Category Archives: Crime

Crime Monarchy Murder Politics

Kill him for the book he wrote

These fragments come from the published account of an attempted murder of the Reverend Samuel Johnson (1649-1703) a Whig pamphleteer. In 1682, Johnson published a political treatise, Julian the Apostate, which transformed him into an overnight sensation. The treatise drew parallels between the fourth-century apostate emperor, Julian, and James duke of York, the Catholic successor to the English crown. Johnson justified the efforts of the whigs to exclude James from the monarchy, and called on active resistance to James’s ascension to the English throne. As a result, Johnson was imprisoned for four years in the king’s bench. While in gaol, Johnson continued to write seditious material, and in 1686 he was convicted of high misdemeanour, sentenced to pay 500 marks, to stand in the pillory for three days, and to be flogged from Newgate to Tyburn. In the early 1690s, he wrote An Argument proving that the abrogation of King James by the people of England, which caused such a scandal that in November 1692, seven men broke into Johnson’s house near Piccadilly and attempted to kill him.

Upon the Sunday Morning (the 27th of November 1692) seven persons broke into the House of the Reverend Mr Samuel Johnson, in Bond-street near Piccadilly; and five of them with a Lanthorn came into the Room where Mr Johnson with his Wife were in Bed, and their young Son lying in a Bed by them. Mrs Johnson hearing them open the Door, cried out to her Husband (who was fast asleep) My Dear, Thieves, Thieves. The Villains instantly threw open the Curtains, three of them placing themselves by that side of the Bed where Mr Johnson lay, with drawn Swords, and Clubs in their Hands; and two at the Bed’s Feet with Pistols. Whereupon Mr Johnson started upon his Bed, and waved his Arms to keep off Blows, but gave them not one word.  One of the three who stood by the Bed-side, gave him a great blow on the Head with an Oaken-stick, with a great Knob on the top (which stick was left behind and there may be seen) that struck him back to the Bed, and then instantly clap’d on a black Vizor Mask. Upon which Mrs Johnson cried out, over and over again with great earnestness, How can you strike a sick Man? At which they stood pausing over him. Which she observing, said We have no Money, we have no Money.  One of the Miscreants then called to Mr Johnson, saying Hold up your Face. At which Mrs Johnson, jogging her husband said, My Dear they would Gag you; prethee be gagg’d, hoping that then they would leave him and rifle the House.

Some time after, the Rogues still standing over him, Mr Johnson sat upright again and roared out, not being able to speak. Upon which one of the Rogues said, Pistol him, kill him, kill him for the Book he wrote. And then cut him with a Sword over the Eye-brow. And those who stood with Pistols at the Bed’s Feet presented their Pistols towards him: Which Mrs Johnson seeing, cried out O Christ do not do it.  How can you use a sick Man thus? After this they stood sometimes as amazed, demurring over him; and at length one of them said to the rest, Draw him under the Bed. Then a little after another said, Damn, where’s his Breeches?  And Mrs Johnson replying, Upon the feet of the Bed. They not instantly finding them ask’d again for them, and she replying as before, they found them and carried them off with them, not ransacking further, nor taking any other thing out of the House, though a Chest of Drawers stood open by them.

When the bloody Villains went out of the Room, Mrs Johnson imagining they were gone up to the Room over their Heads, where her daughter with a Maid-Servant were in Bed, cried out to Mr Johnson, My poor Girls, what will become of them? Mr Johnson got out of Bed to Follow them, but Mrs Johnson begg’d him not to go, saying You will sure be killed, but can do them no service; go to the Window and cry out Thieves, which he did. And the Watch and others being by that time got to the House, found that instead of going up the Stairs, as Mr Johnson and his Wife imagined, they went down Stairs and made their Escape.

The two young Women at first hearing the Noise in the House got to their Chamber-Window and cried out Thieves, upon which two of the Rogues who were left Sentinels at the Street-door, held up two Blunderbusses, saying If you cry out we will shoot you. Upon which they pull’d in their Heads, but continued to cry as loud as they could; which being heard by the Watch they made towards Mr Johnson’s House, but came too late to seize any of the Assassins. A Chirurgion being called found Mr Johnson greatly bleeding from two Wounds, one a cross Wound to his Skull, three inches long and an inch and a half across; and the other a Cut with a Sword on his left Eye-brow. The Chirurgion also found his Head greatly bruised, and declared that he imagined that there might be more danger in the Bruises than the Cuts, but through God’s blessing there is good hopes of his Recovery.

Source for Johnson’s lifeL Melinda Zook, DNB

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Biography Crime

The Real Robin Hood

Today’s snippets are on the search for the real Robin Hood.

Robin Hood is almost impossible to identify with any degree of accuracy since there is little concrete evidence which survives, and the man so quickly morphed into a folk hero and criminal outlaw that the Robin we think of today is in fact a composite of many men.

Three early writers did attempt to locate Robin in an historical context. In 1420 Andrew Wyntoun referred to a Robin Hood and Little John during the years 1283-5. Walter Bower mentions a Robin Hood and a Little John in his continuation of Fordun’s Scotichronicon, 1266. And in 1521 John Mair placed Robin Hood and Little John in the reign of Richard I. John Mair’s date is probably the most historically accurate, since Robin was almost certainly a legendary outlaw by 1261-2. This date is further supported by a certain Robert Hod, a fugitive who failed to attend a hearing at the York assize in 1225, and whose belongings, worth 32s.6d., were then forfeited. Thomas Gale, dean of York 1697-1702, left a note among his papers that Robin died on 24th December 1247.

According to J Holt, Hood’s biographer, Robin was an active criminal in 1193-4, was outlawed in 1225, and dead by 1247. Robert Hod is almost certainly the original Hood. When an account of his chattels was published in 1227 he was recorded as ‘Hobbehod’.

There have been attempts to match historical incidents with real people in order to uncover Robin Hood. The first stories about him come from 1450, including Robin Hood and the Monk, a manuscript which includes a prayer against robbers. It is purportedly a thrilling story of revenge and treachery. Robin is betrayed to the sheriff by a knavish monk while at worship in the church of St Mary, Nottingham. He is then rescued from Nottingham Castle by Little John and the rest of the gang. Robin Hood and the Potter, part of a manuscript collection  written shortly after 1503, in which Robin, after challenging and fighting a travelling potter, takes the potter’s dress and wares in order to inveigle his way into Nottingham Castle and lure the sheriff to the outlaw lair in Sherwood. The Gest of Robyn Hode, collected in the fifteenth century, is another collection of tales.’It includes what is perhaps the earliest story of all, the tale of the impoverished knight. In this story, Robin assists a knight who has mortgaged his lands to the abbot of St Mary’s, York, by robbing the monks themselves to repay the loan. The knight later becomes Sir Richard of the Lee who fortifies his castle to protect Robin and his men from the vengeful sheriff.’ The Gest also includes includes two archery contests held in Nottingham, an encounter between the king and Robin in Sherwood, and a tale of Robin’s death at Kirklees Priory in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The canon of Robin Hood stories is completed by a separate tale, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne, in which Robin kills a medieval bounty hunter.

These early stories contain no Maid Marion or Friar Tuck.’The friar is of special interest because he demonstrates once again how the doings of real people were pressed into service for the story. The original was Robert Stafford, parson of Lindfield, Sussex, who gathered around him a band of evil-doers who committed murders and robberies and threatened the peace of Surrey and Sussex between 1417 and 1429. He assumed the name of Friar Tuck, and puzzled royal officials recorded that he was “newly so called in common parlance”‘. By 1475 the friar appeared in the first surviving fragment of a Robin Hood play. In contrast, Maid Marion seems to have been a purely literary creation, originating in a French pastoral play, Robin et Marion, composed c.1283 by Adam de la Halle. She was then taken over in Gower’s Mirour de l’omme of 1376–9 where she participates in rustic festivals. By 1500 Robin and Marion had come to figure as king and queen of May in the May games.

All early references to Robin refer to him as a criminal, but in 1433 he is descried as ‘Goodman.’ So the early stories bear little resemblance to the current legend of Robin Hood, who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. This Robin didn’t appear until the 16th and 17th centuries, when Joseph Ritson and others expanded on the stories. The legend of Robin has continued to delight and fascinate since then, with movies, comic books, and television series devoted to Hood and his exploits.  Whatever the truth about the real man, it is clear that the exploits of Robin Hood and his Merry Men will live on for generations.

Source: J Holt: DNB.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Crime Murder

A horrible, cruel and bloody murder

These snippets come from a murder pamphlet published in 1614. The above image is taken from the frontispiece, and depicts the act itself, overseen by Satan.

In the parish of Putney upon Thames in the Countie of Surrey, there dwelt this Murdered Man, named Edward Hall, by his vocation a Miller, a man of good reputation, having substance of money. Now this aforementioned Hall, on the twentieth of April last 1614, about tenne of the clock after supper, was sleeping in a Chaire by the fire in his Kitchen; his servants, namely John Selling, Peter Pett, and Edward Streater, having (as they confessed) conspired their Master his death long before, now they perceived him sleeping, thought it not fitte to let such an opportunitie pass to put their damnable practise in execution. John Selling, having provided a pickaxe to give the fatall blow, told Pett that now it was a fitte time to doe it, and bade Pett strike the first stroake, and hee would second him with another: whereupon Pett took the pickaxe, and standing behind his sleeping Master, lifting it up with all his force, gave his Master a violent blow on the back betwixt his shoulders, wherewith Hall fell down and gave a great groane, where Selling presently took the pickaxe from Pett and stroake a second blow, hitting him on the head in a most cruel and inhumane manner, beating out his braines. The other, named Streater, being in his Master’s Mill and not knowing as then the devilish designe was done, Pett went to him and told him, and bade him come and beholde their handi-worke.

Presently Streater left the Mill, and coming into the house where he saw his said Master lye in his own blood with his braines most brutishly dashed out, he upon the instant tooke the pickaxe and strooke the said Hall a blow on the breast which slit and severed his breast boane. Hall being thus dead, these three Murtherers consulted amongst themselves what were best to bee done with the dead body. They took the dead caracass and carried it into a stable, where they digged a hole and buried it.

The pamphlet continues with the three men’s attempts to evade detection, and their eventual capture.  Examined by a Justice of the Peace

they confessed that they had done this cruell fact to their Master because he did not love his wife so well as he ought to do, and because he did not allow them meat enough… and did affirm that they did it upon the inspiration and instigation of the Devil. Then were these mallefactors committed to the common jayle of the white Lyon in Southwark, where till the sessions they are to abide, then to have the recompence of their demerrits.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Crime Execution Highway Robbery

Dick Turpin

Dick Turpin (1705-1739) was born in September 1705 at the Blue Bell Inn, Hempstead, in Essex. He had a basic education before becoming a butcher and marrying Betty Mollington, a maid, in 1725. From 1730, they lived at Buckhurst Hill in Essex, but Turpin soon fell in with a gang of deer-rustlers operating in Epping forest.

Turpin acted as a fence for the stolen deer, and the gang’s activities continued quite successfully until a large reward was offered for their capture, and the gang leader, Samuel Gregory, was caught and pilloried in 1734. Gregory was subsequently sprung from gaol by Turpin and the others, and the gang then turned its attention to burglary. For a while they attacked remote farm houses on the outskirts of London, but it wasn’t long before some of the gang were caught, and by the end of 1735, only Dick Turpin and Thomas Rowden, a pewterer, were at large. It was at this point in his career that Turpin turned to highway robbery, hijacking carriages south of the river Thames. A year later, in May 1736, Turpin’s partner Rowden was captured and convicted of counterfeiting, and Turpin disappeared.

In 1737, the authorities learned of Turpin’s whereabouts and set an ambush for him in Hertfordshire. He evaded capture, but his wife and her friends were sent to Hereford gaol on suspicion of highway robbery. They were subsequently released. Turpin then joined forces with a Matthew King in 1737, stealing a racehorse named Whitestockings from a stable behind the Red Lion Inn, Whitechapel. In May of that same year King was shot by the authorities, and Turpin prudently fled to Yorkshire. The following description of him was circulated by the authorities: ‘a brown complexion…his cheek bones broad, his face thinner towards the bottom, his visage short, pretty upright, and broad about the shoulders.’


 Turpin, based on contemporaneous descriptions, by Adrian Teal


During the following year, Turpin concentrated on horse rustling, and in July, returned to his father’s house in Hempstead with a stolen horse. John Turpin was subsequently charged with receiving stolen goods and spent the winter in Chelmsford gaol. In October, Turpin, using the name John Parmen (recorded as ‘Palmer’) was arrested for disturbing the peace, and he spent the night at a prison in Beverley, Yorkshire. When it eventually emerged he was in fact the wanted Turpin, he was sent to York Castle where he was charged with horse rustling. At the end of March 1739, Turpin was tried and convicted. He was executed on 7th April.


Turpin’s cell in the Castle Museum, York


Little was heard of Turpin’s activities until the 1800s, when his supposedly famous ride from London to York, previously attributed to the highwayman Willian Nevison, began to appear in chapbooks. In 1834, Martin Colnaghi depicted Turpin’s dramatic life in six high-quality prints, and these prints ensured Turpin’s immortalisation as the dashing highwayman.

Turpin is supposedly buried in St George’s churchyard, York. His grave is unusually wide, and there are many local rumours as to why. One tells of how Turpin was buried with his legendary horse, Black Bess. Another more intriguing story reports that after Turpin’s execution and burial, a group of Turpin’s associates dug him up and took him to the Red Lion pub in Merchantgate in order to give him a proper send off.  The authorities, discovering the dead Turpin propped in a corner of the bar, immediately ordered his reburial, pouring quick lime into the grave to prevent him from being re-exhumed.


Source for Turpin’s life: Dereck Barlow, DNB

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

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