7th December

Born: Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini, architect and sculptor, 1598, Naples; Rev. Richard Valpy, D.D., compiler of classic grammars, &c., 1754, Jersey.

Died: Cicero, Roman orator, assassinated 43 B. a; Algernon Sidney, republican and patriot, beheaded on Tower Hill, 1683; Marshal Ney, general of Napoleon, shot at Paris, 1815; Dr. John Aikin, popular author, 1822, Stoke-Newington; Abbe Macpherson, rector of the Scotch College, Rome, 1846.

Feast Day: St. Ambrose, bishop and confessor, doctor of the church, 397. St. Fara, virgin and abbess, 655.


Philip, landgrave of Hesse, one of the stanchest protectors of Luther, had married Catherine of Saxony; but this princess, though beautiful and accomplished, had never succeeded in finding favour in his eyes. After having, for several years, paid his addresses to various beauties, the inconstant husband at last formed a more abiding intimacy with Marguerite de Staal. A severe illness, from which he only recovered with great difficulty, had the effect of inspiring him with some scruples relative to his course of life-he resolved to have his conscience set at rest.

To attain this object, the landgrave addressed a memorial to Luther, in which, fortified by the authority of the Old Testament, he demanded from the Reformer permission to have two wives at the same time-one who, in public, should receive the honours due to a princess and his consort, and another who, without scandal, might be regarded as his legal mistress. Although, in this remarkable document, Philip supplicates the doctors to grant him this favour, he at the same time threatens to appeal to the emperor, or even the pope, should he fail in having his request complied with by the Protestant divines. Moreover, he makes most liberal promises:

'Let them grant me,' he says, 'in the name of God, what I ask, so that I may be able to live and die more cheerfully for the cause of the gospel, and be more ready to undertake its defence. I engage to perform, on my part, all that may be required of me in reason, whether as regards the property of convents, or matters of a similar description.'

The conduct of this singular negotiation was intrusted to the celebrated reformer, Bucer. The Protestant clergy were embarrassed. On the one part, they feared to bring their profession of belief into discredit by so extended a compliance; while, on the other hand, they were desirous to retain a patron of such power and influence as Philip. At last Melanchthon, as principal scribe, drew up a resolution, which was approved by the other divines. An extract from this curious document is subjoined.

It is drawn up with considerable care and address. The theologians begin by laying down, according to the gospel, the position that no man ought to have more than one wife; the landgrave is requested to take notice what confusion would result, if this fundamental law of society were overthrown; and it also represents to him that the princess, his consort, is a pattern of virtue; that she has presented him with several children, &c.

'But, in conclusion,' continues the reverend conclave through their spokesman, 'if your highness is thoroughly determined to marry a second wife, we are of opinion that it ought to be done secretly; that is to say, there should be none present beyond the contracting parties, and a few trustworthy persons, who should be bound to secrecy. There is no opposition or real scandal to be dreaded here, for it is no unusual thing for princes to maintain mistresses, nihil enim est inusitati principes concubines alere; and even though the people in general were scandalised, the most enlightened of the community would doubt the truth of the story, whilst prudent persons would always prefer this moderate course of procedure to adultery and other brutal actions. We ought not to care greatly for what the world will say, provided our own conscience is clear: nec curandi aliorum sermones, si recd cum conscientiâ agatur. It is thus that we approve of the proceeding in question, though only in the circumstances which we have just indicated, for the gospel has neither recalled nor forbidden what the law of Moses permitted with regard to marriage.

This warrant of approval is subscribed by eight doctors of divinity, including Luther, Melanchthon, and Bucer, and is dated the 7th of December 1539.

On the 4th of March of the ensuing year, Philip espoused Marguerite de Staal in the castle of Rothemburg. The marriage-contract is a no less curious document than the resolution of the Protestant divines above quoted.

Considering that the eye of God (so says this precious manifesto) 'penetrates everything, and that little of the workings of Omniscience comes to the knowledge of men, his highness declares his intention of marrying Marguerite de Staal, not-withstanding that the princess, his consort, is still alive; and in order to prevent this proceeding being imputed to inconstancy or whim, to avoid scandal, and preserve the honour of the said Margaret and the reputation of her family, he here swears before God, and on his soul and conscience, that he neither takes her to wife through levity or caprice, nor from any contempt of law or superiors, but because he is compelled to this step by certain necessities so important and inevitable of health and conscience, that it is impossible for him to preserve his existence and live according to the law of God, unless he espouse a second wife in addition to the consort whom he already possesses.
That his highness has explained the matter to many learned divines, men of Christian piety and prudence, and has taken the advice of these reverend persons, who, after investigating the circumstances laid before them, have recommended his highness to place his soul and conscience at rest by a double marriage. That the same cause and the same necessity have induced the most serene Princess Christina, Duchess of Saxony, first wife of his highness, through the exalted prudence and sincere devotion which render her so estimable, to consent with readiness that a companion should be given to her, so that the soul and health of her beloved spouse may run no further risk, and that the glory of God may be promoted, as the writing under the hand of the said princess sufficiently testifies.

It will be recollected that the very same year (1540) in which the above marriage of Philip of Hesse took place, Henry VIII of England obtained, or rather commanded, the sanction of his clergy and parliament to his divorce from Anne of Cleves, merely because she did not happen to be to his liking. A still more liberal dispensation from the ordinary rules of morality was, in the last century, accorded by the Calvinistic clergy of Prussia, to the reigning king, Frederick William II, nephew and successor of Frederick the Great, to have three wives at the same time-Elizabeth of Brunswick, the Princess of Hesse, and the Countess of Euhof. The authorisation granted by the divines was, like that of Luther and his brethren, founded on the principle, that it was better to contract an illegal marriage than to pursue habitually a course of immorality and error.


In the olden time, ere pockets were invented, the gipciere, or purse, containing money and other valuables, being worn at the girdle, became a much-coveted prize for the dishonest, who managed to obtain possession of it by deftly cutting the strings by which it was suspended. Autolycus said, and we can well believe him, that 'an open ear, a quick eye, and a nimble hand, is necessary for a cut-purse.' Subsequently, however, when pockets came into fashion, the cut-purses-moving with the times, as the saying is-became pickpockets; still, down to the period of the Restoration, both branches of the light-fingered art flourished contemporaneously. And, though the days of the girdle-purse are long since past, its remembrance is not even yet lost. In the language of vulgar contumely, the opprobrious epithet of 'cut-purse rogue' is still applied to a person, whose ill-favoured countenance is not belied by the honesty of his character.

The thieves of London have long enjoyed the reputation of being exceedingly dexterous in the art of stealing from the person. Paul Hentzner, who visited England in 1598, in the capacity of tutor to a young German nobleman, tells us that, at Bartholomew Fair, one of his company, a Dr. Tobias Solander:

had his pocket picked of his purse, containing nine crowns du soleil, which, without doubt, was so cleverly taken from him by an Englishman, who always kept very close to him, that the doctor did not in the least perceive it.

Such dexterity is not, altogether, to be wondered at in the street-thieves of the period, seeing that they were regularly trained to the exercise of their profession. Stow informs us that, in 1585, a person named Wotton, 'kept an academy for the education and perfection of pickpockets and cut-purses.' This man was of gentle birth, and had been a merchant of good credit, but becoming reduced in circumstances, he set up an ale-house at Smart's Quay, near Billingsgate. Here 'he commenced a new trade in life,' by opening a school to teach young boys to cut purses. 'Two devices,' continues Stow, 'were hung up-one was a pocket, and the other was a purse. The pocket had in it certain counters, and was hung about with hawk's bells, and over the top did hang a little sacring bell. The purse had silver in it, and he that could take out a counter, without noise of any of the bells, was adjudged a judicial nypper, according to their terms of art; a foyster was a pickpocket, a nypper was a pick-purse or cut-purse.

Selman, John - Celebrated pickpocket

Mr. John Selman, a celebrated 'nypper and foyster,' whose portrait is here presented to the reader, with the purse, the fatal fruit of his dishonesty, still in his hand, was in all probability trained at Wotton's academy, on Smart's Quay. His history, so far as it is known, is short and simple, and in some places reads very like a police report of the present day.

On Christmas-day, 1611, when King James, Queen Anne, the Duke of York, and several of the nobility, were receiving the sacrament in the Chapel Royal of Whitehall, a Mr. Dubbleday observed a stranger in the sacred edifice, whose honesty he had some reason to suspect. Seeing this person swiftly but quietly leaving the chapel, after hovering for a short time round a Mr. Barrie, Dubbleday went up to Barrie, and in the stereotyped phrase of a modern police-man, asked him if he had lost anything. Barrie at first said, 'No;' but on feeling his pockets, found that his purse, containing forty shillings, was gone. The two immediately followed the stranger, and arresting him, found in one of his pockets the stolen purse, in the other, a small knife used for cutting.

After service was over, Sir Richard Banister, clerk of the Green Cloth, as the crime had been committed within the precincts of the court, examined the prisoner. The man, having been taken flagrante delicto, could not deny his crime. He gave his name John Selman, resident in Shoe Lane, of no trade or profession, and acknowledged that he had gone to the royal chapel with an evil intention. He wore 'a fair black cloak, lined and faced with velvet, the rest of his apparel being suitable thereto.' In short, Selman was a prototype of the modern swell-mob's-man; and the short cloak he is represented wearing in the engraving, greatly resembles the cape which detectives tell us is used as a 'cover' by pickpockets at the present time. Six days afterwards, Selman was tried by royal commission, and found guilty. Being asked why sentence of death should not be passed upon him, he fell on his knees, submitted himself to the king's mercy, and begged that his body might have Christian burial. Then Sir Francis Bacon delivered sentence, not without taking the opportunity of pandering to the king's love of gross flattery, by saying:

The first and greatest sin that ever was committed was done in heaven; the second was done in paradise, being heaven upon earth; and truly I cannot choose but place this in the third rank, in regard it was done in the house of God, and also Gods lieutenant here on earth, being in God's house there present ready to receive the holy sacrament, all which being considered, the time, the place, and person there present, I do advise thee, that as thou hast submitted thyself to the king's mercy, so thou wilt crave pardon at God's hands.

Seven days more, and the sentence was carried into execution between Charing Cross and the Court Gate. Selman's last speech we may pass over; but it appears that the crowd at the execution behaved much as such crowds now do. 'See,' exclaims the chronicler to whom we are indebted for Selman's history, 'see the graceless and unrepenting minds of such livers; for one of his quality, a pickpocket, even at his execution, grew master of a true man's purse, who being presently taken, was imprisoned, and is like, the next sessions, to wander the long voyage after his grand captain, Monsieur John Selman.'

Ben Jonson humorously introduces a pick-pocket in his play of Bartholomew Fair. A simple country squire, who fancies himself a match for all kinds of roguery, asks a ballad-singer for a song. The vocalist proposing to sing, ' A caveat against Cut purses,' the squire exhibits, boastingly, his well-lined purse, defying any thief to take it from him, and the singer commences thus:

My masters, and friends, and good people, draw near,
And look to your purses, for that I do say;
And though little money, in them you do bear,
It costs more to get, than to lose in a day,
You oft have been told,
Both the young and the old,
And bidden beware of the cut-purse so bold.
Then if you take heed not, free me from the curse,
Who both give you warning, you, and the cutpurse.
Youth, youth, you had better been starved by thy nurse,
Than live to be hanged for cutting a purse!

In another verse allusion is evidently made to Selman.

At plays, and at sermons, and at the sessions,
'Tis daily their practice such booty to make;
Yea, under the gallows, at executions,
They stick not the stare-abouts' purses to take.
Nay, one without grace,
At a better place,
At court, and in Christmas, before the king's face,
Alack! then, for pity, must I bear the curse,
That only belongs to the cunning cut-purse.
Youth, youth, thou hadst better been starved by thy nurse,
Than live to be hanged for stealing a purse!

While the squire stands listening to the song, his purse in his pocket, and one hand holding it firmly, a thief tickles his ear with a straw. As the hand is lifted to brush away the supposed insect, the purse is stolen and passed to the ballad-singer, who is an accomplice. The surprise and discomfiture of the silly squire may be imagined, but only rare Ben himself can describe it.

The most noted pickpocket in what Dr. Johnson termed the Biographic Flagitiosa, was a woman named Mary Frith, but better known as Mall Cut-purse. This 'Sybilla Tyburnia' was born in 1585, and soon became an accomplished cut-purse. There is little new under the sun. She used to work in company with two other thieves, just as pickpockets do now. One called the 'bulk,' created an obstruction; Mary, the ',file,' cut the purse, and handed it to a third named the 'rub,' who carried it off. When Mary was quite young, she, for a bet of £20, rode Banks's famous horse Morocco,' from Charing Cross to Shoreditch, dressed in doublet, breeches, boots, and spurs, carrying a trumpet in her hand and a banner hanging over her back. For wearing men's clothes on this occasion, Mary was tried by the ecclesiastical court, and forced to do penance at the door of St. Paul's Cathedral.

Having thus atoned for her offence, and finding a great convenience in male attire, she wore it ever after. She soon became an adroit fencer and bold rider, and in the character of a highwayman, robbed the Parliamentary general, Fairfax, of 200 gold jacobuses on Hounslow Heath. This, however, she considered merely robbing a Philistine who had stolen the crown from her king; for Mary was the stanchest of Cavaliers, and this trait in her character throws an air of romance over her strange history. She had established herself opposite the Conduit, in Fleet Street, as a broker or negotiator between thieves and the public, when Charles I passed her door, on his return from the Border in 1639. Rushing out, she caught the king's hand, and kissed it; the same day she caused the Conduit to run with wine at her own expense. When Wentworth's trial was in progress, she sent a bull to the Bear Garden to be baited. As the sport was about to commence, she said:

Gentlemen, that noble animal, the bull, is named Strafford; the wretched curs going to bait him are named Pym and St. John; and if any one feels offended at what I say, here am I ready to maintain it by sword or cudgel.

Mary's deeds were not all done in defiance of the law. She was instrumental in bringing to justice the notorious 'five women barbers,' who used a young girl in a very cruel and indescribable manner. With less good taste and feeling, Killigrew composed a song on this affair, which he sang to Charles II, till tears of laughter ran down the too merry monarch's cheeks. Antiquaries would give almost anything for a perfect copy of this song, which thus commences:

Did you ever hear the like?
Did you ever hear the fame?
Of the five women barbers,
Who lived in Drury Lane.

One of these five women barbers was the mother of Nan Clarges, who, marrying Monk, when his fortunes were at a low ebb, lived to hear herself styled Duchess of Albemarle.

Mary is said to have been the first English-woman who smoked tobacco. A portrait, representing her in the act of indulging in the luxury, adorns the frontispiece of Middleton's play of the roaring Girl, in which she figures as the principal character. Another portrait represents her with a dog, an ape, and a parrot; for, like her friend Banks, she delighted in training animals, and made money by exhibiting their tricks. It is said that she was at one time worth £3000, but her generosity to distressed Cavaliers left her little more than £100 at her death. This sum she left to her relative, John Frith, a shipmaster at Rotherhithe; advising him to spend it in good wine, like a man, rather than venture it at sea, at the risk of being drowned in vile salt-water, like a dog. She died of a dropsy when upwards of seventy years of age, after having composed the following epitaph on herself, in the form of an acrostic:

M erry I lived, and many pranks I played,
A nd, without sorrow, now in grave am laid;
R est, and the sleep of death, doth now surcease
Y outh's active sins, and their old-aged increase.
F amous I was for all the thieving art,
R enowned for what old women ride in cart,
I n pocket and in placket, I had part,
T his life I lived in a man's disguise,
H e hest laments me that with laughter cries.

An instance of a female acquiring a considerable sum of money by picking pockets, occurred in the last century. In 1783, a Miss West, a noted pick-pocket, died; leaving, according to a magazine obituary, £3000 to her two children-'one of whom was born in Clerkenwell Bridewell, while the mother was imprisoned for picking pockets in Exeter Change, when Lord Baltimore' (another infamous character) 'was lying in state.'