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His Mask of Retribution

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Behind the Scenes

A Little Taste of Highwaymen
I've always been fascinated by highwaymen and thought you might be interested in a little of their history.

Stand and deliver!
Highwaymen were robbers on horseback who plagued the highways of Britain, robbing coaches and travellers with the menace of loaded pistols and their cry of ‘stand and deliver'. They have probably been around for as long as there have been roads, but have a prominence in written history in the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Also referred to as Knights or Gentlemen of the Road they have always had a romantic, exciting and glamorous image. Ladies swooned with love for them, and men wanted to be them. Fearless men, bad to the bone and yet with an image of chivalry and gallantry.


Ladies’ men – romantic and true
In some regards Robin Hood might be considered the first highwayman and in later times many highwaymen were
portrayed as akin to that legendary hero. They are said to have targeted the rich and shared something of their spoils with the poor, and been gentle in their treatment of women and children. Highwaymen were especially popular amongst the ladies. Indeed, Lady Caroline Petersham stood as a character witness for James Maclaine, ‘The Gentleman Highwayman’ at his trial, although it was to no avail.

Dick Turpin

Behind the mask
Highwaymen came from every walk of life. Some were gentlemen, such as Gamaliel Ratsey, others plied respectable trades when they weren’t holding up coaches; William Davis was a farmer and John Cottington, a chimney sweep.Harry Simms, ‘Young Gentleman Harry’, was educated at Eton and had a successful army career before turning to crime. James Maclaine, 'The Gentleman Highwayman', was the son of an Irish Presbyterian minister, and William Parsons was both the son of a baronet and the nephew of the Duchess of Northumberland. And the most famous of them all, Dick Turpin, was, like his father before him, a butcher before turning to less honest means of making money. There were even highwaywomen such as Mary Frith, or 'Moll Cutpurse' as she was better known, and Joan Bracey, both of whom disguised themselves as men.

A Masked Highwayman

A heavy price to pay
In His Mask of Retribution, Marianne is right to fear for Rafe’s life if he were to be caught. Highway robbery was a capital offence and those found guilty were sent to Newgate prison to await hanging, during which time the most 'celebrated’ were visited by fashionable ladies of the ton. Three thousand people are reputed to have visited James Maclaine in Newgate before his execution. For much of the eighteenth century public hangings took place at Tyburn but this later moved to outside the Old Bailey. The last public hanging at Tyburn was in 1783, so if Rafe had been captured he would have been hanged at the new gallows. Highwaymen who robbed Royal Mail coaches were gibbeted after hanging and their bodies, in iron cages, could be seen swinging on the heaths and commons on which they had committed their crimes. Gibbeting was not abolished until 1834. Hanging at the time was seen as a cause for celebration, and hanging days were public holidays with something of a carnival atmosphere. In keeping with their gallant image highwaymen were expected to 'die well' and greet the hangman’s noose without show of fear.

Hounslow Heath
Many great ladies pleaded for his life but no pardon was givenIn 1810, the time of His Mask of Retribution, the most dangerous roads in England were considered to be those crossing Hounslow Heath and this is the reason I set Rafe Knight’s highwayman abduction of Marianne upon the Heath.

Hounslow Heath was a stretch of some 25 square miles of wild countryside on the western outer area of London, now largely covered by the site of Heathrow airport.

It was bisected by the main London coaching routes to the West Country, one carried travellers to and from the rich and fashionable spa town of Bath. The old Bath Road ran across the Heath between Hounslow and Colnbrook, and can be seen on modern maps as the A4. Another road (now the A30) crossed the Heath between Hounslow and Staines. Hounslow Heath also lay between London and the Royal court at Windsor and so had to be crossed by courtiers coming from London.

Prime targets for highwaymen
Those who could afford to travel, especially by private coach, were wealthy and provided rich pickings for highwaymen and footpads, as did the regular mail service to the West Country that crossed the Heath. Mention of highway robbery on Hounslow Heath was made as early as 1552.

Hounslow Heath

Famous highway robberies on the heath
Two of the most famous incidents in highway robbery history occurred on Hounslow Heath. As mentioned above, during the reign of Charles II Claude Duval danced with the winsome wife of the gentleman he was robbing upon the Heath. In 1750 the highwaymen duo Maclaine and Plunkett robbed the Earl of Eglinton on Hounslow Heath. On that same day Plunkett disappeared but Maclaine, ‘The Gentleman Highwayman’, was caught and hanged.

Marianne and Rafe's Route

Deterrents
Gibbets were erected across the Heath in a bid to deter highwaymen but the gory constructions seem to have had little effect. The building of the Hounslow Cavalry barracks in 1793 might have acted as more of a deterrent. But ultimately the death knoll for highway robbery was sounded by the Horse Patrole (established in 1805), the enclosure of Hounslow Heath, the use of armed guards on mail coaches, the increase of traffic and turnpikes on roads and the spread of dwellings alongside them. By the 1830s highwaymen on Hounslow Heath, and elsewhere, were a rare sight.

Marianne and Rafe - the abduction from Hounslow Heath
This is part of an 1810 map showing the route that Rafe, in his highwayman's guise, uses to abduct Marianne from Hounslow Heath into London. He takes the Bath Road which has been highlighted in pink. Hounslow Heath is marked in yellow at the left-hand-side. The towns and villages of Brentford, Hammersmith and Kensington, as mentioned in the book, can be seen along the way.

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