Updated: Feb 17
ROGUES GALLERY UNCOVERED
ADAM THE LEPER
So, you say you were robbed by “Adam the Leper”, can you describe him to me?
“About average height,” one of his men called him “Adam,”
Anything else? “He had Leprosy,”
Well, that certainly sounds like him alright.
You’ve had a narrow escape my friend.
Adam and his not so merry men have been terrorising the South East for the best part of ten years now and a right brutal gang of thieving bastards they are too, if you’ll pardon my Latin. You and your companions must have been a particularly a rich prize, as these days they don’t tend to lurk at the side of the road like common brigands. Adam and his gang’s speciality is robbing whole towns.
He’s probably robbed yours, if you did but know it.
It’s always the same, they turn up on market day or when there’s a fair on, the streets are full of peddlers and visitors from out of town you see, and everyone’s busy and excited. I love a good fair. Acrobats and sword-swallowers, rope walkers, dancing bears, minstrels having a sing-song - lovely. And wrestling contests too — I used to win a few of them in my day, I can tell you.
With everyone miserable about war with the French and raging pestilence or wondering whether they’ll be another famine this year, it’s nice to have something to look forward to. Of course, you’ve still got to be careful, as the streets will also be full of cutpurses who’ll whip the coin from your belt while you’re standing around drooling over a meat pie.
And it’s not just thieves; you can also be fleeced by the people you’re supposed to be buying from. How many times do you think you’ve bought a few pounds of grain from some friendly stallholder but because the scales have been rigged or the weights were false you ended up getting a lot less than you paid for.
More times than you imagine, I’ll be bound. If you’re lucky though you might see what honest townsfolk do to cheating merchants if they catch them.
They stick em in the pillory and pelt the cheating bastards with rotten vegetables, or fish, that’s what they do…. or worse.
And by "worse,” I mean they bombard them with handfuls of shit, and it serves em right! The kiddies love it. Fairs of course, can go on for days, and everyone gets drunk, and young men and young ladies do what they will - I used to do some of that as well, phwooor. What I’m trying to say is, nobody’s paying any attention to their valuables and that’s what Adam is banking on.
Amidst all the jollity you see, his boys are innocently mingling with the crowd, carefully watching who’s coming and going – apart from Adam himself, of course, who’s probably standing on his own on account of him being leprous.
When the gang are sure that most of the townspeople are out enjoying themselves – the whoresons slip away from the festivities, break into their houses, rob em blind, and then set em on fire.
In all the “hue and cry” they fade away into the smoke and the townspeople don’t know what’s been filched or what’s been consumed by the flames.
You’ve almost got to admire their cleverness; I’m in the wrong game.
To be honest, you’re lucky to be standing here at all, Adam’s lot are also famous around here for kidnapping. A bag over your head, a knife at your throat and “Poof” - one minute you’re admiring the nice new frying pan you’ve just bought and the next you’re off into the woods before anyone realises that you’ve gone. Before they’ve even had a chance to miss you, your family gets a message that unless they stump up a big bag of gold or silver by way of ransom, they’ll find your body hanging in pieces from a tree.
And even if they do pay, the chances are Adam would have cut you up a bit before letting you go — just for sport.
You’d think, being a leper, he’d have more important things to think about than wanton cruelty.
I suppose, since the great pestilence, people aren’t so kindly disposed towards the contagiously ill. They used to give em alms and build hospitals to house them in, now they just run a mile.
Nobody’s safe nowadays, not even officials going about the king’s business – Adam is particularly fond of robbing them, just to show how little he respects the law.
The Prince of Wales once sent some of his servants off to market to buy food and they came back from an unexpected meeting with Adam beaten to a pulp, with not a penny on em – he’d even pinched their horse and cart.
He’s got some cods - It’s a brave man who robs from the king.
Have you ever heard of Richard Puddlecote? He was a cheese merchant who tunnelled into the crypt of Westminster Abbey back in 03 and made off with £100,000 worth of gold and silver.
You’d think that would be enough for any man but oh no, the silly bastard—pardon my Flemish - spent the next two days getting royally pissed before tunnelling back in with some of his mates to steal another load. It was only when clerical valuables started to turn up in pawn shops, brothels, and fishermen’s nets that the Abbey’s monks finally realised, they’d been robbed.
It was said that Puddlecote was in cahoots with some of the monks – although he claimed at his trial that he’d been working alone. They found a few of the stolen items hidden in their rooms though, which to a professional like me is sure sign of guilt. Of course, the monks – being monks - claimed the “Benefit of the Clergy” anyway so they got off scot free. Puddlecoat wasn’t so lucky, he was hanged, and his skin nailed to the abbey door as a warning to others.
That’s more like it! These days they call rotting bodies swinging from a gibbet or a shrivelled head stuck on a pole "a deterrent." I reckon we’re going soft.
Sorry, I got distracted there for a minute…. We were talking about Adam the Leper. Did you hear how last year he pretty much robbed entire the town of Bristol?
That’s right, he and men seized the whole port, ships an all, then, he set himself up as “King of the Town” and gave his men licence to rob, rape, burn and defile anything they fancied.
Some of the ships had just sailed in from Spain and the lads on deck hardly had time to furl their sails before they were boarded by a bunch of drunk savages and had their holds stripped bare. Among the vessels he plundered were some conducting King Edward’s personal business and he’s a fellow with a hell of a temper - you remember what he did to the French at Crecy? Somehow though Adam managed to avoid royal retribution – perhaps his majesty was too busy with that war and pestilence we were talking about to pay him much attention.
The final straw came later, when Adam committed the unforgivable sin of robbing the king’s wife.
Philippa of Hainault owned a lot of expensive jewellery, some of which she had given to a merchant in London for safekeeping.
This was a wise precaution; you don’t want to go roaming the country with a chest full of valuables on the back of your carriage, attracting footpads like a corpse attracts crows.
Trouble was, Adam found out about the jewels and where they were being kept.
His men laid siege to the poor merchant’s house one night and demanded that he hand them over.
The merchant was a braver, or more stupid, man than I.
Armed with only a cudgel, he stood resolutely in his doorway and cracked their heads as they tried to get in - all the while damming their impudence.
Adam was impressed with the man's courage, but that didn’t stop him from setting his house on fire.
His gang refused to allow anyone to escape until the merchant had thrown down the jewels.
Well, what would you do?
Let your family burn or cough up the sparklers? Exactly!
The King’s fury was terrifying to behold. He sent forth Lord Berkeley and a troop of armed men with strict instructions to tear the countryside apart until they’d found and punished this scabrous outlaw.
I often wonder, you know, why Adam didn’t take himself off to a church and claim the “Privilege of Sanctuary.” As I’m sure your aware, If the law’s after you, you can go to any holy place and once inside they can’t touch you - for 40 days at least. Sometimes I hear that Westminster Abby’s so full of criminals on the run, there's hardly any room left in there for the people who are trying to pray.
Talking of churches that reminds me, Old Martyn the Hermit once told me this great story about the Folevilles, have you heard of them?
They were a family of outlaws led by John Foleville and his seven sons who robbed and murdered anyone they felt like back in the twenties and thirties.
It all started to go wrong in for em eight years ago though when they kidnapped a royal judge called Sir Richard Willoughby.
The law came down on them... Hard! So, they ran to a village called Tee and claimed sanctuary at the local church. It turns out that Richard - one of the brothers - had been the rector there for nearly twenty years.
As I was just saying, you can’t always trust the clergy.
At first, the Foleville’s kept their pursuers at bay by shooting arrows at them from the church windows. Several fell dead among the headstones, stuck like hedgehogs.
Seeing his men getting turned into pin cushions, combined with the kings “most emphatic” order gave a furious Berkeley all the inspiration he needed to ignore the rules of Privilege and make a full-on assault.
His men burst into the chancel, dragged Richard out into the churchyard by his cassock, and chopped his head off.
No messing about.
Those left standing after the attack were then arrested. And did those brave constables get a reward or even a nod of recognition for their brave deeds? The Pope ordained that for killing a priest — one who robbed, murdered, and raped, mind you — the men who executed him should serve a penance to atone for their sin. This involved being publicly whipped at every church in the area. It makes you wonder why they bothered, it really does. Sorry, I became distracted — we were talking about Adam the Leper.
They captured Adam at Winchester and I would have thought he was for the noose, the axe, or even the stake, but would you believe it, he got off. And it wasn’t for the usual reason that he bribed the judge to let him go – you’d be surprised at how lenient they can be when you cross their palms. Nor was it that he offered threats of violence - I’ve seen a judge about to deliver a guilty verdict one minute, get a knife pulled on him the next and suddenly decide that the accused had no case to answer. No, it was Adam’s gang that did it. They stood outside the courthouse and savagely attacked anyone who came in or out. In the end, the trial couldn’t go ahead, because nobody could get close enough to the judge’s bench, so they had to let Adam go.
It all about Jurisprudence, you see, I blame Magna Carta. They should have stuck with “Trial by Hot Iron,” you knew where you were with that. Pick a red-hot bar of iron out of a blazing fire and walk with it in your hand for nine feet. If three days later your hand shows no sign of healing then you’re guilty and you hang…simple.
I don’t know what this country’s coming to, I really don’t.
So, the best thing you can do is leave me your details, and we’ll get back to you if there is any news…. Oh, you’ve gone.
Where’s my bloody purse.!!
Pardon my Latin.