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Law and Order in LondonCrime and Punishment: Out of thine own mouth
Posted on Nov 07, 2004 - 10:30 AM by Bill McCann

At the Old Bailey Session on September 9th 1674, a person unnamed was indicted for highway robbery. He conducted his own defence and got just a little carried away . . .


One of the specialised itinerant dealers in 17th century England was the Higgler. He bought up poultry and dairy produce in the countryside, brought his purchase to market in the towns and returned with goods from the town shops which were not readily available in the countryside.

In 1674, a country Higgler was on his way to market in London and reached Highgate very early in the morning. He was accosted by a gang of four footpads who, finding that he had no money on him, began to relieve him of his poultry. They were interrupted, and made off, when a party of travellers arrived on the scene. The Higgler and some of the travellers gave chase and succeeded in catching one of the gang who was promptly handed over to the authorities.

He was brought to trial on September 9th at the Old Bailey sessions. He resolutely and absolutely denied that he had anything to do with the robbery. His denials under persistent questioning were so earnest and so convincing that the Higgler himself began to doubt that he had caught the right man. Seeing this, the prisoner decided that he would take an active part in the proceeding and bring the trial to a close with a clever piece of questioning.

The Higgler had testified that that he had been accosted by four footpads, two coming directly before his horse and two behind. "Very well," declared the prisoner, "If you are so certain that I was one of the gang will you say which pair I belonged to? Those in front or those behind?" The Higgler declared his belief that the prisoner was one of the pair who had approached him from behind.

"My Lord," the prisoner cried for all to hear. "this is a perjured villain and you ought not to believe a word he says, for by God I was at that time one of the two that came up before him!"

And with such an unequivocal confession, he was at once found guilty of highway robbery.

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