How coincidental that I featured my anthology mate, Louise Allen, on Diane’s Blog last week, because her UNDONE story, Disrobed and Dishonored, in Pleasurably Undone (in bookstores now!) is about a highwayman in disguise, always a popular hero in Regency Romance.

What is the coincidence? Last week, April 7 to be exact, marked the anniversary of the death of one of England’s legendary highwaymen, Dick Turpin. Turpin was hanged at York raceway April 7, 1739:

On this date in 1739, famed desperado Richard “Dick” Turpin rode through York on
an open cart, saluting his admirers, then sat upon his gallows at the York
raceway for half an hour, chatting with spectators and executioners, until he
“with undaunted courage looked about him, and after speaking a few words to the
topsman, he threw himself off the ladder and expired in about five minutes.”

Dick Turpin was not quite the gallant highwayman legend depicts him. He and his men relied on brutality and cruelty and often preyed upon the weak and stole from the poor. In one account, Turpin and his gang held a widow woman over the fire in her fireplace until she told where her money was hidden. In another, they beat a man’s wife and daughter until he gave up his money. Turpin teamed up with another renowned and more clever highwayman of the period, Tom King. When the two of them came upon two maids who had sold some livestock, King thought them “too pretty” to take their money. Turpin robbed them anyway.

Later Turpin stole a valuable horse for which Tom King was arrested. Turpin tried to rescue King, but, never being a good shot, he hit and killed King instead of the constables guarding him. Turpin escaped into Yorkshire and lived under an assumed name. After hunting with friends one day, he impulsively shot his landlord’s cock (a bird, Janet!!). He was hauled before the magistrate and ultimately discovered to be Dick Turpin.

So how did this brutal and not-always-bright highwayman become such a legend? Why, he was popularized in fiction! The highwayman Dick Turpin was a secondary character in Harrison Ainsworth’s novel Rookwood, which became a best seller. Ainsworth’s description of Turpin’s famous ride from Westminster to York captured the public’s imagination and the legend was secured.

Except that legendary ride was made by a 17th century highwayman, Nick Nevins….

The romanticism of Turpin continues with a movie made in 1925, starring Tom Mix, and a television series in the late 1970’s.

Can you think of any other legends created in fiction? What’s your favorite highwayman character in a romance?

Remember to visit my blog on Wednesday and Friday when I’ll be All Undone and giving prizes.
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