Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 4/Beheading a Thief


Dr Whitaker remarks that from an old perambulation record of the township of Wiswall, near Whalley, it appears that one of the meres, or landmarks, was called "Jeppe knave grave," for one Jeppe, says the record, "ki fust decolle come laron" (who was beheaded as a thief). Jeppe (pronounced Yep) is a monosyllabic Saxon name; but this punishment could not have been prior to the Conquest, for the Saxon laws imposed either a money fine or banishment for theft, which they did not punish capitally. It is said that Earl Waltheof was the first person upon whom the sentence of decapitation was executed, in the year 1075. The beheading of thieves appears to have been a Norman punishment, and seems to have been specially applied to cases of furtum manifestum, or thieves caught in the act. In such cases the right of beheading the offenders belonged to the Earls of Chester, and was probably imported into Lancashire by the Halton branch of the Lacies, on their succeeding to the fee of Clitheroe.