Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1735 Engl. highwayman
Subject: highwayman bandit
Culture: English
Setting: highway robbery, England late 17th-18thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Royal Armouries Leeds 2022 p65
"Travelling the roads of England in the 17th and 18th century was a dangerous business as crime was rife.  The growth of trade generated wealth and a travelling community.  These traders and travellers represented rich pickings for the highwayman and footpad.  There was no organised force to deter and detect crime.  The country was served mostly by local constables and watch patrols who were often inefficient.  In defence of their trade and profits, travellers armed themselves and their transport more heavily than before."

* Ruff 2001 p218
"Highway robbery was ubiquitous, and early modern travel books sometimes noted sections of road particularly infested with bandits, just as modern guidebooks alert travelers to highway hazards.  Sixteenth-century guides warned that highway robbery was a problem both on the roads approaching great cities and on isolated rural paths.  Roads leading to large cities were traveled heavily and attracted robbers eager for the cash, merchandise, and personal property carried on such thoroughfares.  In the eighteenth century northern Surrey, near London, was a particular haunt of highway robbers, as were other sites on the approaches to the capital.  Cities, moreover, provided important bases for armed robbers.  Within their walls dealers in used goods, silversmiths and goldsmiths, and a raft of other merchants unconcerned about the origins of their purchases stood ready to receive stolen commodities.  And in the inns and taverns of large towns robbers established associations with accomplices and found refuge from the authorities."

​* Brandon 2001 p71-72
"Other countries in Europe had highwaymen but nowhere else do they seem to have flourished to the same degree.  Most of all on the main roads into London, but elsewhere across Britain highwaymen and footpads were to be found exacting their unofficial toll from the travelling public. They sometimes operated brazenly on the streets of London itself. ...
    "The reason why highway robbery was so prevalent in this country was because Britain was one of the few countries in Europe without a professional police force.  Elsewhere in Europe there were military patrols to keep the roads clear and apprehend wrongdoers.  In this country the Englishman was said greatly to value his freedoms, although in retrospect it is hard to ascertain what these actually were, and to think that these would be threatened by the existence of police forces.  Another issue was expense -- nobody wanted to pay for policing.  The Highwayman Act of 1692, however, established a reward of £40 'blood money' for the capture and successful prosecution of a highway robber.  This meant that the highwayman's greatest danger now lay with bounty hunters and informers.  However, the English had a remarkable live-and-let-live attitude towards highwaymen and when they spoke of them to foreigners it was in the awed tones that indicated real patriotic pride.  The Abbé de Blanc, who travelled extensively in this country in the late 1730s, said that highwaymen, at least those of the gentlemanly sort, were popularly regarded as heroes and were boasted of as having more pluck than the country's regular soldiers."

* Pringle 1991 p231
"In general the knights of the road were vain, boastful, and careless. Half the fun of robbing on the highway was bragging about it afterwards. ...
"During the first part of the eighteenth century highwaymen generally were better armed and better organized than ever before. None of the roads were safe, by day or by night. Indeed, one enterprising coach-builder advertised a bullet-proof chaise 'for the convenience of gentlemen travelling.' It was the same all over the country, though the blackest spots continued to be on the roads leading to London.
    "London was always the Mecca of highwaymen, and in the first part of the eighteenth century many daring robberies were carried out in the streets of the capital itself."

* Pringle 1991 p220
"Dick Turpin was , as Edgar Wallace described him, 'a coarse, illiterate boor.' As such, he was typical of many of the highwaymen of the eighteenth century. But the age of what Harrison Ainsworth calls 'night-errantry' (he puts it in italics so that we shan't miss the point) was not over by any means. The early years of the Brunswicks were distinguished by quite a number of 'gentlemen highwaymen,' with varying claims to the title. They did not take to the road out of political necessity, like the Royalists under the Commonwealth. They were for the most part sons of gentlefolk in straitened circumstances who inherited a taste for extravagance but little else.
    "These gentlemen did little to raise the tone of the road. Whatever manners their poor but proud parents had taught them were quickly forgotten. Naturally they had to mix professionally with men of the Turpin type; but instead of giving the latter a few sorely needed lessons in chivalry and courtesy, they soon became assimilated, and often rivalled their humbler-born colleagues for coarseness and brutality."


* Brandon 2001 p70-71
"This period has bequeathed the enduring image of the gentleman mounted on a fine horse, with riding boots and spurs, cape, tricorn hat and black mask concealing the upper face. The scene is completed with a moonlit night and a lonely road. Pistol at the ready, he draws out of the shadows and orders the carriage or traveller to stop with the immortal words, 'Stand and deliver!' He is polite but firm and once convinced that he has received all the valuables that could be surrendered, he raises his hat to the ladies, perhaps shakes the gentlemen's hands and with a courtly gesture bids them adieu and gallops off across the heath.  Such is the image of the 'gentleman of the road' and although it has been enormously embellished to enable novelists to sell more books and film-makers to enjoy box-office success, it contains elements of truth."

* Chrisman-Campbell 2019 p24
"In the climactic scene [of John Gay's Beggar's Opera 1728], the show's antihero -- the highwayman Macheath, better known as Mack the Knife -- stands shackled in Newgate Prison, torn between his two lovers ....
    "Part of the show's appeal was the recognizable contemporary clothing of the actors.  Macheath wore a red coat and a black tricorn hat trimmed with gold, his gold-laced waistcoat rakishly unbuttoned.  A captain in the army before turning to a life of crime, he retained his martial flair.  Macheath quickly became the archetype of the sharp-dressed, smooth criminal.  Visiting Newgate -- a real penitentiary -- in 1763, James Boswell described one robber, Paul Lewis, who was nicknamed 'Captain' because he had been in the Royal Navy.  'He was just a Macheath,' Boswell wrote.  'He was dressed in a white coat and blue silk vest ... and a silver-laced hat, smartly cocked.'"

* Byam 1988 p49 caption
"A three-cornered or tricorn hat would have been worn by the more respectable 18th-century highwayman."


* Byam 1988 p48
"In the lawless days before guns were subject to licensing, many firearms were made or adapted for self-defense against armed robbers, either on the road or in the home.  A gentleman on horseback could carry a pair of holster pistols on his saddle; when traveling by coach he could keep a small pistol in his coat pocket, or he or the coach's guard could carry a blunderbuss.  The blunderbuss was well suited to close-range confrontations and was used to defend ships as well as travelers.  Its wide muzzle helped scare an opponent and, if that didn't work, its charge or numerous lead balls gave its nervous owner a better chance of hitting the target.  Blunderbusses were often fitted with spring bayonets for additional protection, and pistol butts could also be used as clubs.  Inevitably, such weapons were equally suited to a robber's needs."