- This map shows the 142 murders that were committed in London from 1300 to 1340
- Each clickable pin reveals the grisly details as recorded in contemporary coroner’s reports
- Then as now, stabbing was the main method of killing in London – but the murder rate was three times higher
It’s January 1322 and William, the son of Henry the Goldsmith at Rowe, is peeing in the public urinal in Cheapside. The man next to him complains that William is spraying on his shoes. William doesn’t like the sound of that: he punches the fellow, knocking his poleaxe to the ground. At this point, a bystander named Philip intervenes – further inflaming William’s temper. William picks up the poleaxe and delivers a fatal blow to Philip’s head. The other man gets away with just his footwear soiled.
Manuel Eisner, a Professor of Comparative and Developmental Criminology at the University of Cambridge, studies the history of interpersonal violence. This darkly comic tale is his favourite among the 142 medieval murders his team at the Violence Research Centre have pinned on a map of London.
The Violence Research Centre, part of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology, mapped all homicides from London coroner’s records covering the period from 1300 to 1340. They extracted information on victims and perpetrators, weapons used, and – as exactly as possible – the scenes of the crime.
Each of the homicides is plotted on a map of medieval London, marked by a clickable pin that reveals all the information on each case.
London, Stab City
Image: Violence Research Centre
Early 14th-century London had a similar homicide rate to the U.S. today.
The result is a theatre of horror, seen through the prism of a primitive police procedural: two boatmen beating a saddler to death with their oars, an innkeeper murdered after winning at backgammon, and an angry shopkeeper who smashes the head of a night-time troublemaker – among many other grisly tales.
The distribution of the pins reveals a few homicide hot spots in medieval London: if you valued your life, you stayed away from Westcheap and Leadenhall Market, for instance. Here’s what else the map teaches us about violent deaths in early 14th-century London:
- More than half of all homicides occurred on just two days of the week: Sunday (31%)…
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