1713: Edward “Ned” Bonnet, the terror of Cambridge

Add comment March 28th, 2019 Charles Whitehead

(Thanks for the guest post to Charles Whitehead for the guest post — originally an entry in his true crime classic Lives and exploits of the most noted highwaymen, robbers and murderers, of all nations. This Bonnet biography’s mode of pithy episodic adventures cinched by a choice witticism or instructive event is highly characteristic of its genre. -ed.)

Edward Bonnet was born of respectable parents in the isle of Ely, in Cambridgeshire, received an education superior to many of his companions, and when he was only ten years old, gave the following proof of his promising genius. He was sent to the parson with the present of a sparerib of pork, wrapped up in a cloth in a basket. Ned knocked with some degree of importance at the door, which a servant answered, inquiring his business. “I want to speak with your master.” The master came. “Well, my dear, what is your business?” “Why, only my father has sent you this,” said young Ned; and gave him the basket, without moving his hat. “O fie! fie! child, have you no manners? you should pull off your hat, and say, — Sir, my father gives his service to you, and desires you to accept this small token. Come, go you out again with the basket, and knock at the door, and I ‘ll let you in, and see how prettily you can perform it.” The parson waited within until his impatience to receive and examine the contents of the basket incited him to open the door. But Ned was at a considerable distance, walking off with the present. “So ho! so ho, sirrah! where are you going?” “Home, sir,” replied Ned, in an equally loud voice. “Hey, but you must come back and do as I bade you first.” “Thank you for that, sir, I know better than that; and if you teach me manners, I ‘II teach you wit.” The father smiled at the story, and retained his sparerib.

At the age of fifteen, Bonnet was sent apprentice to a grocer, served his time with credit, was afterwards married to a young woman in the neighborhood, and continued in business until he had acquired about six hundred pounds. Unfortunately, however, he was reduced to poverty by an accidental fire. Unable to answer the pressing demands of his creditors, he left the place, and came up to London. Here he soon became acquainted with a band of highwaymen, and began with them to seek from the highway what had been lost by fire.

Nor did he long continue in the inferior walks of his new profession, but providing himself with a horse which he taught to leap over ditch, hedge, or toll-bar, and to know all the roads in the country, whether by day or by night, he quickly became the terror of Cambridgeshire.

Upon this horse, he one day met a Cantabrigian, who was possessed of more money than good sense, morality, or wit, in a calash with a dashing courtesan. Ned commanded the student to “stand and deliver.” Unwilling to show his cowardice before his companion, he refused. Without any respect for the venerable university to which he belonged, Ned by violence took from him about six pounds, and presenting a pair of pistols, constrained the hopeful pair to strip themselves, then bound them together, and giving the horse a lashing, the animal went off at full trot with them to the inn to which he belonged. But no sooner did these Adamites enter the town, than men, women, and children, came hallooing, shouting, and collecting the whole town to behold such an uncommon spectacle. The student was expelled for disgracing the university, and the courtesan was sent to the house of correction.

Humorous Ned next met with a tailor and his son, who had arrested him for five pounds. He commanded him to surrender, and received thirty-five in place of his five. “I wonder,” said the innocent son, “what these fellows think of themselves? Surely they must go to the place below for committing these notorious actions.” “God forbid,” replied the tailor, “for to have the conversation of such rogues there, would be worse than all the rest.”

Ned’s next adventure was with an anabaptist preacher, whom he commanded to deliver up his purse and scrip. The latter began by reasonings, ejaculations, and texts, to avert the impending evil. Ned instantly put himself in a great passion, and replied, “Pray, sir, keep your breath to cool your porridge, and don’t talk of religious matters to me, for I’ll have you to know, that, like all other true-bred gentlemen, I believe nothing at all of religion; therefore deliver me your money, and bestow your laborious cant upon your female auditors, who never scold with their maids without cudgelling them with broken pieces of scripture.” Whereupon, taking a watch and eight guineas, he tied his legs under his horse, and let him depart.

On another occasion, Bonnet and a few associates met a nobleman and four servants in a narrow pass, one side of which was enclosed by a craggy and shattered rock, and the other by an almost impenetrable wood, rising gradually considerably higher than the road, and accosted them in his usual style. The nobleman pretended that he supposed they were only in jest, and said, “that if they would accompany him to the next inn, he would give them a handsome treat.” He was soon informed that they preferred the present to the future. A sharp dispute ensued, but the nobleman and his men were conquered; and the lord was robbed of a purse of gold, a gold watch, a gold snuff-box, and a diamond ring.

Being conducted into the adjacent wood, and bound hand and foot, the robbers left them, saying, “that they would bring them more company presently.” Accordingly, they were as good as their word, for in less than two hours they contrived to increase the number to twelve, on which Ned cried, “There are now twelve of you, all good men and true; so bidding you farewell, you may give in your verdict against us as you please, when we are gone, though it will be none of the best; but to give us as little trouble as possible, we shall not now stay to challenge any of you. So, once more, farewell.”

Ned Bonnet and his comrades now going to the place of rendezvous, to make merry with what they had got, which was at a by sort of an inn standing somewhat out of the high-road between Stamford and Grantham, it happened at night to rain very hard, so that one Mr. Randal, a pewterer, living near Marygold alley in the Strand, before it was burnt down, was obliged to put in there for shelter. Calling for a pot of ale, on which was the innkeeper’s name, which was also Randal, the pewterer asked him, being his namesake, to sit and bear him company.

They had not been long chatting, before Ned and one of his comrades came down stairs and placed themselves at the same table; and understanding the name of the stranger, one of the rogues, fixing his eyes more intently than ordinary upon him, in a fit of seeming joy leaped over the table, and embracing the pewterer, exclaimed, “Dear Mr. Randal! who would have thought to have seen you here? it is ten years, I think, since I had the happiness to be acquainted with you.”

Whilst the pewterer was recollecting whether he could call this spark to mind or not, for it came not into his memory that he had ever seen him in his life, the highwayman again cried out, “Alas! Mr. Randal, I see now I am much altered, since you have forgotten me.” Here, being arrived at a ne plus ultra, up started Ned, and with as great apparent joy said to his companion, “Is this, Harry, the honest gentleman in London, whom you so often used to praise for his great civiIity and liberality to all people? Surely then we are very happy in meeting thus accidentally with him.”

By this discourse they would almost have persuaded Mr. Randal that they perfectly knew him; but being sensible of the contrary, he very seriously assured them that he could not remember that he had ever seen any of them in his life. “No!” said they, struck with seeming astonishment; “it is strange we should be altered so much within these few years.”

But to evade further ill-timed questions, the rogues insisted upon Mr: Randal’s supping with them, which invitation he was by no means permitted to decline.

By the time they had supped, in came four more of Ned’s comrades, who were invited also to sit down, and more provisions were called for, which were quickly brought, and as rapidly devoured.

When the fury of consuming half a dozen good fowls and other victuals was over, besides several flasks of wine, there was not less than three pounds odd money to pay. At this they stared on each other, and held a profound silence, whilst Mr. Randal was fumbling in his pocket. When they saw that he only brought forth a mouse from the mountain of money the thieves hoped to find piled in his pocket, which was only as much as his share, he that pretended to know him started up, and protested he should be excused for old acquaintance sake; but the pewterer, not willing to be beholden, as indeed they never intended he should, to such companions, lest for this civility they should expect greater obligations from him, pressed them to accept his dividend of the reckoning, saying, if they thought it equitable he would pay more.

At last one of them, tipping the wink, said, “Come, come, what needs all this ado? Let the gentleman, if he so pleases, present us with this small treat, and do you give him a larger at his taking his farewell in the morning.” Mr. Randal not liking this proposal, it was started that he and Ned should throw dice to end the controversy; and fearing he had got into ill company, to avoid mischief, Randal acquiesced to throw a main who should pay the whole shot, which was so managed that the lot fell upon Randal. By this means Randal, having the voice of the whole board against him, was deputed to pay the whole reckoning; though the dissembling villains vowed and protested they had rather it had fallen to any of them, that they might have had the honor of treating him.

Mr. Randal concealed his discontent at these shirking tricks as well as he could; and they perceiving he would not engage in gaming, but counterfeited drowsiness, and desired to be abed, the company broke up, and he was shown to his lodgings, which he barricadoed as well as he could, by putting old chairs, stools, and tables against the door. Going to bed and putting the candle out, he fell asleep; but was soon awaked by a strange walking up and down the room, and an outcry of murder and thieves.

At this surprising noise he leaped out of bed, and ran to the door, to see whether it was fast or not: and finding nothing removed, (for the highwaymen came into his chamber by a trap-door which was behind the hangings,) he wondered how the noise should be there in his apartment, unless it was enchanted; but as he was about to remove the barricade to run and raise the house, he was surrounded by a crew, who, tying and gagging him, took away all his clothes, and left him to shift for himself as well as he could.

One day having the misfortune to have his horse shot under him, Bonnet embraced the first opportunity to take a good gelding from the grounds of the man who kept the Red Lion inn. Being again equipped like a gentlemen, he rode into Cambridgeshire, and met with a gentleman, who informed him that he had well nigh been robbed, and requested him to ride along with him for protection. As a highwayman is never out of his way, he complied, and, at a convenient place, levied a contribution, as protector of the gentleman, by emptying his pockets of eighty guineas. He, however, had the generosity to give him half-a-crown to carry him to the next town.

After having, according to computation, committed three hundred robberies, another thief [Zachary Clare -ed.], being apprehended, in order to save his own life, informed against Bonnet, who was apprehended, not upon the highway, but in his own lodgings, and sent to Newgate, and at the next assizes carried down to Cambridge, sentenced and executed before the castle, on the 28th March, 1713, to the great joy of the county, which had suffered severely by his depredations.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Other Voices,Public Executions,Theft

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1713: Juraj Janosik, Slovakian social bandit

Add comment March 17th, 2014 Headsman

On this date (most likely) in 1713, Slovakian “Robin Hood” figure Juraj Janosik was hung on a hook in Liptov County for his outlawry.

Janosik was a flesh-and-blood man, but much of what is known or believed about him lies squarely in the realm of folklore.

He hailed from the village of Terchova. You’ll find Terchova today just on the Slovakian side of the Polish border; in Janosik’s time, this was the Habsburg Kingdom of Hungary.


In Janosik’s native Terchova, a walking path leads to a monumental statue of the famed outlaw. (cc) image from Andre Skibinski.

Janosik is said to have fought with the anti-Habsburg Kuruc guerrillas in his youth, then joined the imperial army when that rebellion fizzled, then found his short life’s calling when detailed to guard a brigand named Tomáš Uhorcík. The two went into (Uhorcík’s) business together in about 1711, and Janosik’s natural aptitude soon made him the leader of their robber band.

From pine-forest lairs the merry bandits preyed on aristocrats and rich merchants throughout their mountainous home territories and into Moravia, Silesia, and Slovakia and are supposed to have taken chivalrous care not to injure their prey other than financially. They’re inevitably also credited with sharing the fruits of their heists with the poor.

When Janosik became celebrated in later centuries his virtues both moral and martial would multiply by each astonishing retelling. In this Polish verse, for example, Janosik is less Robin Hood and more Terminator as he boldly presents himself at a royal tourney and avenges the honor of Slovakian maids raped by some of the contending knights.

“O king, an accusation I bring thee!” he proclaimed.
“Our women are dishonored, our village maidens shamed!
Twelve of our maidens ravished — on these twelve knights the guilt! —
Twelve of our village maidens! Let blood for blood be spilt!

“Twelve cottages dishonored — twelve homes lament today …
Sire, throned on gold, be gracious — give ear to me, I pray!
Blood must be shed, and bloody must be the foeman’s face;
I come, I come avenging our Slovak maids’ disgrace!”

Then all men stood astounded, and silent fell the ring.
“What word is this? How durst thou? Who art thou?” asked the king.
“A hill-born outlaw, hetman Janosik, that am I.”
Then marvelled all the courtiers, and king enthroned on high.

And the king’s visage slowly with rising wrath was lit,
And his moustache was bristling, his grizzled brows were knit.
Upon that band of Magyars, twelve gentlemen, he glowered.
Beneath the crested headgear twelve heads were earthward lowered.

“What, willest thou to fight them, all twelve, and brow to brow?”
— “With all, O king,” Janosik made answer; “all, and now!
O king, twelve fields of harvest a single gust will clear;
Thus let me, single-handed, meet these twelve warriors here.”

Then the king’s sceptre signalled; the trumpets gave one blast.
Janosik fixed his girdle, and off his mantle cast.
The king and all the courtiers, they marvelled to behold
The shirt that came from Juhasz, the trousers looped with gold.

There from his cap a bundle of discs, all golden, rayed,
And moved he ever so little, the cap a tinkling made.
A row upon his axe-haft of brazen rings he had;
At every step he swung it. His shoes in steel were clad.

His hand had gripped the hatchet, and there he took his stand.
Heralds struck up; then signalled the king, with sceptred hand;
Twelve lances, like a forest thick-timbered, took their aim,
And at Janosik’s bosom twelve lances flying came.

Hola! in golden Budzyn, hola! how went it, tell!
And in the king’s chief city what thing that day befell?
Upon that day what pastime might there the king await
In his dear daughter’s honor, by his town’s golden gate?

Now on the sand, all shattered, twelve lances fell and crashed,
And off the polished helmplates twelve glittering sabres flashed.
For see! up sprang Janosik, and raised his arm to strike,
Whistled the tune of Juhasz, and whirled around his pike.

How like a flame of lightning that hatchet circled round!
Erdoedy, count, with vizor hewn through, was on the ground;
Pallavicini, margrave, had rent his horse’s rein;
His riven skull was soiling the sand with bloody stain.

And now Prince Bathyani on his left side had dropt;
Right hand and sword were severed. Count Palffy’s brows were chopt.
And soon Prince Esterhazy upon the sand lay low,
Scrabbling the ground; and straightway his face was white as snow.

Not long did Count Festetics smile in the light of day,
But by the brothers Toskoel fell dead — and dead were they.
And then, before Janosik, the remnant lay in death.
When the twelfth corpse had fallen, he drew a mighty breath,

And leaned upon his weapon; like some rich beechtree then
He stood; there lay before him twelve haughty gentlemen;
Twelve golden suits of armor and twelve sharp sabres lay;
And dumbly gazed the people upon that mortal fray.

And no man spoke, and all men a tomblike silence kept.
To the king bowed Janosik, and low his cap he swept.
Then in their blood were carried twelve corpses from that place
And thus avenged Janosik those Slovak maids’ disgrace.

But the actual Janosik was quite vincible.

His career only really lasted a year or so; he was captured in 1712, escaped, and was soon re-taken. It seems that despite the marauders’ usual care for the safety of their victims, they managed to kill a Father Juraja Vertíka.

March 17, 1713 was the date of Juraj Janosik’s conviction and death sentence; though not explicitly recorded of Janosik, the usual practice would have been to carry out such a sentence without delay. Many of his comrades met similar fates: Uhorcík, for instance, was put to death a month after Janosik.


Janosik Hanged, by Miloš Jiránek (1906). (Via)

The bandit’s legend has survived and thrived after his death in literally hundreds (per Hobsbawm) of poems, legends, and folk ballads, like Jan Botto’s epic “The Death of Janosik”.

Oddly, Martin Votruba argues,** there is no indication that anyone in 1713 or the years following celebrated Janosik with anything like the fervor he eventually attained.

Janosik is all but invisible as a literary figure until the late 18th century, according to Votruba. Pesumably his name attached to miscellaneous anecdotes and exploits — enough to keep it in the conversation of bandits.

Around the turn to the 19th century Janosik’s person seems to have become gradually conjoined to stories and songs about other brigands, both real and fictional, just as these characters were booming in literary popularity. Juraj Janosik went from being just a guy who’d be mentioned in passing in a list of bandits, to the bandit. (Votruba guesses that the linguistic similarity our fellow’s surname had with with generic male name Jan, Janik, or Janko — variations on “John” that were commonly used for entirely legendary outlaws in folk songs — helped to form the connection)

Only in the 1830s and 1840s did the long-dead outlaw, who by then dominated lowbrow bandit-legend folklore, begin to take on the form familiar today — that of “a benevolent, rebellious, tragic, quasi-folkloric freedom-fighter” called “Janosik.” And “since this happened in a period of mounting ethnic activism in central Europe, Janosik could not become merely a romantic hero. The Slovak literary and social discourse highlighted his ethnicity, which then appeared in implicit contrast to the ethnicity of the now politically overpowering Hungarians.” The rich guys Janosik robbed — not ethnically specified in the earliest sources — now became oppressive foreign lords. Janosik’s growing corpus of attributed exploits now earned elite artistic attention.

He’s never looked back since.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, he’s been the subject of many film treatments, most recently in 2009.

* Translation by Oliver Elton from the Slavonic and East European Review. American Series, Vol. 2, No. 2 (November 1943)

** Martin Votruba, “Hang Him High: The Elevation of Janosik to an Ethnic Icon”, Slavic Review, Vol 65, No. 1 (Spring 2006).

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Hungary,Murder,Myths,Outlaws,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Soldiers,Theft

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