Getting away with murder, Tudor-style (Background)

Conishead Priory

In 1559 Nicholas Bardsey of Bardsea murdered William Sandys of Conishead and fled to Scotland. Seven years later he returned home – and no-one seem to have mentioned the murder again.

The Bardsey’s had held the manor of Bardsea for hundreds of years prior to the Dissolution, and seem to have been put out when William Sandys was made Receiver General for the Lordship of Furness.  Sandys had bought Conishead Priory off the Crown, and moved in: and it would seem various quarrels then ensued between the families.  It was later said in court that William Bardsey ‘bore a grudge and malice’ towards Sandys, but in September of 1558, there was a particular dispute over tithes.  William Bardsey ordered his tenants to assemble at Bardsey with carts on Sunday coming, 10th September 1559, between 11am and noon, ready to head to Conishead to seize back the tithe corn which he claimed Sandys had wrongfully taken possession of.  The assault was led by Bardsey’s two sons, Nicholas and Robert, together with a servant called John Broughton and about fifty others, including both men and women. Sandys tried to stop them from getting the corn. Nicholas and Robert both struck him with staves, giving him a mortal wound – and Broughton finished him off with a double-edged dagger. 

The assailants headed back for Bardsey, where a couple of days later, William learned that the Constables were coming, so told them to flee. He did not have any ready cash, but gave his sons a ‘salt’ – presumably an expensive silver table centre-piece, and some silver spoons, which they could sell for cash. They headed across the sands to the house of Christopher Preston at Holker Hall – from where they then headed off into Scotland. 

Seven years later, in 1566, we learn that Nicholas is back at Bardsea.  Whilst he was a fugitive, he had arranged for his wife to send him money, which she had raised by making some land available to one Peter Mounte of Bolton in Furness, including a turbary on Plumpton Moss.  Now Nicholas had ‘obtained his pardon and discharge’ – but we don’t find out how or why – and on returning home he once again took the law into his own hands,  turfing Mounte out of the property he was occupying.  Mounte took him to court to get his property back, but we don’t know the outcome.  

Nicholas sold Bardsea in 1573 and died in 1588 – having got away with murder.


National Archives DL 7/11 Inquisition Post Mortem, William Sandys, 1559

DL 44/12 Inquisition into the murder of William Sandys, 1559

DL 1/64/M1, 1566, Bill of Peter Mounte vs Nicholas Bardsaye



Photo: Conishead Priory, rebulit in 1821


Text and photo by Bill Shannon