Among the thousands of visitors to Dublin in the 14th century the story of two English sailors Robert Godard and Robert Faber stands out above the rest. Having arrived in the busy trading port of medieval Dublin they would gain the unwanted record as being the only recorded survivors of a hanging in the city. 14th Century Dublin while being a busy port was also a dangerous city at the best of times as these sailors from England soon found out.
Having arrived in Dublin this gang of six sailors including Robert Godard and Robert Faber were approached by the mariner Thomas le White who sought their aid in assassinating a royal official Robert Thurstayn. This can hardly have shocked the sailors, violent resolution of disputes was not unusual; the medieval homicide rate has been estimated at least twenty times higher than modern rates. Nonetheless murder was still a hanging offence particularly for strangers or the poor. Worse still the sailors probably had little idea who Robert Thurstayn was when they agreed to kill him.
Thurstayn was a royal purveyor, a man who worked provisioning food for the kings armies. That a mariner like Thomas le White would want him dead is little surprise. Purveyors were hated figures in medieval cities. They arrived in a city and bought food with or without the sellers permission. They could also sequester ships as well. Although theoretically they were supposed to pay up-front they frequently left merchants and mariners with what was basically an ‘I owe you’ that was never paid. Tensions around the activities of purveyors boiled over on several occasions resulting in killings, riots and even the imprisonment of one mayor of Dublin for resisting the purveyors.
While the sailors murder of Thurstayn can have surprised few it was equally unsurprising that the city hunted down his murderers. Officials in Dublin had frequently found themselves at odds with crown officials and the consequences could be serious. In the early 14th century the city had lost its right to self-government for a year and it was ruled directly by the king so in 1311 they acted swiftly to resolve the murder.
The six sailors including Robert Godard and Robert Faber soon found themselves in a tight spot. The mariner Thomas le White had fled to the kings army in Scotland and they were stuck in a strange city facing very serious charges of murdering a royal official. Details of the case are scant but all except one sailor William le Rede were found guilty and sentenced to hang. They were taken to one of the city gallows and hanged. In the aftermath the bodies were cut from the gibbet and loaded onto carts and taken to Kilmainham for burial.
On arriving in Kilmainham Robert Godard and Richard Faber woke, not to find themselves in heaven or hell but they were not far off the latter; they had survived the hanging and were still in medieval Dublin. How they survived is a mystery. Given their three companions died, the hangman cannot have been totally inept. Godard and Faber did not wait around to see whether the hangman would finish the job off second time round so they sought sanctuary in a nearby church. Their incredible luck continued when a man called called John de Ergadia (John of Argyle) testified that “they are valiant and good strong mariners”. John de Ergadia was the commander of English fleet in the Irish sea fighting the Scots as they increasingly pushed south into the Irish Sea.
While its possible the two men arrived in Dublin with de Ergadia its most plausible that Ergadia to this opportunity to acquire two more sailors who could hardly say no. Godard and Faber were pardoned and left Dublin with Ergadia, although how long they survived in the dangerous world of medieval seafaring is not known.
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Sources Cal. Jus. Rolls. vol III pge219
Calendar of Patent Rolls Edward II vol I page 375
Forty-second report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records and Keeper of the State Papers in Ireland pge 32