Heroic and romantic highwayman, or ruthless and murdering criminal? Certainly in real life, Dick Turpin fell into the latter camp, but thanks to literary interpretations of him and others of the same ‘profession’, he’s somehow become the former, hasn’t he? In Kindred Spirits: York, I wanted to address the image he’s managed to garner, as well as noting that he was indeed executed near the city for his crimes.
Of course, writing about Dick Turpin, I did of course have to share this video, from the Horrible Histories gang. It doesn’t take much for me to find a reason to share one of the HH videos – there may be a couple more throughout the month! But back to Dick Turpin. He’s an interesting character, for somebody who was a fairly common criminal in his day. A member of the Essex/Gregory gang, involved in numerous robberies, then becoming a highwayman, involved in at least one fatal shooting.
Following his execution in April 1739, legends began quite swiftly to swirl about Turpin, thanks to an account by Richard Bayes, which documented the trial, but really kicked off in the nineteenth century, when fictionalised versions of his life and times were written. One of the most famous was of course about his horse, Black Bess, but the tale of his overnight ride from London to York, if it ever happened at all, was certainly not undertaken by him, but another criminal. But who ever let the truth get in the way of a good story?
Should known historical criminals really ever become heroes? Isn’t Robin Hood, real or imagined, just as bad, when it comes to it, as Dick Turpin? Why do we, as readers or writers, always love a bad boy?