M. ... this detestable priuy robery from a few and deceytful rules is in few yeres grown to the body of an arte, and hath his peculiar termes, and therof as great a multitude applied to it, as hathe Gramer or Lodgicke, or any other of the approued sciensis, neyther let this seeme straunge unto you, bycause the thinge is not commonly knowen, for this facultie hath one condition of iugling, that yf the sleght be once discouered marde is al the market.1 The firste precepte thereof is to be as secret in working, as he that keepeth a man company from London too Maydenhead. & makes good chere by the way, to the ende in the thycket to turne his pricke vpward, and cast a weauers knot on both his thumbs behind him,2 & they to thentent that euer in al companyes they may talk familierly in all apperaunce & yet so couertly in dede, that their purpose may not bee espied: They call theyr worthy arte by a newe found name, callinge them selues Chetors, and the dice cheters, borowing the terme from among our lawers, with whom all such casuals as fall vnto the Lord at the holding his lets, as waifs, straies & such like bee called chetes, & are accustomably said to bee escheted to the lords vse.3 R. Trow ye then that they haue any affinity with our men of Law? M. Neuer with those that be honest, mary with suche as bee ambydexters & vse to play on both the hands they haue a great League, so haue they also with all kynde of People, that from a good order of ciuilitie, are fallen and resolued as it were from the hardnesse of vertuous liuing: to the delycasy and softnesse of uncareful ydelness, and gainfull deceyte.
For gayne and ease be the only prickes that they shote at. But what righte or honest meanes they myght acquire it, that parte neuer commeth in question among them.4
And hereof it riseth that lyke as lawe When the terme is trewly considered, signifieth an ordinaunce of good men, established for the common wealth, to represse all vicius lyving: so these Chetors turned the cat in the pan, geuing to diverse vile patching shyftes, an honest, and godly titell, calling it by the name of a law.5 Bycause by a multitude of hateful rules a multytude of dregges and draffe, as it were all good lerning, gouerne and rule their ydel bodies, to the destruction of the good laboring people.6 And this is the cause that dyuerse crafty sleghts deuised only for guyle, hold up the name of a Lawe, ordayned ye wote to mayntayne playne dealing. Thus giue they their own conveyance the name of cheting law, so doo they other termes, as sacking law: high law, Fygging law, and such lyke.7
R. What meane ye herby, haue ye spoken brod English al this while, & now begin to choke me with misteries, and queint termes? M. No not for that but always ye must consider, that a carpenter hath many termes familier inough to his pretensis [prentesis, prentices] that other folke understand, not at al, & so haue the chetors not without greate nede (for a falsehod once detected) can neuer compasse the desierd effect: neither is it possible to make you grope the bottome of their arte, onles I acquaint you with some of their termes. Therefore note this at the first: that Sackynge Lawe signifieth horedome, Hyghe law, robbery, Figginge law, picke purse crafte.
R. But what is this to the purpose, or what haue chetors a do with hores or theues. M. As moch as with their very entere frende, that hold all of one corporation. For the first & origynall ground of Chetinge is, a counterfeate countenaunce in all things: a studdy to seme to be, & not to be in deede. And bycause no great dysceyte can be wrought but where speciall trust goeth before, therfore the chetor when he pitcheth his haye to purchace his profit enforceth all his wittes to win credite & opinion of honesty, and vprightnes.8 Who hath a great[er] outward shew of simplicity then the pick purse? or what woman wil seeme so feruent in loue as wil the common harlot? so as I told you before the foundation of all those sortes of people is nothing els but mere simulation, & bering in hand.9. And like as they spring all from one rote, so tend, they al to one end, idely to lyue by rape, and rauin, deuouring the frute of othermens labors, al the ods betwene them be in the meane actions, that leade towards the end & final purpose.10
* * *
R. I feele well that if a man happen to put his money
in hasarde, the ods is great that he shall rise a loser, but many men are so
continent of their hands that nothing can cause them to put ought in aduenture:
& some again vnskilful, that lack of cunning forceth them to
M. I graunt you wel both. But neuertheles I neuer yet
saw man so hard to bee vanquished but they would make him stoupe, at one law or
And for that purpose their first trauel is after that they haue taken vp the cosin & made him somwhat sweat, to seke by al means thei can to vnderstand his nature, and whervnto hee is inclined.13 If they find that he taketh pleasure in the company of femals, then seke they to strike him at the sacking law.14 And take this alwais for a maxime that al the bauds in a contrey be of the chetors familiar acquaintaunce. Therfore it shal not be hard at al times to prouid for this amorous knight, a lewed lecherous lady, to kepe him louing company. Then fal they to banketing, to minstrels, masking, and much is the cost that the silly cosin shalbe at in Jewels, apparell and otherwise: he shal not ones get a graunt to haue scarsly a licke at this dainty ladiys lappes [lips]. And euer among she layeth in this reason. For hir sake to put his .xx. or .xl. crownes in aduenture ye wot not (saith she) what may be a womans lucke.15 If he refuse it, lord how vnkindly she taketh the mater & cannot be reconsiled with lesse then a gown or a kirtyl of sylk, which commenly is a reward vnto hir by knap of the case, and the cut throtes his complices, to whom the matter is put in daying.16
* * *
.... An other ioyly shift & for the subtyle inuencion and finenes of wit excedeth far al the rest, is the barnardes law.17
* * *
... & whensoeuer these shiftes may not take place, then lede they the cosin to the gase of an enterlude, or the beare baytyng at paris garden, or some other place of throng where by fyne fingered Fegge boy ... picked shalbe his purse, and his money lost in a moment, or els thei run to the last refuge of all, and by a knot of lusty companions of the h[i]gh law, not only shake the harmlesse body out of all his clothes, but bind him, or bob him to bote, that lesse had bin his harm to haue stouped low at the first, and so to haue stopped their greedy mouthes, then to saue himselfe so long, and in the end to bee fleesed as bare as a new shorne shepe, and perchaunce so farr from his freends, that he shalbe forced to trip on his ten toes homeward for lacke of a hackney to ryde on, and beg for hys charges by the way.18 R. Now speake ye indeed of a redy way to thrift but it hath an yll fauoured successe many times.19 M. I wot what you meane, you thinke they come home by Tiburne, or S. Thomas of Watrings, and so they do in dede, but nothing so sone as a man wold suppose, they be but pety figgers, and vnlessoned laddes that haue such redy passage to the gallowes.20 The old theues go thorow with their vsies [vises, devices] wel .xx. or .xxx. yeres together & be seldome taken, or tainted ...21
Bodleian Library copy. Contractions silently expanded, except for ampersands and numerals.
R., a young courtier recently arrived in London, confides in the much more experienced M. about the group of gambling associates who have made him welcome. M. starts to explain to him that he has fallen in with a gang of con men, whose intentions are to fleece him of his money.
This book is sometimes ascribed to a certain Gilbert Walker, of whom nothing else is known.