Divorce, Mediaeval Lincolnshire Style: the Murder of William Cantilupe, 1375

Activity: Disseminating Research Invited talk


This talk explores the murder of the great-nephew of Thomas of Hereford, the last English saint. The victim, William Cantilupe, was attacked and murdered as he was preparing to go to bed in his wife, Maud Nevill’s manor in Scotton, Lincolnshire on 23 March 1375. After his murder, the assassins cleaned his body, put it into a sack and took it seven miles away on horseback where the scene was staged to look like a highway robbery. Two men, Roger Cook and Richard Gyse, William’s cook and squire, were convicted of the crime and became the first people to be tried and executed under the 1351 Treason Act. During their trial, accusations were made that the pair had acted under the direction of William’s wife, together with his chambermaid who unlocked William’s bedchamber. So thick was the plot that some 15 members of William’s household were initially indicted for the murder. This paper argues that the murder had been planned over a period of years and that it involved William’s wife, Thomas Kydale, who was the sheriff of Lincoln, and the nobleman Ralph Paynel. While a romantic sub-plot could explain the participation of Thomas Kydale, I suggest that the roots of the plot go back to the humiliation that Ralph Paynel, a magnate with strong royal connections and the father in-law of William’s brother, Nicholas, may have felt at the humiliation of his daughter, Catherine at the hands of another member of the Cantilupe family. Paynel’s enmity took its beginning in the disastrous marriage between his daughter and William’s older brother, Nicholas, seven years earlier. The paper traces a tangled web of legal wrangling, armed conflict, and a bitter contest between the Cantilupe and the Paynel families which cast new light on the case and raises new questions about Nicholas Cantilupe’s gender identity.
Period29 Apr 2021
Held atHistorical Association, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionNational