One of the 17th century’s most infamous highwayman is Captain James Hind. Broadsheets were written about his exploits and he became a folk legend in his day which continued on after his death. Most was fiction, but all of it was highly entertaining.
Not only was Captain Hind a staunch Royalist, he was quick with his wits, avoided violence whenever he could, was celebrated for his courtesy, and he had a reputation for being a Robin Hood character. It should be no surprise that he was the initial inspiration for my highwayman.
Who was Captain Hind really? His exploits were sensationalized in the broadsheets, but we can pick out the threads of this life.
Here is his story . . .
Late one Sunday night on November 9, 1651, a company of dragoons descended upon a barber’s house near Dunstan’s Church on Fleet Street to arrest his recent lodger. The soldiers burst into the man’s quarters with pistols drawn, and carted the man to the Speaker of the House of Commons, William Lenthall. The next day, they brought their prisoner to Whitehall to be questioned.
The state had finally captured Captain James Hind, notorious highwayman, but their interest in him went beyond common thievery. He had become a political prisoner.
James Hind was born in Chipping Norton on July 1616, the tenth of thirteen children. His father was a saddler and served as a churchwarden in the Oxfordshire market town. He married Margaret Rowland on February 24, 1638, and despite his occupation, theirs was an affectionate marriage. Over the next ten years, the couple had four children: Alice, James, Samuel and Charles.
The seeds of Hind’s nefarious career had started in the Chipping Norton grammar school. His father recognized his son’s sharp mind and rather than putting the boy to work, he diverted some of his income to educate him. Unfortunately, Hind preferred the study of pranks to letters. He loved stories, particularly tales of robberies. By the age of fifteen, Hind had outstayed his welcome in school. His father apprenticed the lad to a butcher, but subservience did not suit Hind. Fed up by the beatings he received for his impertinence, he ran away to London.
Imagine the world of corruption that opened up for this clever Chipping Norton lad in London: drinking, carousing, and houses of ill repute (he hadn’t married to Margaret yet). His life took on a new direction or rather an inevitable one, when he met Thomas Allen in a holding cell following a drunken spree. Allen, also known as Bishop Allen, led a gang of highwayman working the London suburbs. Allen took the young Hind under his wing and introduced him to life on the highway.
Hind quickly gained a reputation as a good companion with ample wit, but one with a generous bend. During his coming-out robbery at Shooter’s Hill, Hind held up a gentleman travelling and stole £10. To the dismay of his new crew, he returned forty shilling to see the gentleman safely back to London.
Over the years, Hind developed a reputation as a gentleman robber, jesting with his “clients” and giving good sport, often likened to Robin Hood. Once, when travelling through Warwickshire, Hind came upon two bailiffs and a usurer who were trying to collect on a debt of £20 from an innkeeper. Hind intervened to save the landlord and settled the bond on his behalf. After the bailiffs received their due, Hind followed the usurer and stole back not only his £20 but also another twenty for good measure. When he returned to the inn, he gave the innkeeper £5 said that he “had good luck by lending to honest men.”
Then in 1642, the English Civil War broke out, and Hind turned his talents for the benefit of the King. Together with other members of the Bishop Allen gang, he joined the Royalist army. Hind’s leadership and courage drew the attention of his superiors, and he became particularly attached to Sir William Compton, third son of the Earl of Northampton of Warwickshire. In 1647, Hind received his captain’s commission from Compton at Colchester. In later years, Compton would found the Sealed Knot, a secret society that conspired to place Charles Stuart (later Charles II) on the throne.
Following the end of the second civil war (1647-48), Hind began to operate alone, for sometime in 1648, Allen and most of his crew were captured after a foiled attempt to assassinate Oliver Cromwell. Hind had managed to escape and returned to highway robbery with a new purpose: harassing Roundheads. And his preferred quarry were regicides when he could get them.
According to legend, Hind held up the man who presided over the King’s trial, a regicide by the name of John Bradshaw. Hind caught the judge on the road in Dorsetshire. When Bradshaw tried to intimidate the highwayman with his reputation, Hind retorted, “I have now as much power over you as you lately had over the King, and I should do God and my country good service if I made the same use of it.” Hind spared Bradshaw’s life that day, though not the man’s horses.
Hind had become more than a highwayman; he was now a symbol of resistance for the Royalists and a burr in the saddle of Parliament. But he didn’t stop there. At one point, he must have realized that he could contribute more to the Crown than stealing from Roundheads.
On May 2, 1649, Hind sailed for The Hague and stayed there for three days before continuing to Ireland laden with the “King’s goods”, supplies destined for the Royalists fighting against Cromwell. It should not surprise anyone that the Earl of Northampton, William Compton’s eldest brother, spent his exile in The Hague.
Hind remained in Ireland for nine months and served as corporal in the Marquess of Ormonde’s Life Guard. He eventually arrived in Scotland and presented himself to Charles Stuart. In Hind’s declaration, he “sent a letter to His Majesty acquainting His Highness of my arrival, and represented my service, &c, which was favourably accepted of, for no sooner had the King notice of my coming but immediately I had admittance to his chamber and kissed his hand.”
While Charles may have been desperate for men, this special treatment stands out as unusual. Were the King’s actions a result of his relief for receiving the services of a courageous, resourceful soldier or had Hind arrived with a recommendation? Though naturally audacious, that he dared send a letter to the King suggests he expected to be received.
Hind joined the King’s army and stayed with him through the invasion of England in August 1652, which ended with defeat at the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1652.
Hind escaped Worcester where he “kept the field until the King was fled” and headed for the anonymity of London, lying under hedges and in woods. When he arrived in London, rumours were already circulating that the infamous highwayman, Captain Hind, had helped the King escape Worcester. He managed to elude capture for five weeks, but eventually the dragoons found and arrested him.
Over the next several months, Hind went through three sensational trials. The bizarre twists would have today earned him round the clock media coverage.
His first trial occurred on Dec 12, 1651 at the Old Bailey. Hind admitted to a few ‘pranks’ and even confessed to fighting with the King at Worcester. Though they could have charged him with High Treason, no Bill of Indictment or witnesses were brought against him. But he remained in custody at Newgate.
Hind’s second trial was held in Reading on March 1, 1652. At this time, the state charged him with the murder of a local man who had once tried to stop Hind in Maidenhead Thicket. In fact, this was the only reported murder attributed to him throughout his long career as a highwayman. Hind claimed that he fired on the man in self-defence.
At this point, Hind claimed benefit of clergy, a legal loophole that dated back to 1170 when the clergy were considered outside the jurisdiction of secular courts. To succeed, the defendant would need to read the scripture given to him (because in the 12th century, few except the clergy could read). Unfortunately, Hind failed the test, and they sentenced him to death. He must have regretted not applying himself better in school.
But reprieve came from the most unlikely source. The next day, before the sentence could be carried out, the Act of Oblivion came into force. The Act allowed for many crimes committed prior to September 3, 1651 (the Battle of Worcester) to be pardoned as an act of war, all except High Treason.
Now Parliament became desperate. Chapbooks and broadsheets tallying Hind’s exploits flooded London. One local publisher even released The Declaration of James Hind, an official account of his service to the King. In truth, all this publicity made them look bad.
This time, the state turned to the Act of Oblivion for their cue and indicted Hind with High Treason for his participation at Worcester. For Parliament, the third trial was the charm. The courts found Hind guilty and sentenced him to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
Captain James Hind, royalist and notorious highwayman climbed the scaffold on September 24, 1652 and addressed the gathered crowd. With his typical courage, he pledged his continued loyalty to the King. His last words were, “I value it not threepence to lose my life in so good a cause. God’s will be done. If it were to do again, I protest I would do the like.”
So ended the life of Captain James Hind, Royalist Highwayman.
If you’d like to read about my fictional highwayman, read Traitor’s Knot.
England 1650: Civil War has given way to an uneasy peace in the year since Parliament executed King Charles I.
Royalist officer James Hart refuses to accept the tyranny of the new government, and to raise funds for the restoration of the king’s son, he takes to the road as a highwayman.
Elizabeth Seton has long been shunned for being a traitor’s daughter. In the midst of the new order, she risks her life by sheltering fugitives from Parliament in a garrison town. But her attempts to rebuild her life are threatened, first by her own sense of injustice, then by falling in love with the dashing Hart.
The lovers’ loyalty is tested through war, defeat and separation. James must fight his way back to the woman he loves, while Elizabeth will do anything to save him, even if it means sacrificing herself.
- Declaration of Captain James Hind, printed for G. Horton 1651
- The Adventures of Captain James Hind of Chipping Norton: The Oxfordshire Highwayman by O.M. Meades
- No Jest like a true Jest
“Charles II (de Champaigne)” by Philippe de Champaigne – Europicture.de. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Charles_II_(de_Champaigne).jpg#/media/File:Charles_II_(de_Champaigne).jpg
“Old Newgate”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Old_Newgate.jpg#/media/File:Old_Newgate.jpg