Murder Most Foul 

The story of Dadlington's medieval murder

This article first appeared in The Stoker 
John Wychard pulled his cloak ever tighter to keep out the biting wind. He’d been tempted to call in at one of the inns as he passed through Sutton Cheney, but as his destination lay only a mile or so away, he’d ploughed onwards through the snow. As one of the county of Leicester’s four coroners, he had business to attend to in the village of Dadlyngton and whilst his fellow men were heading for their second mass of the weekend, this time to celebrate St Stephen’s feast day, John had a sudden death to investigate, a body to inspect, an inquest to hold.

His arrival was expected. Already, gathered on the village green, were twelve local men from the villages of Dadlynton, Stoke, Upton and Hegham who would form the jury. One of them, William Shepherd, approached the lone horseman as he climbed the hill by the manor house and offered him a greeting. Then he led him to the two roomed house of Oliver de Hedham, one of about a dozen small dwellings that circled the green. A solitary bell chimed from the small chapel on the northern edge of the green, but for Oliver de Hedham, there would be no service this Sunday. His lifeless body had been wrapped in a white linen shroud by one of the women of the village and laid out, ready for the coroner to examine.

It soon became clear to John that this was an unnatural death. Though he was not a medical man, he had seen many bodies and recognised at once that the marks on Oliver’s head were consistent with a knife wound. He also noticed the deformed nature of one of his legs, the result of a break as he fell after the stabbing according to some of the witnesses who gave evidence. As the morning wore on, the story began to emerge. It appeared that on Christmas Eve, two strangers, unknown to any of the forty or so residents of the village, knocked at Oliver’s door and asked him for directions to the nearby village of Drayton-in-the Clay. Oliver, being a helpful sort, must have decided to show them the road to Shenton that they needed to take. It was as they crossed the green that the fatal blow was struck. Some of the villagers noticed Oliver fall to the ground as the two strangers fled. Oliver was carried back to his house and tended to diligently but, as the light began to fade, he passed away but a few hours into the Christmas vigil.

John asked each of the jurors for their verdict and it was unanimous: murder. Despite the hue and cry that was called after the death, the perpetrators had vanished, and strangely, there seemed to be no motive for the killing. Taking a piece of parchment from the bag he carried, John recorded the results of his investigation and the verdict. This he dated the 26thday of December, 1401, in the reign of King Henry IV. His work completed, John set off, once again, to return to Leicester where he would lodge the inquest rolls with the judge at the county assizes before seeking out warmth, food and drink in his lodgings.
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