The Street Robber and the Gentleman Highwayman: Changing Representations and Perceptions of Robbery in London, 1690–1800

Author: Shoemaker, Robert B.

Source: Cultural and Social History, 1 October 2006, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 381-405(25)


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Owing to the growth of urban crime, the expansion of print culture, and changing cultural attitudes, a remarkably diverse range of positive and negative images of robbery were disseminated in eighteenth-century London. Attitudes in the 1690s were already ambivalent, but repeated negative reports in newspapers and trial accounts contributed to the identification, in the 1720s during a perceived crime wave, of the 'street robber' as a particularly threatening criminal. In response, the concept of the polite gentleman highwayman emerged, epitomized in representations of James Maclaine at mid-century. From the 1770s, however, the appeal of the gentleman highwayman began to wane, and all forms of robbery came to be seen as equally undesirable.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Sheffield

Publication date: October 1, 2006

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