No.45 The Raphael

In this week’s instalment of our mini-series looking at wrecks and their associations with English Heritage properties, I’d like to have a look at the ‘right to wreck’.

In 1468, or perhaps a little earlier, the Raphael of ‘Dansk in Pruce’ (Gdansk in Prussia) was ‘imperilled at Bedebay [BudeBay] in the County of Cornwall, where it was perysshed upon the high sea, and out of the jurisdiction of every county’.

Wreckage washed ashore in Bude Bay near Poughill and was claimed not by a local manorial landowner, but by the servants and tenants of the Abbot of Cleeve in Somserset, citing a grant made to John, Abbot of Cleeve, of ‘wrekke de meere in all his demene londes and tenements in Poghwell and Trelasten in the Countie of Cornwall’ and to his ‘successors for evermore’.

The Abbot claimed the goods, addressing a letter to the Bishop of Bath and Wells, while John May of Bristol, merchant, launched a counter-claim. At issue was the fact that ‘Richard Herlok and Thomas Donne and other mariners of the said ship being in the same ship at the time of the perysshing thereof came to BudeBay aforesaid alive’. If anyone escaped alive from a wreck, then under medieval law it was *not* technically a wreck (regardless of the state it was in): upon such arcane arguments hung many medieval disputes over the right to wreck and salvage.

The outcome of this interesting link between two places so far apart on the Bristol Channel coast, Cleeve Abbey and Bude Bay, remains unknown – as is often the way with medieval wreck records – leaving us to imagine the sequel and to speculate whether any income from this or other wrecks helped to pay for the splendid contemporary late 15th century roof. 

Late 15th century refectory roof, Cleeve Abbey, Somerset, (c) English Heritage Photo Library
Late 15th century refectory roof, Cleeve Abbey, Somerset, (c) English Heritage Photo Library

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