MED Theatre’s 2020 Community Play, ‘The Murder of Nicholas Radford’, explored the consequences of the breakdown of the rule of law in charting the events surrounding the death of medieval Devon’s most famous lawyer. The play was written by artistic director and playwright Mark Beeson in blank verse in an attempt to get inside the medieval mind, and makes verbatim use of vivid contemporary accounts to extract a human relevance for today. Below you will find outlines of the historical context surrounding this infamous medieval murder.



Nicholas Radford (c. 1385 – 23rd October 1455) was a distinguished Westcountry lawyer based at Upcott Barton in the parish of Cheriton Fitzpaine. He married Thomasina Wyke, who he had one son with, also named Nicholas, in 1437.

He was the son of Robert Radford of Oakford, Devon. According to Risdon (d.1640), he was a descendant of the de Radford family of the estate of Radford, in the parish of Winkleigh, Devon.


MED Theatre’s play centres around the crumbling friendship between Radford and Thomas Courtenay, the Earl of Devon and his family.

In 1423 Radford was appointed joint steward (with John Coppleston) of all the lands belonging to the recently deceased Earl of Devon, Hugh Courtenay, for the duration of the minority of the Earl’s son Thomas who was then only eight. When Thomas Courtenay (senior) was old enough to take charge of his inheritance, Radford remained the Earl’s friend, visited him often and became godfather to his second son, Henry.



1st Baron Bonville, (c. 1392 – 1461) was an English nobleman and a powerful landowner in South West England. In 1437 King Henry granted Bonville the office of Steward of the Duchy of Cornwall. This was traditionally a post inherited by the Earl of Devon and so the Earl was enraged at this. In 1442 the Crown appointed the Earl the same role, exacerbating the situation.


The Courtenay family were a dominant force in Devon and Cornwall until the rise of the gentry and other political powers. Thomas Courtenay, 13th Earl of Devon, was married off in his youth to Margaret Beaufort, kin to the King (great-granddaughter of King Edward III). Together they had three sons, Thomas, Henry and John, as well as multiple daughters, many of whom did not survive to adulthood. The Earl’s sons all died in the Wars of the Roses, either in battle or by execution.



On the night of October 23rd, 1455, Radford was murdered in a lane a stone’s throw from his home at Upcott Barton by a group of men being led by Thomas Courtenay (junior).

In a 1455 petition to the King, Radford’s nephew John Radford stated that Courtenay and his men:

…turned uppon the said Nicholas Radford, and then and there the s[ai]d Nicholas P. with a glayve smote the said Nicholas Radford a hidious dedlye stroke overthwarte the face, and felled him to the grounde, and then the s[ai]d Nicholas Phillip yaf him a noder stroke upon his heade behinde that the brayne felle oute of heade. And the s[ai]dd Thomas Philipe that tyme and then wyth a knyfe feloninolye cutt the throats of the said Nicholas Radford, and the said John Amore that tyme and there wythe a longe dagger smote the s[ai]d Nicholas Radford behinde on his bake to the harts. And so the said Nicholas P., T. P. and John A More thus gave the said Nicholas Radford severallye dedlye wounds, and him then and there feloniously and horriblye slewe and murdred.

(Transcription courtesy of W.J. Hardiman, adapted from an original transcription in TDA by Mrs G.H. Radford)

Watch the video below to hear Layn, played by Sam Hunt,
describing the gruesome attack in ‘The Murder of Nicholas Radford’


The Wars of the Roses were a series of English civil wars fought between the supporters of the House of Lancaster and the House of York, two branches of the royal House of Plantagenet. Each side was represented by a rose, Lancaster by red and York by white, with the two later being merged into the Tudor Rose by Henry VII after the occasion of his victory over Richard III and the end of the wars.

Sir William Bonville and the Earl of Devon’s rivalry is often assumed to have played a hand in the breakdown of law and order which led to the Wars of the Roses. Both appeared to have little loyalty to either side but would move to support whichever House would help them to defeat the other. Many battles were fought between the Courtenays and Bonville’s men until finally the two men fought directly at the Battle of Clyst Heath on December 15th, 1455.

In an article for the TDA in 1912, Mrs G H Radford quotes both John Hoker and Thomas Westcote as having been informed that this fight was all over a dog, or a couple of dogs.


Doccombe manor in the parish of Moretonhampstead was owned by the Prior and Chapter of Christ Church Canterbury (a Bendictine monastery within Canterbury Cathedral) after it was granted to them in 1172 or 1173 by William de Tracy in atonement for his part in the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in the cathedral in 1170. There were considerable logistical problems in the ownership of ‘our far flung poor little manor in Devonshire’ from 250 miles away [and] finding reliable and honest stewards who were not too harsh and not too soft ‘on our poor little tenants’ proved difficult. They also had to be strong to resist the attempts of the Courtenays, lords of Moretonhampstead manor, in disputes such as a turf wars over Mardon Common and the Teign Valley woods. in July 1439 he appointed Nicholas Radford and Henry Brok to run Doccombe manor for the priory.