the violence endemic in London in the early 14th century, as well as bringing to life the incidents and the people involved. Being greedy, I only wish that the map had continued (if possible) into Southwark with its seedy reputation for brothels and drinking places. It would be interesting to compare its murder rate with that of the City itself. Nevertheless, the Medieval Murder Map of London will certainly keep anyone occupied for a rainy afternoon.
You can access the map here: https://www.vrc.crim.cam.ac.uk/vrcresearch/london-medieval-murder-map