Mary Frith (aka Moll Cutpurse)

This is the story of a 16th century woman who was anything but typical for the period. For the distinctive characteristics she had it wouldn’t be wrong to say she was way ahead of her time.

Mary Frith was born in 1584, born to a shoemaker in Barbican Estate, she gained the alias of Moll Cutpurse due to her reputation as a crafty pickpocket. However, she was also known as the Roaring Girl, for brawling in the street.

She was notorious, rebellious, and a loudmouth, and was said to be the first woman ever to smoke, openly dress as a man, and live among the underworld of London.

The Beginning

Despite being born to a simple shoe maker and his very domesticated housewife, this celebrity criminal girl had always been aggressive, wild and bawdy. An uncle of hers was a minister but these facts wouldn’t keep her tamed. In fact her very first recorded theft of two shillings was at the age of sixteen, and a considerable amount of money for the time. Her uncle had her shipped off to New England hoping for her to make a fresh start.

She proved to be nothing less than her heralded reputation and even before the ship sailed, she jumped out and swam all the way to the shore. From that point onward her new life of wild lawlessness began. She’d go to taverns knock herself out drinking, would carry a sword with her and dress like a man smoking a long clay pipe.

On the Fence of London’s Underworld

She wasn’t easily scared either. She had her hand burned four times, which was a common practice for punishing thieves, but this did not discourage her from stealing again. In fact she became the “go-to” person for thieves who would pay her something to get what they wanted done.

She was also notorious for pimping. She would connect rich men with women who were interested in being their mistresses. Contrary to her lifestyle, her house on Fleet Street was known to be quite feminine and immaculate. Along with three maids she kept full time for help, she also had pets in her house. Perhaps very opposing sides of her character for many who did not understand her.

At a later point she was sent to trial and sentenced to death, but she got away from being hanged by paying the hangman, and was later released. From that point onward the woman had grown psychotic in her body and her manners.

Moll Cutpurse was pronounced dead on the 26th of June, 1659. She is buried at St. Bride’s churchyard, Fleet Street with an inscribed epitaph that was later destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

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