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Jane has penned a very interesting piece on highway robbery in historical England -
ANGER AND DEATH ON THE HIGHWAY
Myth or reality? Who knows? We all know of Robin Hood and his band of merry men, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Then there’s the highway robber, long considered gentlemen thieves and rather romantic figures. They were termed ‘common as crows’ during the period 1650 to 1800.
In those days, travel was difficult, and because of the lack of decent roads, no one road alone, fearful of being robbed. Many would write their Wills before taking such a journey, and hired escorts for such excursions. They were considered to dress well, be well mannered.
The legend of the highwayman and used threats rather than violence. "Stand and Deliver" and "Your money or your life,” is historically known as their catch phrases.
As with myth and legend though, there were well-born and well-mannered highwaymen, they sadly were outnumbered by those who practiced their trade with brutality. Violence and rape were common. When Tom Wilmot had difficulty removing a woman's ring, he cut off her finger. Highway robbers originated during the English Civil Wars. When Charles I was defeated, many Royalists had their estates confiscated.
Left bankrupted these cavaliers journeyed into the world of highway robbery. Most plied their trade on the four main roads leading to London. The Great Western Road, Hounslow Heath, the Great North Road, the Dover Road Oxford Road. However, the establishment of the public stagecoach in 1658 gave highwaymen a new target, especially after 1734 when the coaches began to carry mail.
But as policing improved with the establishment of the Horse Patrol around London in 1805, and the Metropolitan Police in 1829, it meant the time was up for highwaymen.
Claude du Vall was known as a ‘true gentleman of the road’. Born in Normandy he arrived in England after being hired by English royalists and then became a footman to a nobleman. Loved by the ladies of all classes, he was a fine dresser and well mannered and never used violence.
Captured drunk in a tavern, Claude was sent to Newgate. He was hung at the age of 27, followed by an elaborate funeral at St Paul’s!
Dick Turpin is probably the most famous highwayman, along with his horse, Black Bess. Born in 1706 he apprenticed as a butcher then took to stealing animals to slaughter. Caught in the act he hid, but resurfaced in a gang known as the Essex Gang. The gang invaded isolated farmhouses, terrorizing and torturing the female occupants into giving up their valuables.
At one robbery it is reported that when the widow refused to co-operate he hoisted her into the open fire until she gave in.
By 1737 Turpin had achieved such notoriety the bounty on his head had escalated to one hundred pounds. However, it couldn’t last and eventually he was captured while using an assumed name and sentenced to death. Like a true showman he even hired five mourners for 10 shillings each.
But highway robbery was not just the forte of the male population. English aristocrat Lady Katherine Ferrers (4 May 1634 – c. 13 June 1660) was also known also as the "Wicked Lady" and terrorized the county of Hertfordshire robbing and generally creating havoc before dying from gunshot wounds sustained during a robbery.
But why would a young woman, gentry even, take to the highways and rob people at gunpoint?
It all comes back to the politics of the time. Many families who were royalists were deprived of their property and incomes and forced to take to thievery to make ends meet. Married at 14 her family fortune and assets however were controlled by Katherine’s husband and sold off; as his wife she would have been powerless to stop him. But again as it was with the male of her trade, life is short and the young Lady Katherine died at the age of 26, shot during a robbery and found to be wearing men’s clothing.
What makes a person, a woman, particularly in those times when women’s roles were so restrictive to actually take to the roads? Death is inevitable as shown from the young age they died. So why the risk?
It has to be a desperate situation and for Tess, it’s either marry a man as despicable as her uncle, an abuser, or run away – but with no money to leave, sometimes you have to resort to something you would normally never, ever consider. Highway robbery.
Happy reading everyone
***About the book:
Forced into a marriage . . .
Compelled by her uncle to marry a man who has a predilection for violence, Tess Stanhope resorts to a ploy from her favorite novels to fund an escape—highway robbery. But her attempt is botched by a maddening, handsome rogue named Aiden.
Driven by revenge . . .
Aiden Masters, the Earl of Charnley, is hell-bent on avenging his sister’s brutal treatment at the hands of the criminal Florian Nash. He single-mindedly seeks vengeance at the expense of all else—even by furtively roaming the highways at night.
Blackmailed for love . . .
At a London party Tess meets up with Aiden once again and blackmails him...marry her or she’ll divulge to society his clandestine life as a highwayman. She desires a marriage in name only—but the more time they spend fighting their desire, the closer they come giving in.
“Stand and deliver.” Those three words made it all real, and the fantasy dissolved. Loosening her hold on the reins, she wrapped her free hand over the one holding the pistol and tried to steady it.
“Do as he says,” called a decisive voice, the icy tone echoing from the veil of darkness.
“What!” Her gaze switched momentarily to the other side of the copse as a rider and horse drew up alongside her. He brandished a pistol towards the carriage. Shock and fear ran in rivulets down her spine. She wanted to flee. Hide. But it was too late, and there was no going back.
Tess swallowed back her fear. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“Steady your pistol lad, or you’ll be dead in seconds.”
Lad? Lad? He talked to her.
“Don’t you want to share your takings?”
“Exactly.” She flicked her pistol toward the carriage driver, making sure he understood she meant business. “Hurry up.”
“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot. We’re simple folk with no money,” came a cultured voice. The carriage door slammed back and splintered.
“Don’t make them like they used to,” remarked the man on the horse beside her.
Her mouth pursed. “Go away.”
“No.” The ragged cloth tied across his mouth and nose muffled his voice. “Unless you want to get yourself killed, that is. These roads can be dangerous.”
Tess eyed him, and even in the dim moonlight witnessed a surprising twinkle in his eyes. “So why are you here? Should you not be tucked up safe and sound in your bed?”
“You need me.”
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Multi-published author Jane Beckenham lives in a tiny slice of paradise just north of Auckland, New Zealand. From her office she can watch the tuis and fantails flit about, along with families of pukeko and quails and a pair of lorikeets have taken up residence.
Along with the menagerie of bird life, are Jane’s husband of thirty years and two daughters, and her beloved dog, Bingo.
For the last ten years Jane has sat in her office every day, writing stories of hope and dreams that bring a smile to her face and hopefully her readers too. Romance, love and honor are the words in Jane’s tag line, and words she believes are the centre of all her romances.
Jane’s love of reading began as a child when she spent years in hospital. Those days inspired her dreams, which over the years have become a crucial part of her life. Dreaming of being able to walk again, then dreaming of her own happy after, and dreaming of becoming a mother, and subsequently adopting her daughters from Russia.
Come and dream a little while with Jane.
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