A Caltech Library Service

Tales from the medieval courtroom: the fall and rise of Thomas of Elderfield

Hyams, Paul R. (1985) Tales from the medieval courtroom: the fall and rise of Thomas of Elderfield. Humanities Working Paper, 107. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA.

[img] PDF - Published Version
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


In the competitive world of medieval saint-cults, each shrine strove to outdo its rivals in attracting pilgrims and benefactors. One way to achieve this was to broadcast the saint's miraculous acts as indications of his power. The more unusual the miracle, the more weight it carried. Ordinary cures were ten a penny, but the restoration and regrowth of bodily parts after they had been physically removed -- now that was something really special. It was the proud boast of a Worcester monk of the 1230s that Thomas Becket had been the only saint to manage such a feat, until the local hero, Wulfstan.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
Additional Information:A note on sources The basic story comes from R.R. Darlington (ed.), The Vita Wulfstani of William of Malmesbury (Camden Society xl, 1928), pp. 168-75, controlled by F.W. Maitland (ed.), Pleas of the Crown for the County of Gloucester ~ 1221 (1884), no. 87, pp. 21-2. The two versions of Ailward of Weston's story are to be found in Materials for the History of Thomas Becket, ed. J.C. Robertson (vols. i-ii, Rolls Series 1875-6), i. 155-8; ii. 173-82. There is no recent treatment of English penal history in general or medieval mutilation. C. W. Hollister, "Royal acts of mutilation: the case against Henry I", Albion 10 (1978), pp. 330-40 contains an interesting brief survey of material and views. Bracton on the Laws and Customs of England ed. G.E. Woodbine and translated with revisions by S.E. Thorne (4 vols. Cambridge, Mass. and London, 1968-77) was originally composed within a few years of Thomas' trial by a member of the court circle that staffed eyre circuits. I used a number of sections in vol. ii on punishment and appeals of wounding. R. Finucane, Miracles and Pilgrims (1977), treats the shrine business in general; pp. 100-1 contain a brief treatment of our story. This article was written while the author was a Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar at the California Institute of Technology. One of this appointment's ancillary benefits was a brief but pellucid tutorial on the materials for the section on vision by Professor Derek H. Fender, Professor of Biology and Applied Science. I am particularly grateful to him, to John Benton, Nicholas Dirks, Will Jones, and Eleanor Searle, temporary colleagues and lasting friends from the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, who all read and commented on a preliminary version of the story, and to Caltech an academic haven for us all. Also to my wife Elaine for everything, including at least one burnt meal.
Group:Humanities Working Papers
Series Name:Humanities Working Paper
Issue or Number:107
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20100629-140142047
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Hyams, P.R. Tales from the medieval courtroom: the fall and rise of Thomas of Elderfield. Pasadena, CA: California Institute of Technology, 1985. Humanities Working Paper, No. 107.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:18859
Deposited By: Lindsay Cleary
Deposited On:15 Jul 2010 20:11
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 01:48

Repository Staff Only: item control page