Moll Cutpurse was the queen of 17th Century London underworld. Dressed as a man, carrying a sword and puffing on a long clay pipe with her swagger, style and bi-sexuality she was one of the most colourful characters of the age and deserves to be as celebrated in the folklore of London as Dick Turpin and Danny Dyer.
Moll was so notorious in her time that famous playwrights Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton wrote a play about her, The Roaring Girl in which she is described as ‘a very Tomrig and Rumple scuttle’. She was happy to challenge men to a fight or even a duel if they happen to cross her. She was as likely to commit adultery with a husband or his wife and was a master thief who constantly evaded the law.
The 17th Century was a time where criminals were flogged, had their ears cropped, disemboweled and hung in public as a form of sport. This didn’t deter such a brazen gangster as Moll, not even being jailed and having her hands branded.
She started her career stealing purses in St.Paul’s Cathedral on rainy days when it was packed and moved up through the ranks of villainy to become a highwaywoman during the Civil War, her most notable victim being the Roundhead General Fairfax who she held up on Hounslow Heath, shot him through the arm and rode off with his gold. She also shot his horses to make sure he couldn’t follow her. The military caught her eventually, sentenced her to be hanged, but she managed to escape Newgate jail by paying a massive bribe to the prison warden.
When she wasn’t stealing from people she worked as a pimp, providing male lovers for respectable middle class City ladies. She ended her life as a fence and ran a school for thieves to ensure her criminal craft was passed on.
She eventually died of dropsy in Fleet Street.