Outlaws and Highwaymen

Chapter from Robert Hitchcock’s A Politic Plat for the honour of the Prince
Source
Robert Hitchcock, A Politic Plat for the honour of the Prince, in Social England Illustrated. A Collection of XVIIth Century (sic) Tracts, intr. Andrew Lang, ed. Edward Arber, English Garner Series, reprint edition (Westminster, Archibald Constable, 1903), pp. 86–87

Date
1580


I pray you, show me by what occasion or means this huge number of beggars and vagabonds do breed here in England; and why you appoint twelve of them to every ship? I think they may carry the ship away and become pirates.

If you consider the poverty that is, and doth remain in the shire towns and market towns, within this realm of England and Wales; which towns being inhabited with great store of poor householders, who by their poverty are driven to bring up their youth idly, and if they live until they come to man’s [e]state, then are they brought to work.1 Therefore at such time as their parents fail them, they begin to shift, and acquaint themselves with someone like brought up, that hath made his shift with dicing, cosening, picking or cutting of purses: or else, if he be of courage, plain robbing by the wayside, which they count an honest shift for the time, and so come they daily to the gallows.

Hereby grows the great and huge number of beggars and vagabonds which, by no reasonable means or laws, could yet be brought to work, being thus idly brought up. Which perilous state and imminent danger they now stand in, I thought it good to avoid by placing twelve of these poor people into every fishing ship, according to this Plat.2

Who when they shall find and perceive that their diet for all the whole year is provided, and that two voyages every year will yield to every man for his pains 20 clear, and for ever to continue; by which honest trade they shall be able to live in estimation amongst men; whereas before they were hated, whipped, almost starved, poor and naked, imprisoned, and in danger daily to be marked with a burning iron for a rogue, and to be hanged for a vagabond. When they shall find these dangers to be avoided by their travail, and thereby an increase of wealth to ensue: they will be glad to continue this good and profitable vocation, and shun the other. Besides that it is well known that six mariners or seafaring men are able to rule and govern twelve land men that be not acquainted with the sea: and therefore it is to be doubted that this kind of people will prove pirates; they be so base-minded. For the heart, mind, and value of a man is such, and his spirit is so great, that he will travel all the kingdoms of Princes to seek entertainment; rather than he will show his face to beg or crave relief of thousands of people, that be unworthy to unbuckle his shoes: and in his great want, will take with force and courage from them that hath, to serve his necessity; thinking it more happy to die speedily, than to live defamed and miserably. Of which sort of people, at the breaking up of wars, there are a great number of worthy and valiant soldiers, that have served in the wars with invincible minds: who, through want of living, either depart as aforesaid; or else, if they tarry in England, hanging is the end of the most part of them.

Robert Hitchcock



Context

The pamphlet of which this chapter forms part contains proposals for reorganising and increasing the English fishing fleet, and solving the unemployment problem at the same time.

Notes



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