History, Real Life Crime

Mary Frith (aka Moll Cutpurse)

This is the story of a 16th century woman who was anything but typical and backward. For the distinctive characteristics she had it wouldn’t be wrong to call her way ahead of her times especially for a lady back in the day. The woman gained herself many names due to her rebel disposition.

Mary Frith was born in 1584, born to a shoemaker in Barbican Estate. Gained the alias Moll Cutpurse as her reputation as a crafty pickpocket grew. Also known as the Roaring Girl, for picking brawls after tavern time for mere street entertainment.

She was notorious, rebellious, surely a loudmouth, was said to be the first woman ever to smoke, openly dress as a man and was the fence of the underworld of London.

The Beginning

Despite being born to a simple shoe maker and his very domesticated housewife, this celebrity criminal girl was always aggressive, wild and bawdy. Her father’s brother was a minister but they couldn’t keep her tamed at all. In fact her very first indicted theft was at the mere age of sixteen and for two shillings which, about a hundred and fifty years later, would be equivalent to grand larceny! But her uncle had her released but shipped off to New England in hopes of her fresh start.

She proved to be nothing less than her heralded reputation and even before the ship sailed, she jumped out and swam all the way to the shore. From that point on her new life of wild lawlessness began. She’d go to taverns knock herself out drinking, would carry a sword with her and dress like a man smoking a long clay pipe.

On the Fence of London’s Underworld

She wasn’t easily scared that is why burning the hand four times, which was a common practice for punishing thieves, did not discourage her from stealing again. In fact she became the go to person for thieves as well as all those who had been victims of pickpocketing. Each would pay her something to get what they wanted done.

Apart from theft she was also notorious for pimping. She would connect rich men with women who were interested in being their mistresses. Contrary to her lifestyle, her house on Fleet Street was known to be quite feminine and immaculate. Along with three maids she kept full time for help, she also had pets in her house. Perhaps very opposing sides of her character for many who did not understand her.

At a later point she was sent to trial and sentenced to death but she got away from being hanged by paying the hangman and was later released. From that point onwards the woman had grown psychotic in her manners. Moll Cutpurse was pronounced dead on the 26th of June, 1659. She is buried at St. Bride’s churchyard, Fleet Street with an inscribed epitaph that was destroyed later in the Great Fire of London.

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