Highwaymen, armed robbers who held up travellers on the highway, were a real problem in eighteenth century Britain. However there are very few references to highwaywomen, and most of them are probably fictitious. One of the few cases that I have found, that sound at all plausible, took place in Essex in 1735.
Ipswich Journal – Saturday 22 November 1735
On Monday last a Wholesale Butcher was robb’d in a very gallant Manner, near Rumford in Essex; the Affair was as follows: He was attack’d at first by a Woman, mounted on a very good Horse, with a Side Saddle, &c. she presented a Pistol at him, and demanded his Money; he was amaz’d at such a Behaviour in one of her Sex, and told her he did not understand what she meant : By this Time a Gentleman of her Acquaintance came up, and told him he was a Brute, to make any Hesitation in granting what a Lady requested of him, and swore D— m his B—d if he did not immediately gratify her Desire, he would shoot him thro’ the Head. At the sight of the Gentleman’s Pistol, the Butcher thought proper to grant the Lady fix Guineas, some Silver, and his Watch; which done they parted in the most complisant Manner imaginable.
‘Mounted on a good horse’ Silhouette by James Edward Austen-Leigh
Unusually there is a sequel, not the arrest of the highwaywoman and her accomplice but something very different.
On Wednesday Night last one David Davis, a Welchman, came into an Inn in Bishopsgate-street on Horseback, dressed like a Countryman, and Complain’d to Mr. Hudson, the Landlord, that he had that Afternoon been robbed by two Men and a Woman, in the Fields near Islington, of 350L. in Money, and that he had got Intelligence that they were to lodge that Night at Highgate; and therefore he desired Mr. Hudson to get him a Coach and Four, a Constable and proper Assistance, in order to go and take them; which Mr. Hudson accordingly did, and went himself along with them to Highgate at Eleven o’clock that Night, where they found one Man and the Woman in Bad together, whom they brought to Town and secur’d in the Poultry Compter; and they were on Thursday carried before Sir Richard Brocas and examin’d separately, where the afore-mention’d David Davis declar’d, that this was the Woman who robbed the Butcher of Rumford, lately mention’d, and that he himself was the Man who aided and assisted in the said Robbery; upon which the said David Davis was committed to Wood-street Compter, and Eleanor Davis (his supposed Wife) and Thomas Jones (the Person found in Bed with her) to the Poultry Compter for further Examination; and the Butcher is sent for in order to see them. Jones, when taken, had a Pistol with several Balls, and other Materials proper for the Highway, found upon him.- .And one William Jones coming to Holloway to enquire for the said Jones and Davis, was taken up as a supposed Accomplice, and brought before Justice Robe, and after Examination committed to New Prion for further Orders. (Derby Mercury)
The Magistrates were clearly rather confused by the accounts of David Davis, and one can understand why they committed everybody to prison for further enquiries. There was one person who could clear this up, and that was the butcher who had been robbed. He was sent for, and his response was surprising.
Ipswich Journal – Saturday 06 December 1735
Last Night Mr. Barker, a Butcher of Rumford, who was robbed of four Guineas and 10 s. in Silver on the 19th of November last, near Ingatestone in Essex, by a Woman on Horseback that drew a Pistol and bid him stand, came before Sir Richard Brocas, and having viewed the Woman that was taken up at Highgat, and David Davis who informed against her, and said he aided and assisted in committing; the said Robbery, declared he could not swear to them, the Fact being committed in the Dusk of the Evening, and that neither their Voices nor Sizes answer’d to those who attack’d him; and Davis saying he was intoxicated when he gave the Information, and that he knew no Ill either of the Woman or the Man taken along with her, they were all three discharged out of Custody.
One wonders what David Davis was up to, he may have been drunk as he said but perhaps the fact that his wife was in bed with another man may have led to his claiming she was a highwaywoman. As for the real highwaywoman she seems to have escaped on her good horse and was never heard of again.