Jack Sheppard (1702-1724)

Source: Jack Sheppard (1702-1724)

Jack Sheppard (1702-1724) is one of my favourite thieves, second only, in my opinion, to Robin Hood. He was rather like an eighteenth-century Artful Dodger, a proper cheeky chappie who thumbed his nose at authority, escaping from gaol no less than four times. This post gives a brief overview of his life and legend.

Jack Sheppard was born in Stepney, London in 1702. His father died when he was young, and Sheppard was placed into the care of the Parish Workhouse, where he remained for some time before being apprenticed to a carpenter named Mr. Wood, of Wych Street near Drury Lane. Contemporary accounts such as The History of the Remarkable Life of John Sheppard (1724), the authorship of which has been credited to Daniel Defoe, tell us that Sheppard was in his early years a perfect apprentice.

Sheppard’s downfall into criminal ways, however, seems to be traced to the time…

Source: Jack Sheppard (1702-1724)

Sir John Falstaff, the Notorious Highwayman – Here Begynneth A Lytell Geste of Robin Hood…

So committed to historical accuracy were Alexander Smith and Charles Johnson that in their respective History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Noted Highwaymen (1714) and Lives and Exploits of the Most Noted Highwaymen (1734) they give us the life of Sir John Falstaff.

Falstaff lived, we are told by Smith and Johnson, during the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V. Being born of no great or distinguished parentage, they tell us that Falstaff took to the road with three accomplices to support his extravagant lifestyle. He was a very fat man, and his nicknames were:

– Ton of Man (a pun on the Biblical term ‘Son of Man’)
– Chops
– Sack and Sugar
– Fat-Kidneyed Rascal
– Bombast

Apparently Henry IV, who Smith tells us took to life upon the road for a short while, said to him:

You are so fat-witted with drinking of old sack, and unbuttoning thee after supper, and sleeping upon benches in the afternoon.

He was also a womaniser, and could often be found in the lowest bawdy houses of London, according to Capt. Charles Johnson.

Then came the wars of the roses, we are told by Smith and Johnson, and as a consequence of his acquaintance and friendship with King Henry, Falstaff received a commission to serve as a…

Source: Sir John Falstaff, the Notorious Highwayman – Here Begynneth A Lytell Geste of Robin Hood…

I Need A Hero: Why Medieval England Needed Robin Hood | The York Historian

A man in tights, a thief and a fox; Robin Hood has been presented in many different ways. To us, today, he is a legend who most will place within the reign of Richard the Lionheart and the evil King John, who fought the Sheriff of Nottingham and fell in love with the beautiful Maid Marian. However, the story has not always been the fairy tale we know it as today. The first mentions of the outlaw hero appear in the fourteenth century, when an outraged monk recorded several men repeatedly missing mass to listen to stories of Robin Hood and other outlaws such  as William of Cloudesley, who was an English version of the famous Swedish archer William Tell. Whilst these stories were orally told to a wide audience, from peasants to courtiers, work by Dobson has uncovered that the most popular audience for these stories was likely to be a middling class of townspeople. The main case for Dobson and other historians who support the claim rests on the word ‘yeoman’ which crops up repeatedly in the tales of outlaws. Yeomen were not only given important protection by outlaws and received help by them, but they themselves were a special type of yeoman; a forester. Why exactly did the middling rank of most societies suddenly find themselves in need of a hero who lived in the forest, robbed and murdered?

Unjust Laws

By turning a criminal into a hero, what the audience does is…

Source: I Need A Hero: Why Medieval England Needed Robin Hood | The York Historian

The Real Artful Dodger?

History forever fails to provide a satisfactory voice for the suppressed. Records and documents are formal and impersonal, as if the individual being written about was not an individual, or human, at all. This is exhibited through young convicts of the 19th century. My research led to John Camplin of Tottenham, a fourteen-year-old boy sentenced to transportation for life in 1818 over the robbery of a dwelling-house. The label of ‘convict’ appears to coldly define him within history, as if life outside of crime and punishment ceased to exist as society decided he did not deserve one. But what about his story?

John Camplin’s silence is broken through Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, which offers a literary insight into the lives of real lower class delinquents during the 1800s. The novel conveys a dramatic yet detailed account of child criminality rather than a strictly factual one. The most memorable character, Jack Dawkins, otherwise known as the ‘Artful Dodger’ for his experience in the trade of pickpocketing, is of a similar age and lifestyle to the juvenile. He possesses a larger than life nature with the ‘gift of the gab’, and communicates through a language of confidence and buoyancy, forever voicing his opinion. The comparison of the two youths…

Continue reading: The Real Artful Dodger?