The Victorians in many ways were just like us: they enjoyed a good scandal whenever it was reported in the press, they liked both trashy and high-brow entertainment, and like today, they had their popular heroes adored by both adults and children. Let me introduce you to the Harry Potter of the late-Victorian era: Mr Jack Harkaway.
Harkaway was not a real person but a fictional character, immortalised in countless novels and boys’ adventure magazines. And when I say he was popular, I am not exaggerating.
It is hard for us at a distance of over a century to appreciate just how popular Harkaway was with younger readers; in many ways he was the Harry Potter of the late-Victorian period, a character who basked in worldwide fame. So high was demand among newsagents for the latest instalment of a Jack Harkaway, a ‘penny dreadful’ serial, that (allegedly) they battled with each other outside the Edwin J. Brett’s offices—the publisher of The Boys of England—to obtain copies which they could then sell to their younger customers.[i] Hemyng’s first Harkaway serial, entitled Jack Harkaway’s Schooldays was originally published in 1871 in the columns of Brett’s The Boys of England, a penny magazine for younger readers.
Within months, the publishers of The Boys of England knew that they were on to a hit: it had already appeared in the United States in several periodicals by the end of that year, and two years later it was being reprinted in both the United Kingdom and the United States in different magazines. The London-based publisher Hogarth House decided to then issue the first run of serials in clothbound library editions, while similar publishers in America decided to follow suit.
It should be said here that, although the original Jack Harkaway stories were serialised in The Boys of England, it was only children who read of Harkaway’s exploits. Just like Harry Potter today, both children and adults devoured his books. Newspaper and magazine advertisements publicising the release of the latest Harkaway novel, for example, declared that ‘every boy and man should read and have in their possession in a complete form Jack Harkaway’s Schooldays’.[ii]
Harkaway was still fondly remembered by some newspaper correspondents as late as the 1960s, when he was described in The Times as ‘a character dear to boyish readers’.[iii] And even in 2000, Keith Waterhouse in the Daily Mail fondly recalled reading reprints of these penny dreadfuls, although he oddly likened the-then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to Jack Harkaway.[iv]
Recent scholarship from Theresa Michals has investigated the blurred lines between those works which literary critics have traditionally thought of as children’s literature were read by many adults. The situation is further complicated by the fact that many adult novels were republished in children’s editions. Michals concludes that many late-Victorian novels were written for ‘children of all ages’, just like, as The Times’s correspondent said of Harkaway in the 1960s, that he was a figure for ‘boyish’ readers—those whose reading tastes might be considered immature—instead of just boys, much like those grown up but rather immature men today read Harry Potter.[v]
Although Hemyng originated the character, having been kept extremely busy writing four Harkaway serials between 1871 and 1874, he soon after laid down his pen and other, now anonymous, authors carried Jack’s adventures further afield. Besides, even though Harkaway’s success had allegedly managed to propel sales of The Boys of England to over 250,000 copies per issue, Hemyng would not have benefitted from this popularity due to the flat fee payment system used by Brett and many other penny publishers.[vi] In the twentieth century some American critics doubted that Hemyng was the original author of the work as it was originally published anonymously.[vii] The tales published in Britain were available for sale in the USA and those printed in the USA were available in England, so it was rather unclear, by the early 1900s, if he was a British hero or an American hero. And once the American writers took over, they were not that bothered about continuity between the various stories. Jack could be visiting Cuba in one serial and be in America in another.
While Harkaway’s success has been studied before in terms of its importance in the history of the penny dreadful publishing industry, he remains a figure whose novels are more often cited rather than actually read, usually with a view to investigating Harkaway’s place in the late nineteenth-century moral panic over penny dreadfuls.[viii] Few indeed, if any, articles have ever subjected the text of the serials to in-depth critical review; the serials are often cited but rarely read and this is something which this chapter hopes to partially remedy. After all, a serial which allegedly sold over 250,000 copies, which appealed to readers of all ages, ought not to be overlooked.
But let’s have a brief overview of this lad’s life and deeds.
Unlike the heroes of the five shilling popular novels, who were usually the son of some aristocrat or upper middle class family, Harkaway’s origins were a little more humble: he was an orphan who was raised in a school for poor children. As he entered his teenage years, he grew increasingly tired of being made to learn so he ran away from school, boarded a ship, and set off on an adventure.
In time, he acquired a servant called Monday, who was obviously based on Defoe’s Man Friday from Robinson Crusoe (1719). The professor and explorer, Dr Mole, also took young Jack under his wing. The exploits of this trio took them around the world. Mole was there to provide the adult advice to Harkaway when he needed it, especially because he was fond of playing pranks on people and generally being an annoyance to those who met him, and Monday was there as the faithful servant who would give his life to save Jack in any situation.
Sometimes Harkaway’s pranks backfired on him somewhat, such as the time he had to do battle with a 15ft python. Professor Mole, Harkaway, and Monday once joined the crew of a sailing ship in the West Indies, but Jack learns that a scientist has brought a large snake on board as a specimen to study when they return to England. Ever reckless, he decides that he will release the snake from its box and then prank his professor by telling him someone wants to see him down below. It does not go as planned for the snake was
Fully fifteen long … the snake, astonished at his unexpected freedom, raised his ugly head and glared savagely at Jack, who picked himself up and retreated to a safe distance.
“Morning, Governor,” he said, nodding his head, “how do you find yourself?”
The python’s only reply to this was to uncoil himself and glide out of his box on to the floor. Jack was rather astonished at his prodigious size; he did not think he was half so big or formidable, and was rather sorry he’d let him out.[ix]
When the crew were alerted to the fact that the snake had escaped, they were clear that it was Jack’s problem for him to sort out. So he had to go in and decapitate the poor thing.
And they did get into some pretty hair-raising situations: Harkaway became the scourge of pirates and bandits the world over. In Italy, he ensured the apprehension of a notorious outlaw named Barboni.
Although he was a rascal, he had a good heart and would do anything for his friends. He had a deep hatred for the Boers, however, whom he regarded as racist, and when the Boer War broke out, he enthusiastically enlisted to serve his country. in Jack Harkaway in the Transvaal: or, Fighting for the Flag (1900), set during Boer War. When Jack captures a lone Boer, he does not pass up a chance to humiliate his captive by making him sing English patriotic songs:
“…Don’t get up. Keep on your knees; I like to see you that way. Now, follow me, pay attention: say ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘God Save the Queen.’”
“What!” cried [the Boer] … “Here you are. ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘God Save Your Queen.’ Ugh! There is a lump in my throat. You make me sick. That Queen sticks. She will choke me. I say it, but don’t mean it.”
“Now, sing it,” continued Jack, putting the rifle a few inches nearer to his head. “I set you a go. Don’t mumble, but raise it. Give us a chest note. ‘Send her Victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us, God Save the Queen.’”
With the utmost reluctance, and making as many grimaces as a monkey with the spasms, the Boer followed Jack, and then rolled on the floor, burying his face in his hands.
“Hurrah! That’s your sort. Bravo our side. ‘Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves, and the Transvaal Boers shall never make us slaves.’”[x]
Where Jack’s original adventures took him to deserted islands and mainly British colonies, American authors had him gallivanting all over China, Cuba, Greece, and of course the United States, where he meets with Native Americans and spends some time living on the prairies.[xi]
Eventually, after a long life at sea and getting into scrapes, Jack married his childhood sweetheart. They had a son together but one novelist killed off his wife and then set the stage for a series of adventures featuring both Jack Harkaway and his son.
And, if you look closely at the cover for my forthcoming book, Heroes of the British Empire (2020), you’ll see this guy has pride of place!
[i] Christopher Mark Banham, ‘Boys of England and Edwin J. Brett’ (Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Leeds, 2006), p. 61.
[ii] ‘Advertisements and Notices’, The Illustrated Police News, 1 February 1873, 4.
[iii] ‘The Most Exciting Boat Race: No Wonder Jack Harkaway Felt a Bit Baked After Oxford’s Win’, The Times, 31 March 1960, 14.
[iv] Keith Waterhouse, ‘Blair’s Bound to Please in Brighton’, Daily Mail, 28 September 2000, 14.
[v] Teresa Michals, Books for Children, Books for Adults: Age and the Novel from Defoe to James (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), p. 128, p. 135.
[vi] ‘Jack Harkaway’s Creator’, Daily Mail, 20 September 1901, 3.
[vii] Banham, ‘The Boys of England and Edwin J. Brett’, p. 60.
[viii] John Springhall, ‘A Life Story for the People? Edwin J. Brett and the London “Low-Life” Penny Dreadfuls of the 1860s’, Victorian Studies, 33: 2 (1990), 223–46; John Springhall, Youth, Popular Culture and Moral Panics Penny Gaffs to Gangsta-Rap, 1830–1996 (London: MacMillan, 1998), pp. 38–97; Louis James, Fiction for the Working Man, 1830–50: A Study of the Literature Produced for the Working Classes in Early Victorian Urban England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963) pp. 159–60;
[ix] Bracebridge Hemyng, Jack Harkaway After Schooldays (London: Publishing Office, 1873), 25–6.
[x] Bracebridge Hemyng, Jack Harkaway in the Transvaal: or, Fighting for the Flag (London: Harkaway House, 1900), p. 55
[xi] J. Randolph Cox, The Dime Novel Companion: A Source Book (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2000), pp. 129–30.
George William MacArthur Reynolds (1814-79) was one of the Victorian era’ most prolific novelists. Inspired by Eugene Sue’s Mysteries of Paris (1843), Reynolds’s famous The Mysteries of London (1844-46) shined a light on the crimes committed by members of criminal upperworld and underworld. Reynolds was also famous as the editor of Reynolds’s Newspaper, a radical newspaper which eventually became the leading left(ish) wing periodical of its day (sometimes our modern definitions of ‘left’ and ‘right’ are not easily translatable on to historical figures). The paper was published every Saturday, and the first page would feature an editorial from the man himself, commenting upon a variety of social issues. As a man who obviously had a firm understanding of the nature and causes of crime in nineteenth-century London, evident by his Mysteries novels, in 1851 he wrote an essay entitled ‘The Crime and Profligacy of London’ in Reynolds’s Newspaper, which delineated what he thought were the causes of crime.
Reynolds hated the monarchy and the aristocracy with a passion, although, ever the gentleman, he had respect for Victorian herself; it was merely the institution that she represented which he abhorred. One of the reasons he campaigned for reform to Britain’s state apparatus was because, in his view, the state should exist for the betterment of the social condition of the people:
The political institutions of a country are supposed to be established to ensure the well-being of the community at large. It is consequently fair and rational to deduce an answer to the question – Whether our much-vaunted institutions be really valuable and beneficent, or whether they be inefficient and pernicious?
Armed with statistics, Reynolds pointed out that, in 1851, the crime statistics compiled by the government and the police made for grim reading:
To show the amount of depraving, demoralizing, criminal and vicious influences at work in the metropolis alone, the subjoined estimate has been drawn up from official documents, by persons whose veracity can be relied upon: Children trained to crime, 1600; Receivers of stolen goods, 5,000; Gamblers by profession, 15,000; Beggars, 25,000; Thieves, &c., 50,000; Drunkards, 30,000; Habitual gin drinkers, 180,000; Persons subsisting on profligacy, 150,000.
Victorian intellectuals often praised the English constitution as being one of the best in the worlds; governed by a constitutional monarch whose MPs exercised power on her behalf, resulting in a stable form of government; and this in turn, so it was thought by the political establishment, meant that Englishmen (and it was thought of in exclusively gendered terms at this point) enjoyed wonderful degree of political liberty, in spite of the fact that only the middle classes and the aristocracy could vote.
Yet Reynolds had no time for people who praised what he saw as a corrupt and undemocratic system, having declared in an earlier article that,
Nothing can be more disgusting than to hear individuals boast of English freedom. There is no real freedom in this country; and the persons who idolise a shadow are either knaves or fools. Those who fatten upon the corrupt institutions of our country will, doubtless, applaud them to the skies; and those who are too prejudiced or too ignorant to view them in their proper light, echo the praises which the selfish and interested bestow upon them.
After citing his crime statistics, Reynolds asks
Who will dare boast of our “blessed institutions” and “our glorious laws” after this fearful exposure? Those stupid vaunts are annihilated by the statistics of crime in a moment.
According to Reynolds, the rottenness of the English constitution was the cause of crime in nineteenth-century London. The narrow upper middle and aristocratic oligarchy which ruled Britain at the time had passed a series of laws which were deliberately designed to punish the poor for being poor. What did the establishment expect, then, but for paupers to turn to crime because they were voiceless? The poorest in society, according to Reynolds, were being systematically excluded from it due to the self-interest of the aristocracy and ‘moneyocracy’.
Nine-tenths of crime, according to Reynolds in the article, have as their cause the punitive and self-serving actions of the British establishment, and at the head of this system was the monarch and the royal family, too spineless to ever intervene on behalf of her subjects whom she professed to care for.
The anonymously-authored Lazarillo de Tormes was first published in Spain in 1554. It is a picaresque novel – a term derived from picaro meaning ‘rogue’ or ‘rascal’. The genre emerged in Europe at a time when the gradual breakdown of feudalism was occurring: the old bonds of loyalty and fealty which each class owed to one another were disintegrating in the face of emergent capitalism and individualism. Picaresque novels such as Lazarillo de Tormes, then, often took socially marginal figures as their protagonists and depicted their struggles to survive in a new social and economic order. By the sixteenth century, money mattered just as much as birth in Europe, and to succeed one has to work hard – a sentiment expressed by Lazarillo himself in the introduction when he makes a snipe against the aristocracy:
I’d also like people who are proud of being high born to realise how little this really means, as Fortune has smiled on them, and how much more worthy are those who have endured much misfortune but have triumphed by dint of hard work and ability.
Personally, I find the argument that the genre was ‘a response to the breakdown of feudalism and the culture that sustained it’ much more convincing than those scholars who say the form was merely adapted from Arabic literature, in particular the Arabic maqama, and through it try to claim an Arabic origin for the birth of the novel (I have, however, given the citation to one work which makes such an argument in the interests of balance). Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila weighs up the arguments for an Arabic origin in his new book and concludes that some limited influences from the Arabic maqama can be found in the picaresque novel, but that the maqamas simply were not popular enough to have ever had any significant influence upon the picaresque.
Lazarillo’s Early Life
The whole novel is told from Lazarillo’s point of view. He was born in Tejares, a village near Salamanca. When he is young, his father is arrested for ‘bleeding the sacks’ of the townsfolk’s grain. His father is punished by being conscripted to serve in the army, where he dies. Lazarillo and his mother then move to Salamanca and she makes money by cooking meals for students and washing stables boys’ clothes. His mother gets to know one of the stablemen quite well – a black slave who is always coming to the house and bringing his mother gifts such as bread and pieces of meat. Lazarillo soon finds himself with a mixed race baby brother. Eventually, the slave’s master catches him stealing food to give to Lazarillo’s mother. The slave is whipped and basted with hot fat as punishment, and his mother is also given 100 lashes and ordered never to approach the slave again.
Lazarillo and the Blind Beggar
Lazarillo’s mother finds new employment at inn and there she raises her two sons. One day a blind man comes to the inn and asks if he might take Lazarillo off her hands and serve as his guide. Without much compunction, Lazarillo’s mother agrees and says to him that ‘now you must look after yourself’. The blind man and Lazarillo then set out to leave Salamanca. As they reach the edge of the city, the man gives Lazarillo a beating, for no other reason than to ‘show him who’s boss’ and to make him ‘sharp’. After another few days, the blind man starts to teach Lazarillo thieves’ slang, and says:
I won’t make you a rich man, but I can show you how to make a living.
Under the ‘protection’ of this man, Lazarillo experiences what we now call child abuse or neglect. Although the blind man obtains some not inconsiderable sums of money, he keeps poor Lazarillo half-starved. So Lazarillo has to learn how to use the man’s blindness to his advantage. As it is Lazarillo who has to prepare and cook both their meals, he makes sure that he gets the best bits of bread and meat, while leaving the inferior cuts to the blind man. The blind man, furthermore, keeps the pair’s bread supplies in a padlocked sack. Lazarillo simply bleeds the sack and eats some of the bread while the man is sleeping, and sews it back up. In addition, the blind man is a con man – he pretends to be a Holy man who says prayers for people who are sick and dying (all for a fee, of course). But the man’s customers always give payment to Lazarillo, who is supposed to check the amount, so Lazarillo simply siphons off funds to keep for himself. While at meal times the blind man keeps a tight hold of his wine cup, Lazarillo finds a long straw and sucks some of the wine out of it. Eventually the blind man cottons on to this trick, and starts keeping the cup of wine between his knees at meal times. So Lazarillo devises a new plan: at every meal he complains about being cold and asks to sit on the floor between the man’s knees for warmth. While sitting on the floor, Lazarillo makes a small hole in the bottom of the wine cup and sits there drinking the drops which fall out. After a few weeks, the blind man catches Lazarillo out again, and one day as he is sitting between his master’s knees waiting for the wine to drop out, the blind man simply smashes the cup between Lazarillo’s teeth, knocking several of his teeth out and cutting him in the face quite badly.
After the incident with the wine cup, Lazarillo vows to get revenge on his master. This often takes the form of leading his blind master over very uncomfortable and rocky roads, which hurts his master’s feet. One day his master throws Lazarillo a scrap of bread while he is cooking a nice fat sausage. Lazarillo is then commanded to go and buy wine for him. While the blind man is fumbling around for coin in his pockets, Lazarillo quickly grabs the sausage and replaces it with a rotten turnip and goes off to but some wine. When Lazarillo returns having eaten the sausage, the man guesses what he has done and starts to beat him, accusing Lazarillo of eating the sausage. Lazarillo protests his innocence but the blind man is not convinced, so he sticks his nose right into Lazarillo’s mouth to smell whether he has eaten the sausage. Lazarillo’s nerves, as well as the fact that a smelly old man has his nose stuck in his mouth, get the better of him and Lazarillo ends up vomiting in the blind man’s face. All the village people laugh at the blind man for this. Soon after this Lazarillo finally gets sweet revenge upon the blind man – one day it is raining heavily in the town square, and the blind man says that Lazarillo must guide him to a place of shelter. Led by Lazarillo, the pair starts running, and Lazarillo allows the blind man to run head first into a marble pillar, and afterwards taunts him saying:
You could smell the sausage but you couldn’t smell the post?
After this, Lazarillo abandons the blind man, and runs to the city gates to get out before they close and he makes his way to Torrijos.
Lazarillo and the Priest
Lazarillo spends a few days begging in Maqueda, and then a priest passes by. He asks Lazarillo if he would like to be employed as a servant, to which Lazarillo enthusiastically says yes. But the priest is even more stingy than the blind man, especially with food. The priest keeps all of the good food locked in a wooden chest, and Lazarillo is only permitted to eat one onion every four days, although the priest himself dines on the finest food. One day while the priest is out a tinker calls and asks Lazarillo if anything needs repairing in the house. Nothing needs repairing, but Lazarillo begs him to try and open the chest. Luckily, the tinker has a key which just about fits the lock on the food chest, and he kindly leaves it with Lazarillo. For the next few weeks Lazarillo takes little bits of bread at a time, which greatly restores his strength and health after having lived on a diet of one onion every four days. Eventually, the priest begins to notice the gradual depletion of the bread:
If I hadn’t locked this up myself, I’d swear someone stole it.
So the priest begins to meticulously record every morsel of food that goes in and out of the chest. Lazarillo now has to come up with a new scheme – he decides to make little holes in the side of the chest and make it appear as though mice have been getting in and eating the bread. The priest finds these holes and simply covers them up. But then more holes appear, making the priest think that he has a mouse infestation – this continues for a matter of weeks and eventually the chest is full of many holes. The priest lays many mousetraps but they catch nothing, all the while more and more bread is going missing. The priest asks his neighbours for advice and they tell him it is most likely a snake that is getting in and making the holes, which understandably makes the priest even more worried. Eventually Lazarillo’s scheme is discovered, however: at night Lazarillo sleeps with the key in his mouth; however, the key drops partially out of his mouth while he is sleeping with the consequence that his breathing begins to sound like hissing. The priest is awakened by this hissing noise and panics, thinking that it is the snake. He gets his club and walks towards where the noise is coming from, and he sees that Lazarillo’s key matches the padlock to the food chest. He beats Lazarillo with a stick for this and puts him out of doors, and Lazarillo’s six months with the priest thus comes to an end.
Lazarillo and the Gentleman
Lazarillo then makes his way to Toledo and begs for a few days. The people of Toledo appear to be quite stingy towards beggars, and all that he gets is advice ‘to get a job’:
Because charity not only begun at home but stayed there too.
Eventually, a gentleman comes to speak to him who offers him a job as his servant. Lazarillo gets excited because he thinks that the gentleman is rich and that he will have all the food in the world that he wants. However, when he gets to the gentleman’s lodgings, it is bare and there is no food in there. Moreover, there is only a single bed in the apartment, and Lazarillo has to sleep in the same bad with his new master. Lazarillo soon realises that he has fallen in with an impoverished aristocrat who only ‘keeps up appearances’ by wearing fine clothes and walking about town.
However, the gentleman is never cruel to Lazarillo like his previous two masters were. Lazarillo gladly tends the house while his master goes out, fetches water from the river, and when Lazarillo goes begging for food outside he always shares what he gets with his master. One day Lazarillo comes home with 4lbs of bread, a cow’s foot, and some wine for which his master is very grateful. Lazarillo muses upon his life so far, and decides that he likes this master best – the other two masters had plenty of food but were cruel and never shared it, but the gentleman cannot give what he has not got, and never tries to steal the food from Lazarillo. As they are talking over their ‘feast’ of bread and wine, Lazarillo asks the gentleman about his history. Lazarillo is told that the gentleman was forced to move here after a dispute with another man of lower rank in his home town. The man in question apparently spoke too casually to him, even though the man of lower rank was actually richer than the gentleman. When the gentleman came to the town, his original thought was that he might obtain a salaried position as another nobleman’s servant, but upon second thoughts he deemed such a position to be beneath him, and there were no positions available anyway. This is essentially a critique of the aristocracy – Lazarillo finds it strange that an aristocrat could be so vain as to endure virtual starvation because certain jobs which entail dealing with certain people are deemed to be beneath him.
Lazarillo’s time with the gentleman eventually comes to an end, however, when the rent collectors arrive at the lodgings. They demand two months’ rents, and the gentleman asks them to return later that evening and he shall give them the money. During this time the gentleman simply absconds. A constable is summoned and Lazarillo is arrested in his master’s place, as the rent collector thinks that he has colluded with the gentleman to hide away his money, but luckily Lazarillo’s neighbours vouch for his innocence and he is set free.
Lazarillo and the Pardoner
Lazarillo’s fourth employer was friar, but he does not spend very much time with this one and eventually he falls in with a Pardoner – a man who sells papal indulgences. A papal indulgence was a printed piece of paper that people could buy in order to ‘reduce the amount of punishment one has to undergo for sins’. This employer, Lazarillo discovers, is a real rogue:
He studied the salesman’s art, and he knew some really clever tricks.
One trick of the Pardoner’s, for example, was to heat a metal crucifix before saying Mass. When people came to Mass and kissed the crucifix it would burn them. The Pardoner would then say that the people who have been burned by the cross have been punished by God, and that the only way to mitigate this punishment would be through the sale of indulgences. Whenever the Pardoner entered a new town, he made friends with the local priests by giving them little gifts such as oranges, lemons, apples and in turn they would direct their parishioners to buy indulgences from him. In Toledo, the Pardoner has a lot of difficulty trying to get the townsfolk to buy indulgences. One day the Pardoner is seen arguing in the market square with the constable, who accuses the Pardoner of being a fraud. A physical fight almost breaks out between the two men but the townsfolk separate the two brawlers and lead them away. The next day the Pardoner is giving a sermon in the local Church and in walks the constable and repeats his accusation. The Pardoner does not reply but starts praying fervently to God that he will expose and punish his false accuser. Suddenly the constable begins to have a seizure and is foaming at the mouth. The parishioners beg the Pardoner to pray for the constable’s forgiveness. He does so and the constable apologises for ever having falsely accused the Pardoner, and suddenly everyone rushes to buy indulgences! Of course, it was all a trick: the charade was planned by the constable and the Pardoner.
The sale of indulgences really highlights the perceived corruption of the Church in sixteenth-century Spain. And criticism of these business practices was not limited to Spain – it was the sale of indulgences, or the ‘aggressive marketing practices’ of Pardoners such as Johan Tetzel that partially inspired Martin Luther to write his Ninety-Five Theses, thereby initiating the Protestant Reformation. The episodes which Lazarillo recounts of the cruel priest, as well as the evidently corrupt practice of the sale of indulgences, amounts to a scathing critique of the Catholic Church – a risky thing to write in sixteenth-century Spain, whose government was a leading light in the Counter-Reformation, and a country in which the fearsome Inquisition had long flourished also.
Lazarillo the Civil Servant
Eventually Lazarillo’s fortunes do improve: he stays with an artist briefly, and then is hired by a priest to deliver water to people’s houses. He eventually saves up enough money to buy nice new clothes and leaves that employment because his ability to buy nice clothes means that he is more respectable. He does briefly serve as a constable’s apprentice, but after seeing his master get beaten up by two criminals one night, he decides that a policeman’s life is not for him. Finally, he gets a job in the Civil Service as a town crier and regulator of all the trade in Toledo. Naturally, all the merchants in the city have to be on his good side, and he takes a cut of every merchant’s profit, and becomes very wealthy. Even the Bishop of Toledo eventually notices him, and proposes a marriage between him and one of the Bishop’s maids, to which Lazarillo agrees, and the narrative ends with Lazarillo saying that he is now ‘at the height of my good fortune’.
Why, then, is this seemingly minor work of literature even worthy of discussion? This work marked the emergence of picaresque fiction. The genre spread throughout Europe and quickly made its way to England where it evolved even further into the rogue novel. From here its influences spread into seventeenth- and eighteenth-century criminal biography and also contributed to the birth of the novel in England. The picaresque marked a departure from established modes of fiction writing – instead of depicting heroic leaders or aristocrats, picaresque writers dealt with something resembling ‘real life’. This is something which the authors of sixteenth-century rogue literature, as well as later authors such as Richard Head, Alexander Smith, and Charles Johnson would carry into their narratives, and the examination of ‘problematic lives’ reached its apex in the works of Daniel Defoe, whose novels such as Moll Flanders (1722) told the story of marginalised people, as well as the works of Henry Fielding, whoseJoseph Andrews (1742), Jonathan Wild (1743) and Tom Jones (1749) similarly dealt with subjects from low life. Even in some of the Victorian era’s famous novels can the picaresque be felt, for example, in both Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838) and G. W. M. Reynolds’ The Mysteries of London (1844). Thus what we witness in Spanish picaresque fiction is nothing less than the breakdown of feudalism and the emergence of a capitalist society, as well as the birth of (in a limited sense) the novel.
1. Quotations used in this essay are taken from the following critical edition: Anon. ‘Lazarillo de Tormes’ in Lazarillo de Tormes and The Swindler: Two Spanish Picaresque Novels Michael Alpert, Trans. (London: Penguin, 2003).
2. See Hal Gladfelder, Criminality and Narrative in Eighteenth-Century England: Beyond the Law (Baltimore: John Hopkins, 2001), p.34.
3. Anon. ‘Lazarillo de Tormes’, p.4.
4. Gladfelder, Criminality and Narrative, p.34.
5. See Jareer Abu-Haidar, ‘Maqāmāt Literature and the Picaresque Novel’ Journal of Arabic Literature Vol. 5 (1974), pp. 1-10
6. Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, Maqama: A History of a Genre (Harwassotwitz Verlag, 2002), pp.298-299.
7. Anon. ‘Lazarillo de Tormes’, p.7.
8. Anon. ‘Lazarillo de Tormes’, p.8.
9. Anon. ‘Lazarillo de Tormes’, pp.16-17.
10. Anon. ‘Lazarillo de Tormes’, p.23.
11. Anon. ‘Lazarillo de Tormes’, p.29.
12. Edward Peters, A Modern Guide to Indulgences: Rediscovering This Often Misinterpreted Teaching (Hillenbrand, 2008), p.13.
13. Anon. ‘Lazarillo de Tormes’, p.48.
14. Anon. ‘Lazarillo de Tormes’, p.60.
The eighteenth century was a period which witnessed a great deal of interest in crime. With a rising crime rate, and an inefficient system of law enforcement that consisted of corrupt thief takers and part time constables, people sought to understand the workings of the criminal mind. For this they turned to the numerous pieces of crime literature that were available in the eighteenth century. Alexander Smith’s A History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, Shoplifts, and Cheats (1714) was the forerunner to Captain Charles Johnson’s more famous Lives and Actions of the Most Noted Highwaymen (1734) and Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals (1735). With its combination of excessive moralism and sensational reporting, Smith’s work deserves discussion because it set the tone for successive portrayals of criminal in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature.
The details of who Smith was are now lost to us, and the name is most certainly a pseudonym – a guise that Smith’s successor Johnson would also adopt. The first volume of Smith’s compendium of criminals’ life stories appeared in 1714 in a small 12mo volume (5.5 inches by 7.5 inches). This first volume contained accounts of criminals that had appeared in the fifty years before Smith’s lifetime, including James Hind (1616-1652), James Whitney (d. 1694), and William Davies alias ‘The Golden Farmer’ (1627-1690). Smith’s had to at least pretend that his books were going to serve a moral purpose to make them acceptable to polite readers:
Since preceding generations have made it their grand care and labour not only to communicate to posterity the lives of good and honest men, that thereby men might fall in love with the smooth and beautiful face of virtue, but have also taken pains to recount the actions of criminals and wicked persons, that by the dreadful aspects of vice they may be deterred from embracing her illusions, we here present the public with ‘An History of the Lives of the Most Noted Highwaymen’. 
Despite this benign moral intention behind his work, all that Smith really wants to do is to provide sensational and violent entertainment. Despite the fact that he condemns all of the criminals in his account as ‘wicked’ or ‘licentious’, and stressing how his work was ‘not published to encourage wickedness’,  he takes great delight in going into great detail about every violent act the criminals commit. Take the case of a burglary committed on the house of Mr. Bean by Sawney Cunningham, a highwayman and murderer who lived during the reign of Charles I:
He went one day to pay a visit to one Mr. William Bean, his uncle by his mother’s side, and a man of unblameable conversation; who, asking his wicked nephew how he did, and several other questions relating to his welfare, he for answer stabbed him with his dagger to his heart. 
Smith recounts with great delight some scenes of rape, or ‘ravishing’ as he calls it. This is the case with a criminal named Patrick O’Bryan, who with his gang break into a house, tie up the five servants, and attempt to rape the lady of the house’s daughter:
Next they went into the daughter’s room, who was also in bed; but O’Bryan being captivated by her extraordinary beauty, quoth he, Before we tie and gag this pretty creature, I must make bold to rob her of her maidenhead. So whilst the villain was eagerly coming to the bedside, protesting that he loved her as he did his soul and designed her no more harm than he did himself, the modest virgin had wrapped herself up in the bedclothes as well as time would permit. And as he took her in one arm, and endeavoured to get his other hand between herself and the sheet, she made a very vigorous defence to save her honour, for though she could not hinder him from often kissing, not only her face, but several other parts of her body, as by struggling they came to be bare; yet by her nimbleness in shifting her posture, and employing his hands so well as her own, they could never attain to the liberty they chiefly strove for. 
Often criminal accounts were used as a source of erotica for eighteenth-century readers which indicates that little attention was paid by readers to the moral message behind such texts. 
Smith’s work was an instant success, and an enlarged version of his work appeared in two volumes in early 1719, with another expanded three volume edition appearing later the same year. By the time that volume three was published, some of Smith’s accounts begin to verge upon the ridiculous. In volume three the reader is treated to accounts of Sir John Falstaff and Robin Hood (who Smith tries to portray as wicked as all of his other criminals).
All of Smith’s accounts follow a similar formula: he opens the account of an offender’s life with a discussion of their birth and parentage. The felons’ parents are always good people. Whether this was true or not is unknown, but Johnson uses accounts of the parents’ lives so that they might act as foils to the offender, who is usually portrayed as a wicked sinner. This is the case with Ned Bonnet, a highwayman whose life is laid bare for the reader in Smith’s history:
Edward Bonnet was born of very good and reputable parents in the Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire, who bestowing some small education upon him, as reading, writing, and casting accounts, about the fifteenth year of his age, he was put an apprentice to a grocer living at Potton, in Bedfordshire, whom he served honestly. 
After an account of the offender’s good upbringing, Smith tells the tale of how the criminall falls into an ever deeper circle of vice and sin. The tales of most of the male offenders related by Johnson are usually cast as the tale of an idle apprentice who disdains honest employment. This usually follows as the result of keeping unwholesome company, as is the case of Tom Gerrard, a house-breaker:
Having some small education bestowed on him he was, when about sixteen years of age, put apprentice to a poulterer in Clare Market, where he served part of his time. But he addicted himself to ill company, so that wholly leading a loose and idle life, it drew him into many straits and inconveniences. To repair these, he took to the trade of thieving. 
What then follows is a tale of all the major robberies committed by the villain, often narrated in very quick succession. The offender’s crimes begin small, often through the pilfering of farthings and marbles, and then they move on to bolder offences. Crime was viewed almost like it was an addiction in eighteenth-century narratives, much like today how ‘soft’ drugs lead on to ‘harder’ drugs. 
Sometimes Smith’s highwaymen come across as sympathetic figures. The ambiguously sympathetic portrayals of highwaymen that we see in criminal biographies are a result of the fact that crimes were seen as sins by eighteenth-century contemporaries. These men are not wicked to the bone, but rather have simply made bad life choices which have consequently led them into a life of crime. Such bad life choices include becoming addicted to drink, gambling, whoring and all the other vices available to young men in eighteenth-century towns. 
Towards some of his highwaymen Smith even has a grudging admiration. This was especially the case with the seventeenth-century Royalist highwayman, James Hind. Smith was evidently an ardent royalist, and praised Hind for having once robbed:
That infamous usurper Oliver Cromwell as [he was] coming from Huntingdon to London. 
At the end of the tale readers are given an account of the criminal’s death, and notwithstanding the sympathetic portrayals of highwaymen that we encounter in Johnson’s narratives, hanging is usually portrayed as a sentence that is justly deserved, and the case of another highwayman, Jack Shrimpton, is typical of how many of Smith’s accounts end:
At length, being brought to trial, he was convicted not only for wilful murder, but also for five robberies on the highway. After sentence of death was passed upon him he was very careless of preparing himself for another world, whilst under condemnation […] When he came to the place of execution at St. Michael’s Hill, he was turned off without showing any signs of repentance, on Friday the 4th of September 1713. Thus died this incorrigible offender. 
However much readers may have sympathised with a criminal, they usually liked to see them punished just as much – to see justice done, as Joseph Addison (1682-1719) explained that:
The mind of man is naturally a lover of justice, and when we read a story wherein a criminal is overtaken, in whom there is no quality of which is the object of pity, the soul enjoys a certain revenge for the offence done to its nature, in the wicked actions committed in the preceding part of the history. 
What we witness when reading criminal biography, furthermore, is nothing less than the birth of the novel: criminal biography freely mixed fact and fiction and, dwelling as it did upon those of low social status (whereas the ‘romance’ – the dominant form of fiction – had usually dwelt upon aristocrats), it primed readers ready for larger factitious accounts of those from low social status. Indeed, Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722) cann be regarded as a criminal biography writ large.
True crime writing – the type of books that are sold in Railway station bookshops for a few pounds today – have continued Smith’s style of writing: lurid, sensational, and giving readers a glimpse into the criminal psyche. Even television shows such as Law and Order and Criminal Minds arguably do the same. The Georgians’ love of crime writing shows how, even though manners and social customs can change over time, people have always had a taste for the lurid and violent. And like people today, although the Georgians enjoyed crime as entertainment, they enjoyed seeing criminals get their just desserts also.
 Alexander Smith, A Complete History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, Shoplifts and Cheats Ed. Arthur Heyward (London: Routledge, 1927), p.1.
 Smith, Highwaymen, p.401.
 Smith, Highwaymen, p.24.
 Smith, Highwaymen, p.167.
 Peter Wagner, ‘Trial Reports as a Genre of Eighteenth-Century Erotica’ Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 5: 1 (1982), pp.117-121.
 Smith, Highwaymen, p.56.
 Smith, Highwaymen, p.167.
 Andrea McKenzie, Tyburn’s Martyrs: Execution in England, 1675-1775 (London: Hambledon, 2007), p.59.
 Lincoln B. Faller, Turned to Account: The Forms and Functions of Criminal Biography in Late Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 71.
 Smith, Highwaymen, p.138.
 Smith, Highwaymen, p.144.
 Joseph Addison, ‘Number 491’ in The Spectator: A New Edition, Reproducing the Original Text, Both as First Issued and as Corrected by its Authors Ed. Henry Morley (London: George Routledge, 1880), 699-701 (p.701)
A conference paper to be delivered at the Forthcoming MEMS Festival, University of Kent, 17-18 June 2016.
A number of excellent scholarly examinations have been carried out upon A Gest of Robyn Hode, notably by Stephen Knight, Thomas Ohlgren, John Marshall, and Alexander Kaufman, as well as older discussions by James C. Holt and R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor. For the most part, these essays have focused upon the content of the Gest within its medieval context. It is the most significant of all the early Robin Hood poems, and at 1,824 lines long is certainly the longest, in all likelihood being a compilation of various Robin Hood tales to which somebody, at some point, gave unity. It is the first time that Robin’s social mission is coherently articulated, being a man who ‘dyde pore men moch gode’. The Gest is definitely of medieval origin, dating from the mid-fifteenth century. It was not printed, however, until the early sixteenth century: one edition was printed by Jan Von Doesbroch in Antwerp around 1510; a further edition was printed by Wynken de Worde between 1492 and 1534; Richard Pynson also printed an edition of the Gest, with his death in 1530 obviously making his edition some time before that date; and William Copland printed an edition c.1560.
When the Gest was being printed, a new type of criminal was emerging: the rogue and the vagabond. These felons did not live apart from society, as the greenwood outlaws of the past did. Instead they were a part of society, and were relatively indistinguishable from the law-abiding. This paper suggests that changes in the nature of crime, and its concomitant cultural expression – the emergence of rogue literature – contributed to the idealisation of Robin Hood and his gentrification. This paper will therefore discuss the Gest in the context of it being printed alongside sixteenth-century rogue literature, such as Robert Copland’s The Highway to the Spitalhouse (1535-36), Gilbert Walker’s Manifest Detection of Dice Play (1552), John Awdley’s Fraternity of Vagabonds (1561), and Thomas Harman’s A Caveat for Common Cursitors, Vulgarly Called Vagabonds (1566). This is not to say that these works are taken here to represent a ‘true’ picture of crime during the early modern period. Instead these texts are viewed as ‘factual fictions’: they were real to contemporaries, being an outlet ‘through which the various classes of the “middling sort” of Tudor and Stuart England projected their anxieties’. People needed to believe in the myth of a good outlaw, even if such a myth was ultimately based upon a fiction, because real, contemporary criminals were altogether more menacing.
The medieval period certainly had its fair share of crime, and it is of course during the medieval period that tales of Robin Hood and Adam Bell first emerge. The sentence of outlawry literally placed an offender beyond the protection of the law. But the sentence itself began to lose much of its potency by the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was a sentence that existed prior to the establishment of the legal precepts of habeus corpus. It fell into disuse by the late medieval period because the social and legal system of England was changing from one based upon the exclusion of felons, to one based upon the confinement of offenders. Thus by the time that the Gest was printed, it would have been rare to find somebody who had been placed beyond the law: in the early modern period all people were subject to the law.
Additionally, when the time the Gest was being printed, the breakdown of medieval economic and social structures was occurring and society was on its way to becoming capitalist. As a consequence, the perceived increasing numbers of supposedly ‘masterless men’ were becoming a problem for the Tudor state, and were legislated against in the Vagabonds and Beggar’s Act (1495):
Vagabonds, idle and suspected persons shall be set in the stocks for three days and three nights and have none other sustenance but bread and water and then shall be put out of Town. Every beggar suitable to work shall resort to the Hundred where he last dwelled, is best known, or was born and there remain upon the pain aforesaid.
The problem remained a source of irritation to the authorities throughout the century. While the ‘rogue’ had appeared as a named literary type in Awdley’s Fraternity of Vagabonds in 1561, by the next decade the Vagabonds Act (1572) was also legislating against this new type of criminal:
All the partes of this Realme of England and Wales be p[rese]ntlie with Roges, vacabonds and sturdie beggers excedinglie pestred, by meanes wherof dailye happenethe in the same Realme horrible murders, thefts and other greate owtr[ages], To the highe displeasure of allmightie god, and to the greate anoye of the common weale.
J. Thomas Kelly writes that ‘poverty existed as a widespread and dangerous phenomenon of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England’. But at the same time as the poor were getting poorer, the rich were gaining more wealth, and a new type of ideology was emerging: individualism. Rogues and vagabonds, due to the breakdown of medieval social and economic structures owed loyalty to nobody. It is for this reason that Hal Gladfelder, writing about rogue literature, says that the genre’s emergence, and its portrayal of socially marginal people struggling to survive within a new economic system, was a response to the breakdown of feudalism. The rogues, vagabonds, and cony-catchers present in Tudor rogue literature were essentially deviant proto-capitalist entrepreneurs.
Outlaws and Rogues – Modus Operandi
There are some similarities between the ways in which greenwood outlaws such as Robin Hood and the rogues and vagabonds in Tudor rogue literature operated, As illustrated in the Gest, when Robin wishes to steal from somebody, he first invites them to dine with him in the forest. The traveller is treated to a sumptuous feast, and at the end of it Robin asks him to pay for the meal. If the traveller pleads poverty and is found to be lying to Robin, when the traveller’s effects are searched he is robbed of all the money about his person. Similarly, trickery is employed by many of the various types of rogues in the works of Walker, Awdley, and Harman. Often this was done, as illustrated in cases of Cheaters and Fingerers, described by Awdley, through conning unsuspecting victims out of their money while gambling.
But there were differences between outlaws such as Robin Hood and Tudor rogues. Firstly, outlaws lived in the forest. There is a sense of unity between the outlaws and the natural world:  the first glimpse of Robin Hood and Little John in the Gest sees him leaning against a tree. In another outlaw ballad that is of medieval origin, although not printed until c.1557-58, Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudeslie,  the poem similarly opens with a celebration of the natural world: ‘Mery it was in grene forest / Among the leves grene’. At no point is it ever implied in the Gest that the outlaws wish to live in the urban environment. The outlaws encounter trouble, for example, whenever they leave the forest and venture into the town:. For example, the outlaws have to make a swift getaway after Robin competes in the archery contest; and after being pardoned by the King and entering his service, Robin finds the world of the Royal court unpalatable, returning to the greenwood after an absence of only ‘twelve moneths and thre’. Outlaws who value freedom see themselves as having no place in urban environments.
In contrast, rogues do not operate within a separate physical space such as the greenwood. At this point it should be noted that rogues were not a homogenous criminal group: Awdley’s Fraternity or Vagabonds and Harman’s Caveat for Common Cursitors, for example, give different names to a number of various types of criminals. They could masquerade as common beggars, as Copland remarked in The Highway to the Spitalhouse. Or as in Walker’s A Manifest Detection of the Most Vile and Detestable Use of Diceplay, when his gentleman ‘haply […] roamed me in the Church of Paul’s’, the rogues that he is introduced to are seemingly gentlemanly tricksters from the shady world of dice play. Awdley in the Fraternity of Vagabonds makes reference to another different type of rogue: the Courtesy Man. This type of rogue, says Awdley:
Is one that walketh about the back lanes in London in the daytime, and sometimes in broad streets in the night season, and when he meeteth some handsome young man cleanly apparelled, or some other honest citizen, he maketh humble salutations and low curtsy.
The Courtesy Man will ingratiate himself into the honest gentleman’s service, but he will then repay their generosity by ‘stealing a pair of sheets or coverlet, and so take their farewell in the morning, before the master or dame be stirring’. Evidently, rogues are a product of the urban environment, and instead of wearing suits of Lincoln Green as Robin Hood is portrayed as doing in the Gest, Tudor rogues and vagabonds go abroad ‘commonly well-apparelled’, spending their days, according to their representations in rogue literature, in the back alleys and courts of the town.
Robin and the outlaws in the Gest do not steal from people indiscriminately, and instead they adhere to a strict moral code. In the first fytte of the Gest, Little John asks Robin:
“Where we shall take, where we shall leve,
Where we shall abide behynde;
Where we shall robbe, where we shal reve,
Where we shall bete and bynde.”
Robin’s reply as to whom the outlaws are permitted to steal from is clear and concise: they are not permitted to steal from any husbandman, nor any good yeoman, nor from any knight or squire. The only people that the outlaws are permitted to rob are corrupt clerics and the Sheriff of Nottingham:
“These bisshoppes and these archebishoppes,
Ye shall them bete and bynde;
The hye sherif of Notyingham,
Hym holde ye in your mynde.”
As Maurice Keen stated in the 1960s, ‘to the poor they [the outlaws] shall be all courtesy […] but to the rich and unjust no mercy is shown’. Although the idea that Robin steals from the rich and gives to the poor is not fully articulated in Gest, it is clear that he and his outlaws do not rob people indiscriminately.
Rogues, on the other hand, would steal from people of all social classes, and their victims could hail from both the poorer and wealthier classes. A ‘ruffler’ in Awdley’s work would, for instance, ‘goeth with a weapon to seek service, saying he hath been a servitor in the wars, and beggeth for his relief. But his chiefest trade is to rob poor wayfaring men and market women.’ The ‘frater’ would similarly ‘prey […] commonly upon poor women as they go to the markets’. Robert Greene would say of ‘devilish cony-Catchers’ in 1591 that:
The poor man that cometh to the Term to try his right, and layeth his land to mortgage to get some crowns in his purse to see his lawyer, is drawn in by these devilish cony-catchers that at one cut at cards looseth all his money, by which means he, his wife, and children [are] brought to utter ruin and misery.
Tradesmen could also be targets of these thieves, as Awdley says of the ‘whipjack’ that ‘his chiefest trade is to rob booths in a fair, or to pilfer ware from stalls, which they call “heaving off the booth”’. Alternatively, their victims could be of higher social status, just as the cheats in Walker’s Manifest Detection of Diceplay who spent their nights ‘taverning with trumpets, by day spoiling gentlemen of their inheritance’ (emphasis added). The rogues and vagabonds presented in Tudor rogue literature were people who were willing to make money by cheating and stealing. As the Gest makes clear, these are things that outlaws of Robin Hood’s type also aspired to, admittedly, but the difference was that people knew who outlaws were, and if they were truthful with them, and were not a member of the corrupt classes of society such as the clergy, they might have passed them unmolested.
It is clear that there was an emerging dichotomy between rogues, vagabonds, and greenwood outlaws during the sixteenth century. The changing reputation of Robin Hood between the late medieval period and the sixteenth century illustrates this: in Walter Bower’s Continuation of John of Fordun’s Scotichronicon (c.1440), Bower says that:
Then arose the famous murderer, Robert Hood, as well as Little John, together with their accomplices from among the disinherited, whom the foolish populace are so inordinately fond of celebrating both in tragedies and comedies, and about whom they are delighted to hear the jesters and minstrels sing above all other ballads.
Bower was a member of the Clergy and, judging by the treatment that clerics receive at the hands of Robin Hood in the Gest, it is perhaps no surprise that he treats of Robin negatively. But when chronicles from the sixteenth century are studied, however, the depiction of Robin Hood becomes less ambiguous. In John Major’s Historia Majoris Britanniae (1521), it is said that:
About this time it was, as I conceive, that there flourished those most famous robbers Robert Hood, and Englishman, and Little John, who lay in wait in the woods, but spoiled of their goods only those that were wealthy […] He would allow no woman to suffer injustice, nor would he spoil the poor, but rather enriched them from the plunder taken from the abbots. The robberies of the man I condemn, but of all robbers he was the most humanest and the chief.
Ned Browne […] a man infamous for his bad course of life and well known about London […] in outward shew a Gentlemanlike companion.
Despite his genteel outward appearances, however, he is a threatening figure, and would ‘bung or cut a good purse’ from either a man or woman if he could. Early during the next century, Thomas Dekker’s Lanthorne and Candle-light (1608) represented ‘the laws, manners, and habits of these wild men’ of London. Dekker showed how this supposed underworld, which appeared to mirror legitimate economic and social structures, was divided and subdivided in to ‘ranks’, and had their own ‘canting’ language.
Some efforts were made to gentrify the rogue, notably by William Shakespeare with his character, Sir John Falstaff. The rogue continued as a literary type in Richard Head’s The English Rogue (1665) which is essentially a ‘fond’ examination of excess and deception in the life of the protagonist, Meriton Latroon, linking the low-born rogue to his aristocratic counterpart, the rake. It would be rare for Robin Hood to receive negative treatment after the sixteenth century. An attempt would be made during the eighteenth century, when criminal biographies such as Alexander Smith’s A History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Noted Highwaymen (1714) described him as a man of a ‘wicked, licentious inclination’ who ‘followed not his trade’. It was perhaps easier to gentrify the outlaw and make him appear semi-respectable: he robbed according to a clear moral code, and he was easily identifiable. This way of operating set him in contrast to his more menacing, sinister underworld counterparts: the rogues, vagabonds, fraters, cony-catchers, and prigs who existed in urban settings in early modern England.
 See the following works by Stephen Knight: Reading Robin Hood: Content, Form and Reception in the Outlaw Myth (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015); Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003); Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw (Cambridge: Brewer, 1994). Works by Thomas Ohlgren include: Robin Hood: The Early Poems, 1465-1560 Texts, Contexts, and Ideology (Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 2007); ‘The “Marchaunt” of Sherwood: Mercantile Ideology in A Gest of Robyn Hode’ in Robin Hood in Popular Culture: Violence, Transgression, and Justice Ed. Thomas Hahn (Cambridge: Brewer, 2000), 175-190. There is also John Marshall’s research: ‘Picturing Robin Hood in Early Print and Performance: 1500-1590’ in Images of Robin Hood: Medieval to Modern Eds. Lois Potter & Joshua Calhoun Newark, Del.: University of Delaware Press, 2010), 60-82, as well as Alexander Kaufman, ‘Histories of Context: Form, Argument, and Ideology in A Gest of Robyn Hode’ in British Outlaws of Literature and History: Essays on Medieval and Early Modern Figures from Robin Hood to Twm Shon Catty Ed. Alexander Kaufman (Jefferson, NC: MacFarland, 2011), 146-164. Older works include James C. Holt, Robin Hood 2nd Edn. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1989) and R. B. Dobson & J. Taylor, Rymes of Robyn Hode: An Introduction to the English Outlaw 3rd Edn. (Stroud: Sutton, 1997).
 Dobson & Taylor, Rymes of Robyn Hode, 74.
 Anon. ‘A Gest of Robyn Hode’ in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales Eds. Thomas Ohlgren & Stephen Knight (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000), 80-168 (148).
 There is debate about the dating of A Gest of Robyn Hode: James C. Holt originally argued that ‘the Gest was first composed, in something close to its present form, in the fifteenth century, perhaps even as early as 1400’ – Robin Hood, 11. He subsequently revised this estimate, saying that c.1450 was a ‘safer date’ than c.1400 – James C. Holt, ‘Robin Hood: The Origins of the Legend’ in Robin Hood: The Many Faces of that Celebrated English Outlaw Ed. Kevin Carpenter (Oldenburg: Bibliotteks- und Enformationssystem der Universität Oldenburg, 1995), 27-34.
 Dobson & Taylor, Rymes of Robyn Hode, 71-72.
 Craig Dionne, ‘Fashioning Outlaws: The Early Modern Rogue and Urban Culture’ in Rogues and Early Modern English Culture Eds. Craig Dionne & Steve Mentz (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 33-61 (38).
 Andrew McCall, The Medieval Underworld (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1979).
 McCall, The Medieval Underworld, 109.
 Melissa Sartore, Outlawry, Governance, and Law in Medieval England (New York: Peter Lang, 2013), 14.
 Vagabonds and Beggars Act 11 Henry 7 c.2 1494 cited in J. R. Tanner (ed.), Tudor Constitutional Documents, AD 1485-1603 with an Historical Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930), 469-470. Admittedly this was not the first piece of legislation passed against vagabonds and beggars. Two statutes of Edward III punished ‘who wandered at night or otherwise acted suspiciously’, while another statute of Richard II similarly brought punitive measures against vagrants. But the Tudor legislation against vagabonds and suspected persons was different in several respects: the Reformation had eroded the Church’s welfare provisions for the poor, with the State forced to intervene (often in a haphazard and inefficient manner) in the granting of poor relief to those in need; Tudor legislation was more repressive than earlier laws, given the fact that the Tudor monarchs viewed the poor with suspicion, conscious of the lack of legitimacy for their rule – See J. Thomas Kelly, Thorns on the Tudor Rose: Monks, Rogues, Vagabonds, and Sturdy Beggars (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1977).
 An Act for the Punishment of Vagabonds 14 Eliz. 1 c. 5 Parliamentary Archives HLRO HL/PO/PU/1/1572/14Eliz1n5 (1572).
 Kelly, Thorns on the Tudor Rose, 111.
 Hal Gladfelder, Criminality and Narrative in Eighteenth-Century England: Beyond the Law (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2001), 34.
 Brooke A. Stafford, ‘Englishing the Rogue, “Translating” the Irish: Fantasies of Incorporation and Early Modern English National Identity’ in Rogues and Early Modern English Culture Eds. Craig Dionne & Steve Mentz (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 312-336 (323)
 Anon. ‘A Gest of Robyn Hode’, 92-101.
 Anon. ‘A Gest of Robyn Hode’, 117-123.
 John Awdley, ‘The Fraternity of Vagabonds ’ in Rogues, Vagabonds, and Sturdy Beggars: A New Gallery of Tudor and Stuart Rogue Literature Ed. Arthur F. Kinney (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), 85-102 (95-97).
 Knight, Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography, 17.
 Anon. ‘A Gest of Robyn Hode’, 90.
 For a critical discussion of Adam Bell, see Thomas Hahn, ‘Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley’ in Medieval Outlaws: Ten Tales in Modern English Ed. Thomas Ohlgren (Stroud: Sutton, 1998), 239-252.
 Anon. ‘Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudeslie’ in Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw 3rd Edn. Eds. R. B. Dobson & J. Taylor (Stroud: Sutton, 1997), 258-273 (260).
 Knight, Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography, 17.
 Anon. ‘A Gest of Robyn Hode’, 125-130.
 Anon. ‘A Gest of Robyn Hode’, 145.
 Robert Copland ‘The Highway to the Spitalhouse [1535-36]’ in Key Writings on Subcultures, 1535-1727: Classics from the Underworld, Volume One 3rd Edn. Ed. A. V. Judges (London: Routledge, 2002), 1-25 (5).
 Gilbert Walker, ‘A Manifest Detection of the Most Vile and Detestable Use of Diceplay, and other Practices Like the Same ’ in Rogues, Vagabonds, and Sturdy Beggars: A New Gallery of Tudor and Stuart Rogue Literature Ed. Arthur F. Kinney (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), 59-84 (66).
 John Awdley, ‘The Fraternity of Vagabonds, 94.
 Awdley, ‘The Fraternity of Vagabonds’, 95.
 Anon. ‘A Gest of Robyn Hode’, 143.
 Awdley, ‘The Fraternity of Vagabonds’, 95.
 Steve Mentz, ‘Magic Books: Cony-Catching and the Romance of Early Modern London’ in Rogues and Early Modern English Culture Eds. Craig Dionne & Steve Mentz (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 240-260 (240).
 Anon. ‘A Gest of Robyn Hode’, 91.
 Anon. ‘A Gest of Robyn Hode’, 92.
 Maurice Keen, The Outlaws of Medieval Legend 4th Edn. (Dorset: Marboro, 1989), 100.
 Awdley, ‘The Fraternity of Vagabonds’, 92.
 Robert Greene, ‘A Notable Discovery of Cozenage ’ in Rogues, Vagabonds, and Sturdy Beggars: A New Gallery of Tudor and Stuart Rogue Literature Ed. Arthur F. Kinney (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), 155-186 (164).
 Awdely, ‘The Fraternity of Vagabonds’, 92.
 Walker, ‘A Manifest Detection of the Most Vile and Detestable Use of Diceplay’, 71.
 Walter Bower, ‘Scotichronicon [c.1440]’ in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales Eds. Thomas Ohlgren & Stephen Knight (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000), 25-26 (26).
 John Major, ‘Historia Majoris Britanniae ’ in Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales Eds. Thomas Ohlgren & Stephen Knight (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000), 26-27 (27).
 Stephen Knight & Thomas Ohlgren (eds.) Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2000), 28.
 Knight, Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography, 48.
 Robert Greene, ‘The Black Book’s Messenger ’ in Rogues, Vagabonds, and Sturdy Beggars: A New Gallery of Tudor and Stuart Rogue Literature Ed. Arthur F. Kinney (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), 193-205 (193).
 Thomas Dekker, ‘Lanthorne and Candle-light ’ in Rogues, Vagabonds, and Sturdy Beggars: A New Gallery of Tudor and Stuart Rogue Literature Ed. Arthur F. Kinney (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), 213-260 (214).
 Craig Dionne & Steve Mentz, ‘Introduction’ in Rogues and Early Modern English Culture Eds. Craig Dionne & Steve Mentz (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 1-29 (2).
 Dionne & Mentz, ‘Introduction’, 2.
 Ken Gelder, Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice (London: Routledge, 2007), 8.
 Alexander Smith, A History of the Lives and Robberies of the Most Notorious Highwaymen Ed. Arthur Heyward (London: Routledge, 1933), 408.
People in the eighteenth century believed that they were living in a crime-ridden society. In addition to Capt. Alexander Smith’s and Capt. Charles Johnson’s criminal biographies, the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, and The Ordinary of Newgate’s Account, a series of books were printed in London entitled The Newgate Calendar.
There is no single authoritative text of The Newgate Calendar as there have been many versions of works bearing the name since the eighteenth century, so a brief history is offered here. Newgate Calendars were named after the infamous London gaol, Newgate, which was first built in 1188, and subjected to numerous renovations and rebuilds in its history until its demolition in 1904.
There were various criminal ‘calendars’ compiled from the beginning of the eighteenth century, such as The Tyburn Calendar, or the Malefactors’ Bloody Register (1705), and The Chronicle of Tyburn; or, Villainy Displayed in all its Branches (1720).
The first publication that bore the name of The Newgate Calendar appeared in 1774, entitled The Newgate Calendar, or the Malefactors’ Bloody Register, and published in five volumes. Five years later, there was The Malefactors’ Register; or, The Newgate and Tyburn Calendar, dedicated to the magistrate, Sir John Fielding (1721-1780), the co-founder of the Bow Street Runners, London’s first dedicated law enforcement agency.
Another publication, The New and Complete Newgate Calendar appeared in 1795, whilst William Jackson’s The New and Complete Newgate Calendar; or, the Malefactor’s Universal Register, appeared in 1818.
Like Johnson’s Lives of the Highwaymen (1734), the eighteenth-century version of The Newgate Calendar contains biographies of the most notorious criminals. For its sources, the various versions often directly plagiarised contemporary criminal narratives, in particular the ‘Last Dying Speech’ broadsides which contained news of convicted felons. In the words of the 1784 edition, The Newgate Calendar comprises:
All the most material passages in the SESSIONS PAPERS, for a long series of years; together with the Ordinary of Newgate’s Account of the Capital Convicts, and complete narratives of all the most remarkable trials. 
And some familiar faces appear in the pages of The Newgate Calendar such as Jack Sheppard (1702-1734), Jonathan Wild (1682-1725), and Dick Turpin (1705-1739). The claim to provide ‘complete’ and ‘true’ accounts of all the trials of these offenders, however, is a little suspect. Despite the claims of the Proceedings (upon which, as we have seen, The Newgate Calendar was based), for instance, to provide a ‘fair, true and perfect narrative’ the publishers of these works had the final say in their content, and they had to be entertaining so they could be profitable. Hence ‘greater attention [was] paid to murders, robberies, and thefts from the person (involving titillating details of prostitutes’ interactions with their clients)’ in order to ‘make the Proceedings appeal to a wide audience,’ and thereby proving profitable.
The accounts of each offender, like the broadsides and criminal biographies that they were taken from, were very formulaic in style. They begin with an account of the offender’s birth and parentage, and then describe his/her descent into a life of sin and depravity. Crime, if you have read some of the other posts on this site, in the eighteenth century was viewed as a sin. Criminals were not necessarily inherently wicked: they were people with a tragic fatal flaw in their character, which is why a lot of criminals are portrayed sympathetically in the accounts (murderers apart).  Hence in the case of the burglar Luke Cannon, it was ‘an early attachment to bad company, an early introduction to the paths of vice, [that] led with rapid success to his ruin’. 
At the close of the narrative they are hanged for their crimes.  In a world that lacked a professional police force, one of the aims of the eighteenth-century version of The Newgate Calendar was (as well as providing sensational entertainment), to function as moralist texts. Readers were supposed to shun the examples of sin and vice and avoid making the same unhappy mistakes that had led the criminals to the gallows.
In fact, the title page of the 1795 edition contains a short piece of verse which is illustrative of its aims:
The crimes related here art great and true,
The subjects vary, and the work is new,
By reading, learn the ways of sin to shun,
Be timely taught, and you’ll not be undone. 
It might be supposed that The Newgate Calendar was cheap entertainment for eighteenth-century readers. However, this is not the case: firstly, all editions of The Newgate Calendar were multivolume sets, and accompanied with fine engravings. Although we do not know the prices for the individual editions of The Newgate Calendar, comparisons can be made with the prices of other works. Volume three of Alexander Smith’s Lives of the Highwaymen (1719) cost half a crown, an expensive amount in the 1700s. Similarly, Charles Johnson’s Highwaymen addressed ‘gentlemen’. We are talking about a literate and sophisticated audience who read these books.
There were further publications bearing the name of The Newgate Calendar during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A major early nineteenth-century version was edited by two layers, Andrew Knapp and William Baldwin, in 1824, and given the name The Newgate Calendar; Comprising Interesting Memoirs of the Most Notorious Characters Who Have Been Convicted of Outrages upon the Laws of England since the Eighteenth Century, with a revised edition appearing in 1826.
After Knapp and Baldwin’s editions followed G. Thompson’s Newgate Calendar of 1840, which at first glance appears to be a virtual plagiarism of Knapp and Baldwin’s version. The penny dreadful version, The New Newgate Calendar, was then published weekly between 1863 and 1865, and then Camden Pelham published, in two volumes The Chronicles of Crime; or, the New Newgate Calendar in 1887.
The last large-scale five volume compilation of The Newgate Calendar was printed by the Navarre Society in 1927, whilst the Folio Society has more recently reprinted a selection of the most famous trials in two volumes, The Newgate Calendar, and The New Newgate Calendar (1951).
The legacy of The Newgate Calendar can be seen in any bookshop today. This publication, along with criminal biographies, initiated the whole ‘true crime’ book industry.
Thus although nobody today prints accounts of criminals in the same way as the publishers of The Newgate Calendar did, it has to be remembered that there would be no novels were it not for eighteenth-century criminal accounts.
 The New Newgate Calendar; or, The Malefactor’s Bloody Register 5 Vols. (London: A. Hogg, 1795), 1.
 Robert Shoemaker ‘The Old Bailey Proceedings and the Representation of Crime and Criminal Justice in Eighteenth-Century London’ Journal of British Studies 47: 3 (2008), 563.
 John Brewer The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (London: Routledge, 2013), 351.
 The New Newgate Calendar, 16.
 For a critical discussion of these accounts see Andrea Mckenzie Tyburn’s Martyrs: Execution in England, 1675-1775 (London: Continuum, 2007) and Lincoln B. Faller Turned to Account: The Forms and Functions of Criminal Biography in Late Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1987).
 The New Newgate Calendar, 1.