Douglas Hay (History, University of York)
We can never be sure how much crime was a full-time occupation in this century (or any other) but both contemporaries’ complaints and the confessions of criminals turned King’s evidence allow us to reconstruct some of the life history of highly skilled conmen, burglars, and horsethieves. They did not amass large fortunes--that was the prerogative of great officeholders and fraudsters like Lord Macclesfield—but they needed some of the same capital. Their social capital included reputation: with collaborators and fences and thieftakers and the providers of their alibis and safehouses. Many of the most successful made effective use of their schooling and apprenticeships to make convincing the expensive clothing and jewellery they used to con the propertied. How they laundered their proceeds is more difficult to trace, but some great thieves undoubtedly invested in real property, and repeatedly reinvented themselves as ‘respectable’ persons. They also made effective and frequent use of lawyers (and some were lawyers themselves). In all these respects they distinguished themselves from the mass of offenders tried by the criminal law.
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