The port of Rye, in East Sussex, is an interesting town with a strong medieval ambiance. I spent a few days there last month thinking it might make an interesting background for a future novel. It’s a fascinating place, and I’ll have more to say about it later, but for now here is a decidedly odd story I came across during my researches.
From early medieval times onwards Rye, as part of the Cinque Ports confederation, enjoyed various privileges in return for services to the crown. One of these was the right of the town mayor to preside over his own local courts.
In 1743 a local butcher with a grievance attempted to assassinate the then mayor. Unfortunately he made a mess of it and accidentally killed the mayor’s brother-in-law instead. The local court was able to try the murderer and sentence him to death, too – presided over by his intended victim, the mayor. There doesn’t seem to have been any suggestion of a miscarriage of justice, but I believe it remains the only instance in British legal history where a judge was able to condemn his own would-be murderer.*
Fact, as they say, is sometimes stranger than fiction, and perhaps more so in a place like Rye.
*I read about this curious episode in Rye – A Short History by Kenneth Clark, available from Rye Heritage Centre, Strand Quay.