Highwaymen Beset by Naked Victims! (1721)

I went looking for something less depressing than the horrific murders in the last two posts, so I hoped I’d find something that would at least make me laugh. I searched for ‘naked highwayman’ to see what I’d get. I didn’t get an actual naked highwayman (boo), but I did get this pair of disaster-bastards from Oxfordshire. Rooting for the naked and unarmed countrymen here.

Saturday,  Mar. 25, 1721
Publication: Applebee’s Original Weekly Journal (London, England)

Full Transcript:

On Friday last two Highwaymen were brought to our Castle Gaol, for an Attempt to robb two Country Men. The Story is very remarkable; they set upon two Countrymen in Whitney, (within seven miles of this City), And the Highwaymen being well Arm’d, but the Countrymen naked of Weapons; the latter quietly deliver’d their Monies what little they had : They unsatiable Wretches not satisfy’d with they poor Country Men’s money, resolv’d to stript them, and take away their Cloths, and also to take their Horses. They Countrymen being very unwilling to be stript ; Expostulated first with them, and beg’d them to let them alone, and not stript them ; but this making them more Cruel and Eager ; they honest Men boldly engag’d them, tho Naked and Unarm’d ; and, as Providence order’d it, both the Rogues Pistols, for both of them endeavour’d to Shoot, mis’d Fire : In that very Juncture another Traveller came up to them by meer Chance upon the Road ; this encouraged the honest Men so much, that they laid about them Furiously, and one of the Highwaymen going to stab one of them with a Bayonette, they Countryman put it by, and closing with him, the Highwayman in the Scuffle wounded himself very sorely in the Thigh : In short, this so encouraged the Country Men, that after a long Engagement they Master’d they Thieves, took them both, and brought them to Oxford, where they were carried before the Vice-Chancellor, and by him committed to the Castle. Upon examination they prove to be two Dragoons of ——- Regiment, from which they both Deserted some time ago. it is said that several other People come in against them for other Robberies, so that there are several Indictments likely to be brought against them ; and which is better than all the rest, the two honest Countrymen, instead of being Robbed, are like to get 40l. a piece by Act of Parliament, for apprehending Highwaymen.
P. S. On Friday next one of their Comrades is to be executed here, for robbing on the Highway some time ago, he was Condemn’d at our Assizes.
Your Humble Servant,
E. M.

Just picturing the absolute scenes of two well-armed dragoons being set upon by some naked guys, everything flapping in the breeze, as none of the Dragoons’ weapons actually work. I could make so many homoerotic jokes. So many. Please feel free to make them for me.


Whitney: Witney, Oxfordshire, on the River Windrush. It’s within 12 miles of Oxford, though, not seven. Maybe he is measuring in country miles or something.

stript : strip/stripped, as in, strip them naked.

Providence : in this context, referring to the protective care of God, and discussions/understandings of its usage fits into a framework of discourse around fate vs free will, God’s providential actions and so on.

laid about them : beat them, attacked them

Bayonette : variant spelling of bayonet, a long, sharp blade that can be fixed to the end of a rifle and used as a weapon. In this case, the highwayman tried to use it without it being fixed, I guess, and ended up stabbing himself in the thigh. Lol.

Vice-Chancellor : Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. This was Robert Shippen, who was VC from 1718-1723. See also: The Encyclopaedia of the University of Oxford (Hibbert, C. & Hibbert E. (eds) 1992, Papermac, London) The VC had more powers than just over the University, and in this case was able to exercise his jurisdiction by committing highwaymen to gaol (jail).

Dragoons : a member of any of several cavalry regiments in the British army. The name of the regiment is redacted in the printed piece to not bring it into disrepute/not get sued.

Deserted : left without leave. There are a few articles on desertion from the British Army in the eighteenth century, e.g. GILBERT, ARTHUR N. “Why Men Deserted from the Eighteenth-Century British Army.” Armed Forces & Society 6, no. 4 (1980): 553–67. There’s an open access thesis on this topic by Ronnie Haidar, University of Windsor, CA: Desertion and Discipline: How British Soldiers Influenced the Military Justice System during the Seven Years’ War

40l. : £40. The ‘l.’ stands for ‘livres’, which is an Anglo-Norman throwback (post-1066). ‘s.’ stands for shillings, and ‘d.’ represents pence, but comes from the Latin ‘denarius’, and has been in use as an abbreviation since the Middle Ages. In 1720, the estimated buying power of £40 was the equivalent to roughly what £4,644.30 could buy you in 2017, according to the National Archives Currency Converter tool.

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