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Susan Higges: The Real Renegade Nell?



Susan Higges: The Real Renegade Nell?

Louisa Harland as highwaywoman Nell Jackson in Disney+’s ‘Renegade Nell’ (Picture courtesy of Robert Viglasky/Disney+)

Google News Recentlyheard

Google News Recentlyheard

Susan Higges was one such highwaywoman. Residing in Buckinghamshire, her profession of crime stretched for 20 years. She dressed as a person to stalk the highways and pilfer from travellers, and likewise drummed up extra funds by extorting males whom she caught sleeping along with her single feminine servants.

However her exploits got here to a bloody finish when she murdered a lady who knew her identification. Along with her dying breath, her sufferer spat blood onto Higges’ face – leaving a stain which, so the story goes, couldn’t be scrubbed away. With bodily proof of her crime, the highwaywoman was compelled to admit, and was promptly despatched to the gallows.

Higges wasn’t the one girl to embrace freeway theft. Though comparatively unusual, we are able to discover tales of highwaywomen in numerous sources, from court docket information to standard songs. Some – like Higges – have been solo operators, whereas others partnered with their spouses, or ran with gangs. Many dressed as males to commit their crimes – although we are able to’t ensure why.

An actual Renegade Nell? The ballads of Susan Higges

Our foremost report of Higges’ vibrant life comes from broadsheet ballads: low-cost, mass-produced lyric sheets that peddled sensational tales of homicide and woe. These ballads have been beloved by their Seventeenth-century readers, and have become a key a part of standard information tradition within the interval.

It’s maybe no shock that the writers of those ballads pounced on the lives – and deaths – of highwaywomen. For max drama, many have been written from the standpoint of the ladies themselves, recounting their misdeeds to the reader as they shivered on the gallows.

Higges’ story was the main focus of two broadsheet ballads, each printed in 1640: A True Relation of One Susan Higges, and The Sorrowfull Grievance of Susan Higges. Because of the nature of those sources, we are able to’t take them as completely correct, however they supply a tantalising flavour of her life.

These two tales are spare on some particulars. We don’t get a way of Higges’ adolescence, as an illustration, or why she turned to a lifetime of crime, however it’s clear that she was adept at overlaying her tracks. In line with A True Relation, Higges managed to cover her legal exercise from her pals and neighbours for twenty years.

Though she was “nicely considered by good Gents and Farmers of fine fame”, the ballad says “Most wickedly I [Higges] spent my time. Devoide of godly grace: / A Lewder Lady by no means liv’d, I thinke in anywhere.”

The crimes of Susan Higges

The ballad particulars the varied crimes Higges dedicated. These vary from extortion – she demanded that males who slept with the ‘younger Countrey girles’ she employed as servants “give me cash for this fallacious, completed to my home and me” – to theft and homicide. In line with A True Relation, Higges’ profession as a highwaywoman concentrating on London retailers was notably profitable: “My weapon by the high-way aspect, hath me a lot cash wonne”.

The ballad additionally describes the clothes Higges would put on when she was terrorising the streets: “In mens attyre I oft have rode, upon a Gelding stout / and completed nice robberies valiantly.” Whereas we are able to’t know for sure why Higges selected to decorate in males’s garments, judging from A True Relation, it appears it was to cover her identification:

I had my Scarfes and Vizards, my face for to disguise:
Someday a beard upon my chin, to blinde the peoples eyes.
My Turkie blade, and Pistols good, my braveness to maintaine:
Thus took I many a Farmers purse nicely cram’d with golden gaine

Nevertheless, Higges’ lifetime of crime finally caught up along with her, when she was recognised by a lady she robbed at Misseldon heath. Higges fatally wounded her sufferer, however as her final act the lady “gave a grone: a therewithall did spit upon my face / Three drops of blood, that by no means could possibly be wiped from that place”.

What occurred to Susan Higges?

Newspaper ballad about highwaywoman Susan Higges

The execution of Susan Higges as illustrated within the broadsheet ballad ‘A True Relation of One Susan Higges’ (Picture: public area)

A lot as William Shakespeare’s murderous Girl Macbeth struggled to scrub her palms clear, the ballad says that Higges couldn’t scrub the blood from her face. Fearful that her bloodied cheek would reveal her crimes, she confessed to her servants, who promptly reported her to the native justices of the peace.

Higges was then imprisoned, and later taken to court docket for sentencing. She was condemned to demise for her crimes, almost definitely by hanging – a verdict that the ballad describes as Higges’ “simply desert [sic]”.

The story ends with a stark warning from the highwaywoman: “Be warned by this story, you ru[s]sling Rosters all / The upper that you simply climbe in sinne the larger is your fall.”

Renegade Nell streams on Disney+ in UK from 29 March

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