Enlarge / A birds-eye view of London from the south looking north (1572), one of the maps used to create an interactive map of murders in medieval London. (credit: Braun & Hogenberg/Public Domain)
In July of 1316, a priest with a hankering for fresh apples sneaked into a walled garden in the Cripplegate area of London to help himself to the fruits therein. The gardener caught him in the act, and the priest brutally stabbed him to death with a knife—hardly godly behavior, but this was the Middle Ages. A religious occupation was no guarantee of moral standing.
That’s just one of the true-crime gems to be found in a new interactive digital “murder map” of London compiled by University of Cambridge criminologist Manuel Eisner. Drawing on data catalogued in the city Coroners’ Rolls, the map shows the approximate location of 142 homicide cases in late medieval London. The map launched to the public in late November on the website for the university’s Violence Research Center, and be forewarned—it’s extremely addictive. You could easily lose yourself down the rabbit hole of medieval murder for hours, filtering the killings by year, choice of weapon, and location. (It works best with Google Chrome.)
“The events described in the Coroners’ Rolls show weapons were never very far away, male honor had to be protected, and conflicts easily got out of hand,” said Eisner, who embarked on the project to create an accessible resource for the public to explore the historical records. “They give us a detailed picture of how homicide was embedded in the rhythms of urban medieval life.”