The Slaying of Sir William Pennington: Legal Narrative and the Late Medieval English Archive

Shannon McSheffrey


On 20 April 1532, an English gentleman and courtier, Sir William Pennington, was killed in a sword fight steps away from the royal palace of Westminster. For political reasons, the prosecution of Pennington's homicide likely suppressed the real context of the quarrel, resulting in a fictional alternative version of events on the official record of the court of King's Bench. This article examines closely the narratives contained in the King's Bench plea roll in order to consider larger questions about the nature of legal documents as historical evidence. Understanding how this legal narrative worked involves considering legal forms and expectations — the requirements of legal genres such as indictments — along with the particular exigencies of the political moment.

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