a roaring pursecutter

Mary Frith or Moll Cutpurse (1584 – 1659) was a notorious pickpocket and fence of the English underworld.

image found here

The other name by which she was known, “The Roaring Girl” is taken from roaring boys. The roaring boys were young men who caroused in taverns, and then picked brawls on the street for entertainment. Born in the mid-1580s, Mary presented herself in public in a doublet and baggy breeches, smoking a pipe and swearing if she felt like it.

Roaring Boys found here

She bred mastiffs and pampered her dogs like children. Each of them slept in their own bed, complete with sheets and blankets and were fed on special food she boiled up herself. Mary had grander ambitions than just a life of petty crime. In 1611 she performed (in men’s clothing, as always) at the Fortune Theatre. On stage she bantered with the audience and sang songs while playing the lute. It can be assumed that the banter and song were somewhat obscene, but by merely performing in public she was defying convention.

Mastiff found here

Mary was arrested for being dressed indecently on 25 December 1611 and accused of being involved in prostitution. She was required to do penance for her “evil living” at St. Paul’s Cross. She put on quite a performance  “weeping bitterly and seeming very pentinent, but it was since  thought she was maudlin drunk, being discovered to have tippled of three-quarters of sack”.

image found here

In 1614 she married Lewknor Markham, the son of playwright Gervase Markham. It has been alleged that the marriage was little more than a clever charade. Evidence shows that the whole thing was contracted to give Mary a counter when suits against her referred to her as a “spinster”. Lewknor probably took a cut of Mary’s earnings in return for her using his name. 

By the 1620s she was working as a fence and a pimp. She not only procured young women for men, but also respectable male lovers for middle-class wives. In one case where a wife confessed on her deathbed infidelity with lovers that Mary provided, Mary supposedly convinced the woman’s lovers to send money for the maintenance of the children that were probably theirs. It is important to note that, at the time, women who dressed in men’s attire on a regular basis were generally considered to be “sexually riotous and uncontrolled“, but Mary herself claimed to be uninterested in sex.

Drag King found here

Showman William Banks bet her £20 that she wouldn’t ride from Charing Cross to Shoreditch dressed as a man. But she did so in style, flaunting a banner, blowing a trumpet and causing a riot in the process. Part of the excitement was due to the fact that the horse she was riding was Morocco, the most famous performing animal in London. Shod in silver, it could dance, play dice and count money. Its most famous trick was climbing the hundreds of narrow steps to the top of old St Paul’s and dancing on the roof.

diving horse found here

However scary Moll Cutpurse may have been in public, the private Mary Frith was rather nice. Her house in Fleet Street, full of dogs and parrots, was always immaculate and surprisingly feminine, thanks to three full time maids. 

image found here

Published in: on February 24, 2012 at 8:26 am  Comments (49)  
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49 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Now now Nurse Myra. That’s a VERY transparent bid to attract three full time maids.

    • there’s no fooling you

  2. Let’s see…today is a Friday…we have a picture of a stockinged-and-suspendered maid sliding down a banister…could we be easing back into Corset Friday?

    • haha…. very intuitive of you dinah. but no bananas.

      • No dice, either?
        Because I think the horse might have brought some.

  3. What a wonderful iconoclast. And how very enlightened, having three full time maids. This is clearly what I’m lacking. I shall start the recruitment process immediately.

    • Be sure to get a good mix. I suggest a redhead, a brunette and a blonde.

  4. I’d be happy with one maid, but I’d have to make her duties very clear to her.

    • Clarification is very important.

  5. So she was kind of a cross between Katharine Hepburn and Rodney Rude? Fantastic. I wish I could have seen the stage show.

    Yeah for the corset!

    • Rodney Rude! I’d forgotten all about him.

  6. Which reminds me it has been years since I had a pint at the Moll Cutpurse pub

  7. Maybe two of the maids spend all their time walking the dogs and cleaning the parrot cages.

    • Sounds strangely familiar…

      The King

      • 😉

      • If I had a maid the first job I’d give her is cleaning the parrot cage. It takes me at least 40 minutes every weekend just to do a basic clean. At lease i get to use the guano on my geraniums

  8. you know that women lute players always make me hot. tease…

    • Well I didn’t. but now that I do…..

  9. The original tart with a heart?

    • There were probably a couple in the 14th century too. Tarts with hearts have been around a while.

  10. Wow that Mastiff is HUUGGE. It looks like a great Dane next to it and that thing looks tiny comparitively.

    • Mastiffs are the original coach hound. For people who want draught horses, but who don’t want to bother with all that stable/hay/oats paraphernalia…

  11. Reblogged this on Milenanik3's Blog.

  12. i kind of like this Mary for some reason.

    • She was a woman who knew what she wanted – a clean house!!

  13. That’s a very novel way to polish the bannister rail.

    • Dangerous too – she might get a splinter up her arse !

      [not to mention the knob at the bottom of the banister] 😉

  14. Ah, we need more people like her to defy social conventions.

    Also, I’d like to see my girlfriend in that outfit…

    • throw a fancy dress party…….!

  15. Twenty quid? That was an absolute fortune back then. It’s pretty good money even now just to ride a horse from Charing Cross to Shoreditch. Mr. Banks would have no shortage of takers for that wager today.

    • How many pints would it buy?

  16. I want three maids, although I don’t care whether my house is “feminine” or not… just immaculate will do.

    • I’d settle for clean.

  17. Cool post, Nursie. Go, the defyers of convention!

    Oh my, that drag king is a great beauty!

    • Yes, he is. Just about the handsomest I’ve ever seen.

      • Drag kings aren’t usually my cup of tea, but that one is especially gorgeous.

  18. what a big dog

  19. I guess she was ahead of her time. Sort of.

  20. A fence and a pimp? help me.

  21. being a spinster was a crime? oh, crap. i’m gonna need a beard…

  22. She’s awesome… to think that these days, women can go around in men’s attire and not raise an eyelid.

  23. We have to assume that the full range of humans has always existed and found ways to enjoy themselves within their own cultural context. You do a service to bring these tales to light.

  24. Lewknor & Gervase ……

    such lovely, simple names.

  25. Fucksticks, I want to *be* Moll! In fact, I think I shall. Pass me that suit.

  26. ” … women who dressed in men’s attire on a regular basis were generally considered to be “sexually riotous and uncontrolled“ ”

    Wonder what this says about women who wear dresses made of meat.

  27. I’m not sure what I would do with one maid, much less three. Give them all the week off I suppose.

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