Friday, 8 January 2021

The Roaring Girl of Surrey



One of the few highwaywomen on record also robbed on the heaths of north Surrey. Mary Frith spent most of her criminal career as a fence, receiving and selling on stolen goods, but in the conditions of chaos of the English Civil War she decided to try her hand at highway robbery. In 1651 she and her henchmen stopped a coach that was carrying no less a person than Sir Thomas Fairfax, the commander in chief of the Parliamentary armed forces. She got away with a hefty £250, but Fairfax was furious and had the authority to organise a massive operation against highwaymen near London. Frith was caught, but bought her freedom by paying a fine of £2,000 - then a colossal sum of cash. She then wisely turned honest to evade the notice of the authorities. She died in 1659 and left £20 in her will to fund a party for named individuals should England ever become a kingdom again, which it did the following year. A play about her life called The Roaring Girl was written with her assistance.

 

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