Anon., Newgate's garland (1724) (Wing C17:1[219b]
"Newgate's Garland: Being a New Ballad shewing How Mr. Jonathon Wild's throat was cut, from ear to ear, with a penknife by Mr. Blake, alias Blueskin, the bold highwayman, as he stood at his trial at the Old Bailey." the "newgate garland" may not be this festive
-- Anonymous, 1724. Sung to the tune of "The Cutpurse."
A garland can refer to a miscellany, or a collection of literary works--so this ballad may have been one of several in a collection.
But 'garland' also refers to a strand of material or wreath of flowers, usually hung in celebration. So I can only imagine there was a garland of sort that appeared when poor Mr. Wild's throat was slit "from ear to ear."
Clearly there is a sense of celebration throughout this ballad, as the first stanza indicates:
"Ye fellows of Newgate, whose fingers are nice,
in diving in pockets, or cogging of dice,
Ye Sharpers so rich, who can buy off the noose,
Ye honester poor rogues, who die in your shoes,
Attend and draw near,
Good news ye shall hear,
How Jonathan's throat was cut from ear to ear,
How Blueskin's sharp penknife shall set you at ease,
and every man round near me, may rob if they please."
But why would slitting Mr. Wild's throat be a cause for celebration?
I began to wonder who Mr. Wild was. So I looked for additional ballads and pamphlets that may explain why Blueskin, that noted highwayman, had sought to murder him.
That's when I found another ballad, this one titled: "Jonathan Wild's final fairwell to the world."
This would seem more promising. Yet I noticed right away that this ballad was dated in 1725, a full year after the other ballad. Moreover, this ballad described how Jonathan Wild was executed at Tyburn Tree, not murdered at all. Certainly, there was no mention of the throat-slashing incident.
So a little MORE digging revealed a fascinating story...
As it turns out, Mr. Jonathan Wild was quite famous. After being arrested for debt in 1710, he was thrown into prison. During this time, he began to play two sides of the justice system.
In a highly corrupt prison system, Wild first began to do small tasks for the jailers, to a point where he was even trusted to leave the prison to run errands.
After a short time, he became a "thief-taker," which was akin to a bounty-hunter in this period before the establishment of a systematic police force. Great Britain's Privy Council even consulted with him on the best way to reduce crime in the country. His answer, not surprisingly, was to raise the reward given to thief-takers from forty pounds per criminal, to a hundred pounds each.
Yet, even as he publicly brought criminals to justice--by some accounts, he brought nearly fifty criminals to justice--he was also running a large criminal operation of his own.
Wild did very well for himself for quite some time, but his luck turned sour when he was caught helping some of his men break out of prison. Brought to trial, he was mocked roundly by thieves. It was at this point that Blueskin took that near-fatal swipe at him. That part of the ballad makes a little more sense now:
"When to the Old-Bailey this Blueskin was led,
He held up his Head, his indictment was read,
For full forty pounds was the price of his blood.
Then hopeless of life,
He drew his Penknife,
And made a sad widow of Jonathan's wife,
But forty pounds paid her, her grief shall appease,
and every man round me, may rob if they please.
Wild was in jail for some time, until he was finally brought to the Tyburn Tree for hanging. People were so eager to see him executed that they waited for hours before he arrived. Along the way, Wild was subject to great physical and mental abuse, even having rotting animals and feces thrown upon him as he was carted towards his hanging. He seems to have been dazed and disoriented by the time he emerged from the cart. After he died, apparently his body was stolen, illegally dissected by surgeons, and ended up on display at the Hunterian Museum in London.
Already famous before his death, Jonathan Wild became further immortalized when Daniel Defoe wrote about his exploits and sojourn into organized crime. Later, the novelist Henry Fielding--who as a young man was among the spectators of Wild's execution--parodied the man's life and death in the fictionalized History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathon Wild the Great (1745). (Check out, too, historian Peter Ackroyd's wonderful discussion of this parody). Who knew that this murder ballad--which actually turned out to be an attempted murder--would have an incredible back story!
My book started years ago, when I was a graduate student, pouring over 17th century murder ballads. The ballads served as musical 'true accounts' of murderers who wrote letters to their victims, urging them to rendezvous in dark deserted fields. I knew I had to write about these monsters. I drank lots of coffee. I spent years writing this first book, scene by scene, in little half hour bursts, at coffee shops, on the train, when the kids were sleeping, until one day--in 2010-- I finished. Even my husband--alpha reader extraordinaire--did not know much about the story. "It's set in the seventeenth century," I'd mumble. "A servant gets killed. Another servant tries to figure it out. Stuff like that."But eventually, I asked him and a few other trusted friends to read the book. I revised again, queried, queried, queried, while writing an entirely different book in the interim. In 2011, I got my wonderful agent who quickly connected me to my equally wonderful editor at Minotaur. My journey was no longer an imaginary jaunt; the path to publication was suddenly very real. In 2012, more changes happened. The title of my book got changed. My publication date got pushed back. My beautiful cover was revealed. Multiple revisions happened. Copy edits made me crazy, but I learned a lot in the process. I had my first public appearance as a novelist ("2 minutes at Bouchercon"). At some point, I received my ARCs.2013. Months still passed. My book began to be publicized. I reached the 100 Day mark. Another few months passed. My book started to be reviewed. My hardback copy came in the mail. And now...Be still my heart...
MY BOOK IS FINALLY HERE!!!!
Thanks to all my colleagues, friends and family--especially my husband--who made this possible!!!!
Date: 1688 Reel position: Wing / 853:61
Fans of Sherlock Holmes may be intrigued to know that the first known female sleuth in England was Anne Kidderminster (nee Holmes), a seventeenth-century widow who tracked down and brought her husband’s murderer to justice thirteen years after the crime. To find out more, check out my guest blog over on Criminal Element
, found under the excerpt of A Murder at Rosamund's Gate.
Do you prefer a puzzle at the outset...
What kind of mystery do you prefer--the kind that presents a puzzle from the outset, or one that reveals the puzzle during the investigation? Let me know!Check out my post on this topic over at A Bloody Good Read!
...Or a puzzle that emerges during the investigation?
the murder may have happened here
If you have a few minutes, check out the great entries by my colleagues: Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown (Touchstone, 2012) (she's also worked for all kinds of publications like Rolling Stone, In Style magazine, and Entertainment Weekly)... ...and Sam Thomas, an early modern historian specializing in midwifery. Sam's first novel, A Midwife's Tale (Minotaur/St. Martin's) is due out in early 2013.
"Monsters" in seventeenth-century England were funny sorts--not like today's zombies or even Frankenstein's creature--but rather aberrations of humanity. Real human beings who, like my antagonist in Monster at the Gate, had crossed society's lines--committed murder or other unspeakable acts. Their humanity was restored only by execution--usually by public hanging.
(Ironically, the early modern crowds who gathered to watch these executions--men, women, and children who cheered on the criminals' grim ends--were not themselves considered to be monsters, despite their bloodlust and fascination with the gallows. But hey, people aren't always consistent, are they?)
Booksellers and printers understood and exploited these sentiments, tapping into the public's fears, passions, and anxieties. Long before modern tabloids sensationalized criminal activity, early modern woodcuts, ballads and chapbooks conveyed to their readers 'true accounts' of each monstrosity, offering sordid and titillating details of the crime, the victim's last hours, and the monster's motivations. Implicit in many of these accounts was a warning--less to future victims, and more to society at large--that monsters walked among them. Though masked and disguised as humans, their monstrous nature would out. Woe to the community who did not catch and put an end to them!
So when reading these accounts, I always wondered what parts of the sensationalized accounts were true, what was contrived, and most of all--Who were these monsters, really, when they weren't being monsters?
The first image I had for Monster at the Gate was dreamlike, cruel--and a bit of a mystery cliche, although I did not realize it for years. I'd been pouring through woodcuts and broadsides-- researching gender patterns in domestic homicide--and I was struck by the same story that appeared again and again. A woman, stabbed in a secluded glen, discovered with a letter in her pocket. The letter would say something like 'Meet me at the secluded glen. I must see you.' And then it would be signed, 'L.J.' or something like that. The townspeople, the constable, everyone would scratch their heads--'Who was the monster? Who could have killed her?'
Huh? Was it possible that a whole community could be so naive? So gullible? I mean, there was a signed note from L.J.!
Or was this just some sort of early literary trope that booksellers created to sell their wares? Either way, the story was not just sad, but incomplete.
In some ways, MATG became the answer to the questions that never got asked--Who was this woman? Had she been excited when she met her murderer? Why the heck hadn't she been more suspicious? And most important of all--how could she get the justice she deserved?
The image of that woman stayed with me for years, eventually becoming the prologue--until I learned that prefaces are pretty much despised by agents, editors, and readers alike. So ironically, my inspiration for the novel will never make it to publication. Re-reading it now, I think it was right to cut the preface. Yet, in my mind, this image will always remain pivotal for me. So I thought I'd share it here, both to share my original thinking, and to show why it won't make it to print.
The young woman stumbled through the long grasses, squinting in the moonlight, trying to find the path. She had not dared to steal a lantern, and now she lamented her folly. Her long skirts caught on a branch, and she tugged impatiently at her red embroidered sash. Hearing a twig crack behind her, she whirled around. Recognizing the shadowy figure before her, she relaxed. But still she was puzzled.
“What are you doing here?” She asked, panting slightly. “Have you a message?”
The glint of a shining knife stopped her. Too late she realized her assailant’s intention. A quick thrust, and the blade ripped inside her. Brutal, fast, she barely had time to react. A hand clapped tightly over her mouth, muffling her dying sighs. Her struggles ceased, and her body grew limp in her captor’s arms.
A moment later, her body fell to the soft ground. Clouds glided before the moon, and a light rain fell gently on her still form. Blood and water soon plastered her hair across her face. Her murderer gazed at her for a moment, then stole away.
So....was I right to kill the prologue?