Incident in Clane at Easter 1310

Published in Le Chéile, June 2011

There was an incident in Clane that led to a homicide at Easter in the year 1310. The account of this traumatic event gives interesting details of medieval life in the Town and the general area. Clane at that time had a form of municipal status with the leading official of the town known as ‘A Provost’. A Provost who had certain security powers at the time was the medieval equivalent of a Mayor.

The incident in question occurred on Holy Thursday 1310 in the house of Richard Spiryn in Clane. Richard De Graunger also a resident of the Town called to the Spiryn house when the occupants were about to have their evening meal. De Graunger demanded the food on the table which consisted of a piece of white bread valued one halfpenny and a penny worth of fish. It is likely that De Graunger may have been owed some money from Spiryn who refused to give up the food as he didn’t have any other food for himself or his wife. However, he invited De Graunger to sit down and have part of it. De Graunger refused. A third party one named Hugh De Hereford now became embroiled in the dispute and assaulted De Graunger by striking him over his head with his spear which broke in two as a result. De Hereford’s brother Adam also became involved in the row and as a result the two De Herefords stabbed De Graunger and inflicted four serious wounds, leaving him apparently half dead before they departed.

A crime had been committed and this resulted in a ‘hue and cry’. A hue and cry was a medieval process by which bystanders are summoned to assist in the apprehension of a criminal who has been witnessed in the act of committing a crime. Sometimes the method was by blowing a horn or simply by shouting. A statute of King Edward I in 1285 provided that anyone, either a constable or a private citizen, who witnessed a crime shall make a hue and cry, and that this must be kept up against the fleeing criminal from town to town and from county to county, until the felon is apprehended and delivered to the sheriff. All able-bodied men, upon hearing the shouts, were obliged to assist in the pursuit of the criminal or volunteer to become part of a posse recruited by the local Sherriff. Any individual who failed to comply could face a charge of liability relating to the crime.

The hue and cry alerted John De Taueny the serving Provost of Clane and he decided to attempt to take the De Hereford brothers into custody. The De Herefords at this stage were preparing to flee the Town and resisted the Provost. In the resulting encounter Hugh De Hereford struck the Provost on the head and he fell to the ground. A number of other individuals who had come to the ‘hue and cry’ now became embroiled in the conflict including Richard De Graunger who appears to have made a miraculous recovery. They assumed the Provost was dead and confronted the De Herefords. However, the De Herefords would not surrender and in the struggle that followed, De Graunger struck Hugh De Hereford on the head with his axe and he died from the wound.

Adam De Hereford assisted by his clan now sought revenge. On hearing this, De Graunger, fearing for his life fled to the Church in the Town for protection. The medieval Church in Clane was on the site of the ‘Old Protestant Church’ overlooking the ‘Fair Green’. It now serves as a community hall.

Ruins of the Old Protestant Church on the site of the Medieval Church where sanctuary was sought in 1310

In the middle ages the Church was a sanctuary and a fugitive could not be arrested in a Church. Adam and his followers approached the Church but could not apprehend De Graunger and withdrew. De Hereford then began to gather a bigger force with the intention of killing De Graunger. While this was taking place De Graunger left the Church, crossed the Liffey then known as the Analiffey and fled to the Town of Naas where he gave himself up to the Sherriff of the county. However, it appears that De Graunger had committed a serious crime by fleeing from the sanctuary of a Church.

Later that year, on the 16th of June, De Graunger appeared before the Pleas of the Crown Court at Kildare Town presided over by the Justicar Sir John Wogan. A jury consisting of Richard Holeweye, John Boy, John Holeweye, Thomas De Logw, Robert Le Corveyser, Richard Inge, David Mannyng, David Le Paumer, Stephen Le Blound, Richard Gole, and James De la Fountayne were chosen. Three of the individuals summonsed for jury service, namely Roger Le Reve, Barth Leynagh and Adam Holeweie failed to turn up. The jury had the power to find the defendant ‘quit’ or ‘not quit’ of the charges and as it was not known that Hugh De Hereford could have been taken alive they found him ‘not quit’. Also, it was regarded by the jury as a sign of guilt on the part of De Graunger because he fled the scene of the incident taking refuge in the Church. It appears that by fleeing from the sanctuary of the Church was regarded at the time as a serious offence. The jury ordered that De Graunger’s property be confiscated. This included: the crop of one acre of ‘hastival’ which was a harvest crop worth 6 shillings; the crop of one acre of wheat worth 6 shillings and the crop of four acres of oats worth forty pence per acre. This was to be paid to the coroner Nicholas son of Thomas.

It is likely there were a considerable number of Provosts of Clane in the Middle Ages. However, the name of John De Taueny is only one of two known Provosts’ of the town to have survived on record.

The incident gives an insight into many aspects of how our ancestors in Clane lived in the Middle ages. It appears that fish was an important diet among the population at the time. The likelihood is that netting fish in the Liffey was an important line of work which provided a major source of food for the community. Bread at the time was an important part of the diet and substantial quantities of wheat was produced locally. One individual from the locality Richard De Graunger, for instance had sown six acres of corn crops.

One sticking aspect of the surviving detail from fourteenth century Clane relates to the personal names of the people living in the area. The names are definitely Norman in origin with possibly only one surname Mannyng having a native Irish source. This suggests that the Norman conquest locally resulted in almost completely replacing the native Irish population with settlers of Norman or of Normanised-Irish background. The detail confirms an already well-known fact that in the Norman colony which included Clane, the language spoken was Norman-French.

The Norman colony initially maintained a distinct culture and way of life. The violence used in rows and disagreements was not uncommon at the time. It appears that ordinary members of the public not only carried a range of weapons including, spears, knives and axes but used them on occasions. The killing of Hugh De Hereford in Clane in 1310 gives a descriptive account of how accused were pursued and apprehended by ordinary able men of the district. It also describes how justice was administered through a jury system that has changed little in seven hundred years.