Archive for April 18th, 2020

1577: Eight English Gypsies condemned

Add comment April 18th, 2020 Headsman

The influx into Great Britain from the start of the 16th century of itinerant Romani — also known as Romanichal, English Travellers,* or (for their supposed Egyptian ancestry**) Gypsies — began the outbreaks of racism and moral panic that continue to this day.

April 18, 1577 marks the condemnation of six Gypsies: the date that sentence was executed — there’s little reason to suppose it would have been stayed — is not specifically recorded.. They’d forged official documents, which made them liable to a treason charge; but, merely being a Gypsy in England had been criminalized by a 1530 Act and the penalty of this crime upgraded to death in 1554.

“[A]n outlandish people, calling themselves Egyptians, using no craft nor feat of merchandise, who have come into this realm, and gone from shire to shire, and place to place, in great company; and used great subtlety and crafty means to deceive the people — bearing them in hand that they, by palmistry, could tell men’s and women’s fortunes; and so, many times, by craft and subtlety, have deceived the people for their money; and also have committed many heinous felonies and robberies, to the great hurt and deceit of the people that they have come among,” runs the description of the 1530 Act. Similar legislation was being promulgated all around continental Europe in this same period.

In practice neither law triggered wholesale genocide or expulsion, but lurking at the fringes of settled English habitation and bearing the stigma of crime and deviance, Romani stood in perpetual precarity. Little wonder that many became buyers in a black market of forged documents confirming their legitimate occupation. In this case, six Gypsies were apprehended in Berkshires in March 1577 making use of the counterfeit products of a Cheshire schoolmaster named Richard Massey.

Massey was lucky himself not to swing for this offense. The Gypsies, less so; according to David Cressy

Their leaders were tried to Aylesbury for high treason, for falsifying warrants under the Great Seal, though one, Philip Bastien, was set aside ‘because he may give evidence against others’. Roland Gabriel, Thomas Gabriel, William Gabriel, Lawrence Bannister, Christopher Jackson, George Jackson, Richard Jackson, and the widow Katherine Deago were all found guilty of ‘counterfeiting, transferring, and altering themselves in dress, language, and behaviour to such vagabonds called Egyptians, contrary to statute’. All were sentenced to be hanged, though whether all went to the gallows is uncertain. Katherine Deago was most likely reprieved, for a Gypsy with that name appeared in Essex a year later.

* Not to be conflated with Irish Travellers, who are of different heritage. The distinction is fraught political terrain in the U.K.

** Actually, this ethnic group hails from India, migrating thence around the 11th century.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Uncertain Dates

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