7th January 1612. End of a Cutpurse.

John Stow records in his History of London, that in 1585: ‘There existed the Wotton Academy for people who were expert in relieving people of their wealth and which was to be found at an ale-house in Smart’s Quay near Billingsgate’[London].

One expert in this activity was John Selman of Shoe Lane, whose arraignment resulted from a felony, ‘neer Charing-Crosse, the 7th Ianuary 1612 in the King’s Chappell, at White-Hall, upon Christmas Day last, in presence of the King and diuers of the Nobility’ (sic).(1)

John Selman.

John Selman.

It was on that Christmas Day in 1611 when James I, Queen Anne and the Duke of York were receiving the sacrament in the Chapel Royal, Whitehall that a Mr. Barrie was ‘robbed by being pick-pocketed’, by a common thief who had tried to blend among the ermine-clad set at church.

Francis Bacon one of the judges, in hyperbolic mode, was indignant at the effrontery of Selman remarking: ‘The first and greatest sinne (sic) that ever was committed was done in Heaven, the second was done in Paradise being Heaven on Earth’…

The case caused several ballads to be written and playwright Ben Jonson wrote Selman into his Twelfth Night masque ‘Love Restored’ as Christmas Cutpurse and in his 1614 St. Bartholomew Fair where Ezekial Edgworth was Selman.

The case highlights two issues: that someone intent on crime could get so close to the King at divine worship, and that the Clerkship of the Green Cloth was then more than a sinecure, for the Chapel came within the royal jurisdiction of the Clerk, Sir Richard Bannister who was responsible for the apprehension of Selman.(2)

Credited with aiding in the arrest was Edmund Doubleday of the Worshipful Company of Vintners, lawyer and politician and jointly Warden of the Mint with Thomas Knyvet.

Doubleday must have had arresting qualities as he along with Thomas James Knyvet 1st Baron Knyvet (Knevytt), had been responsible for the apprehension of Guy Fawkes in the cellars of Parliament.

London then, as now, had its fair share of knaves, but not all as flamboyant as Mary Frith known as Moll Cutpurse, part of London’s demi-monde and employed in various illegal activities including pimping, pick-pocketing and fencing stolen goods.

She was also arrested for dressing indecently and had to do penance for evil living at St. Paul’s Cross. Not surprisingly she also featured in plays and chapbooks about her outrageous life including, ‘Mad Pranks of Merry Moll of the Bankside’, a fictional account of Mary Frith.(3)

She also featured in the Jacobean Play ’Roaring Girl’ composed by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker c 1607-10 at the Fortune Theatre.

Selman’s scaffold confession regretted his crime, ‘In the time of Divine Service and the time of the Sacred Communion’, and in that religious age his execution had to await until 12th Night elapsed; nowadays it might merit a crime number!

(1) (Sir Egerton Brydges-The British Biography. (Vol 1).

(2). We have seen occasions in the modern age of this with illegal entry to Buckingham Palace.

(3) It was entered on 7th August in 1610 in the Stationers Register, the lost chapbook by J Day ‘Mad Pranks of Merry Moll of the Bankside’.

It was performed by the later known Prince Henry’s Men.

Ref: The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in Vol 2 Ed by Robert Chambers/ Google.co.uk/books.

Ref: executiontoday.com/Pic.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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