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THE WHOLE
LIFE AND DEATH
OF

LONG MEG

OF
WESTMINSTER.

Chapter I.

Where Meg was Born, her coming up to London, and her Usage to the Honest Carrier.

 

In the reign of Henry VIII. was born in Lancashire a maid called Long Meg. At eighteen years old she came to London to get her a service—Father Willis, the carrier, being the waggoner—and her neighbour brought her up with some other lasses. After a tedious journey, being in sight of the desired city, she demanded why they looked sad. "We have no money," said one, "to pay our fare." So Meg replies, "If that be all, I shall answer your demands," and this put them in some comfort. But as soon as they came to St. John's Street, Willis demanded their money. "Say what you will have," quoth she. "Ten shillings a piece," said he. "But we have not so much about us," said she. "Nay, then, I will have it out of your bones." "Marry, content," replied Meg, and, taking a staff in her hand, so belaboured him and his man that he desired her for God's sake to hold her hand. "Not I," said she, "unless you bestow an angel on us for good luck, and swear e'er we depart to get us good addresses."

The carrier, having felt the strength of her arm, thought it best to give her the money and promised not to go till he had got them good places.

Chapter II.

Of her being placed in Westminster, and what she did at her Place.

The carrier, having set up his horses, went with the lasses to the Eagle in Westminster, and told the landlady he had brought her three fine Lancashire lasses; and seeing she often asked him to get her a maid, she might now take her choice. "Marry," said she, "I want one at present, and here are three gentlemen who shall give their opinions." As soon as Meg came in they blessed themselves, crying,

"Domine, Domine, viee Originem."

So her mistress demanded what was her name. "Margaret, forsooth," said she briskly. "And what work can you do?" She answered she had not been bred unto her needle, but to hard labour, as washing, brewing, and baking, and could make a house clean. "Thou art," quoth the hostess, "a lusty wench, and I like thee well, for I have often persons that will not pay." "Mistress," said she, "if any such come let me know, and I'll make them pay I'll engage." "Nay, this is true," said the carrier, "for my carcase felt it;" and then he told them how she served him. On this Sir John de Castile, in a bravado, would needs make an experiment of her vast strength; and asked her "if she durst exchange a box o' the ear with him." "Yes," quoth she, "if my mistress will give me leave." This granted, she stood to receive Sir John's blow, who gave her a box with all his might, but it stirred her not at all; but Meg gave him such a memorandum on his ear that Sir John fell down at her feet. "By my faith," said another, "she strikes a blow like an ox, for she hath knocked down an ass." So Meg was taken into service.

Chapter III.

The method Meg took to make one of the Vicars pay his Score.

Meg so bestirred herself that she pleased her mistress, and for her tallness was called Long Meg of Westminster.

One of the lubbers of the Abbey had a mind to try her strength, so, coming with six of his associates one frosty morning, calls for a pot of ale, which, being drank, he asked what he owed. To which Meg answers, "Five shillings and threepence."

"O thou foul scullion, I owe thee but three shillings and one penny, and no more will I pay thee." And, turning to his landlady, complained how Meg had charged him too much. "The foul ill take me," quoth Meg, "if I misreckon him one penny, and therefore, vicar, before thou goest out of these doors I shall make thee pay every penny;" and then she immediately lent him such a box on the ears as made him reel again. The vicar then steps up to her, and together both of them went by the ears. The vicar's head was broke, and Meg's clothes torn off her back. So the vicar laid hold of her hair, but, he being shaved, she could not have that advantage; so, laying hold of his ears and keeping his pate to the post, asked him how much he owed her. "As much as you please," said he. "So you knave," quoth she, "I must knock out of your bald pate my reckoning." And with that she began to beat a plain song between the post and his pate. But when he felt such pain he roared out he would pay the whole. But she would not let him go until he laid it down, which he did, being jeered by his friends.

Chapter IV.

Of her fighting and conquering Sir James of Castile, a Spanish Knight.

All this time Sir James continued his suit to Meg's mistress, but to no purpose. So, coming in one day and seeing her melancholy, asked what ailed her, for if anyone has wronged you I will requite you. "Marry," quoth she, "a base knave in a white satin doublet has abused me, and if you revenge my quarrel I shall think you love me." "Where is he?" quoth Sir James. "Marry," said she, "he said he would be in St. George's Fields." "Well," quoth he, "do you and the doctor go along with me, and you shall see how I'll pummel the knave."

Unto this they agreed, and sent Meg into St. George's Fields beforehand. "Yonder," said she, "walks the fellow by the windmill." "Follow me, hostess," said Sir James; "I will go to him." But Meg passed as if she would have gone by. "Nay, stay," said Sir James; "you and I part not so. I am this gentlewoman's champion, and fairly for her sake will have you by the ears." With that Meg drew her sword, and to it they went.

At the first blow she hit him on the head, and often endangered him. At last she struck his weapon out of his hands, and, stepping up to him, swore all the world should not save him. "O save me, sir," said he; "I am a knight, and it is but a woman's matter; do not spill my blood." "Wert thou twenty knights," said Meg, "and was the king here himself, I would not spare thy life unless you grant me one thing." "Let it be what it will, you shall be obeyed." "Marry," said she, "that this night you wait on my plate at this woman's house and confess me to be your master."

This being yielded to and a supper provided, Thomas Usher and others were invited to make up the feast, and unto whom Sir James told what had happened. "Pho!" said Usher jeeringly, "it is no such great dishonour for to be foiled by an English gentleman since Cæsar the Great was himself driven back by their extraordinary courage." At this juncture Meg came in, having got on her man's attire. "Then," said Sir James, "this is that valiant gentleman whose courage I shall ever esteem." Hereupon, she pulling off her hat, her hair fell about her ears, and she said "I am no other than Long Meg of Westminster, and so you are heartily welcome."

At this they all fell a-laughing. Nevertheless, at supper time, according to agreement, Sir James was a proper page; and she, having leave of her mistress, sat in state like her majesty. Thus Sir James was disgraced for his love, and Meg was counted a proper woman.

Chapter V.

Her Usage to the Bailiff of Westminster, who came into her Mistress's and arrested her Friend.

A bailiff, having for the purpose took forty shillings, arrested a gentleman in Meg's mistress's house, and desired the company to keep peace. She, coming in, asked what was the matter. "O," said he, "I'm arrested." "Arrested! and in our house? Why this unkind act to arrest one in our house; but, however, take an angel and let him go." "No," said the bailiff, "I cannot, for the creditor is at the door." "Bid him come in," said she, "and I'll make up the matter." So the creditor came in; but, being found obstinate, she rapped him on the head with a quart pot and bid him go out of doors like a knave. "He can but go to prison," quoth she, "where he shall not stay long if all the friends I have can fetch him out."

The creditor went away with a good knock, and the bailiff was going with his prisoner. "Nay," said she, "I'll bring a fresh pot to drink with him." She came into the parlour with a rope, and, knitting her brows, "Sir Knave," said she, "I'll learn thee to arrest a man in our house. I'll make thee a spectacle for all catchpoles;" and, tossing the rope round his middle, said to the gentleman, "Sir, away, shift for yourself; I'll pay the bailiff his fees before he and I part." Then she dragged the bailiff unto the back side of the house, making him go up to his chin in a pond, and then paid him his fees with a cudgel, after which he went away with the amends in his hands, for she was so well beloved that no person would meddle with her.

Chapter VI.

Of her meeting with a Nobleman, and her Usage to him and to the Watch.

Now it happened she once put on a suit of man's apparel. The same night it fell out that a young nobleman, being disposed for mirth, would go abroad to see the fashions, and, coming down the Strand, espies her; and, seeing such a tall fellow, asked him whither he was going. "Marry," said she, "to St. Nicholas's to buy a calve's head." "How much money hast thou?" "In faith," said she, "little enough; will you lend me any?" "Aye," said he; and, putting his thumb into her mouth, said, "There's a tester." She gave him a good box on the ear, and said, "There's a groat; now I owe you twopence." Whereupon the nobleman drew, and his man too; and she was as active as they, so together they go. But she drove them before her into a little chandler's shop, insomuch that the constable came in to part the fray, and, having asked what they were, the nobleman told his name, at which they all pulled off their caps. "And what is your name?" said the constable. "Mine," said she, "is Cuthbert Curry Knave." Upon this the constable commanded some to lay hold on her and carry her to the compter. She out with her sword and set upon the watch, and behaved very resolutely; but the constable calling for clubs, Meg was forced to cry out, "Masters, hold your hands, I am your friend; hurt not Long Meg of Westminster." So they all stayed their hands, and the nobleman took them all to the tavern; and thus ended the fray.

Chapter VII.

Meg goes a shroving, fights the Thieves of St. James's Corner, and makes them restore Father Willis, the Carrier, his hundred marks.

Not only the cities of London and Westminster, but Lancashire also, rung of Meg's fame, so they desired old Willis, the carrier, to call upon her, which he did, taking with him the other lasses. Meg was joyful to see them, and it being Shrove Tuesday, Meg went with them to Knightsbridge, and spent most of the day with repeating tales of their friends in Lancashire; and so tarried the carrier, who again and again inquired how all did there, and made the time seem shorter than it was. The night growing on, the carrier and the two other lasses were importunate to be gone, but Meg was loath to set out, and so stayed behind to discharge the reckoning, and promised to overtake them.

It was their misfortune at St. James's Corner to meet with two thieves who were waiting there for them, and took a hundred marks from Willis, the carrier, and from the two wenches their gowns and purses. Meg came up immediately after, and then the thieves, seeing her also in a female habit, thought to take her purse also; but she behaved herself so well that they began to give ground. Then said Meg, "Our gowns and purses against your hundred marks; win all and wear all." "Content," quoth they. "Now, lasses, pray for me," said Meg. With that she buckled with these two knaves, beat one and so hurt the other that they entreated her to spare their lives. "I will," said she, "upon conditions." "Upon any condition," said they. "Then," said she, "it shall be thus—

1. That you never hurt a woman nor any company she
is in.
2. That you never hurt lame or impotent men.
3. That you never hurt any children or innocents.
4. That you rob no carrier of his money.
5. That you rob no manner of poor or distressed.

"Are you content with these conditions?" "We are," said they. "I have no book about me," said she, "but will you swear on my smock tail?" which they accordingly did, and then she returned the wenches their gowns and purses, and old Father Willis, the carrier, a hundred marks.

The men desiring to know who it was had so lustily beswinged them, said—"To alleviate our sorrow, pray tell us your name." She smiling replied—"If anyone asks you who banged your bones, say Long Meg of Westminster once met with you."

Chapter VIII.

Meg's Fellow Servant pressed; her Usage of the Constable; and of her taking Press Money to go to Boulogne.

In those days were wars between England and France, and a hot press about London. The constables of Westminster pressed Meg's fellow servant, and she told them if they took him her mistress was undone.

All this could not persuade the constable, but Harry must go, on which she lent the constable a knock. Notice being given to the captain, he asked who struck him. "Marry," quoth Meg, "I did, and if I did not love soldiers I'd serve you so too." So, taking a cavalier from a man's hand, she performed the exercise with such dexterity that they wondered, whereupon she said—"Press no man, but give me press money and I will go myself." At this they all laughed, and the captain gave her an angel, whereupon she went with him to Boulogne.

Chapter IX.

Of her Beating the Frenchman off the Walls of Boulogne, for which gallant behaviour she is rewarded by the King with Eightpence per Day for Life.

King Henry, passing the seas, took Boulogne. Hereupon the Dauphin with a great number of men surprised and retook it. Meg, being a laundress in the town, raised the best of the women; and, with a halberd in her hand, came to the walls, on which some of the French had entered, and threw scalding water and stones at them that she often obliged them to quit the town before the soldiers were up in arms. And at the sally she came out the foremost with her halberd in her hand to pursue the chase.

The report of this deed being come to the ears of the king, he allowed her for life eightpence a day.

Chapter X.

Of her fighting and beating a Frenchman before Boulogne.

During this she observed one who in a bravado tossed his pike. She, seeing his pride, desired a drum to signify that a young soldier would have a push at pike with him. It was agreed on, and the place appointed life against life.

On the day the Frenchman came, and Meg met him, and without any salute fell to blows; and, after a long combat, she overcame him, and cut off his head. Then, pulling off her hat, her hair fell about her ears.

By this the Frenchman knew it was a woman, and the English giving a shout, she, by a drummer, sent the Dauphin his soldier's head, and said, "An English woman sent it."

The Dauphin much commended her, sending her a hundred crowns for her valour.

Chapter XI.

Of her coming to England and being Married.

The wars in France being over, Meg came to Westminster and married a soldier, who, hearing of her exploits, took her into a room, and, making her strip to her petticoat, took one staff and gave her another, saying, "As he had heard of her manhood, he was determined to try her." But Meg held down her head, whereupon he gave her three or four blows, and she in submission fell down upon her knees desiring him to pardon her. "For," said she, "whatever I do to others, it behoves me to be obedient to you; and it shall never be said, if I cudgel a knave that injures me, Long Meg is her husband's master; and therefore use me as you please." So they grew friends, and never quarrelled after.

Chapter XII.

Long Meg's Usage to an angry Miller.

Meg going one day with her neighbours to make merry, a miller near Epping looking out, the boy they had with them, about fourteen years old, said—"Put out, miller, put out." "What must I put out?" said he. "A thief's head and ears," said the other.

At this the miller came down and well licked him, which Meg endeavoured to prevent, whereupon he beat her. But she wrung the stick from him, and then cudgelled him severely; and having done, sent the boy to the mill for an empty sack, and put the miller in all but his head; and then, fastening him to a rope, she hauled him up half way, and there left him hanging. The poor miller cried out for help, and if his wife had not come he had surely been killed, and the mill, for want of corn, set on fire.

Chapter XIII.

Of her keeping House at Islington, and her Laws.

After marriage she kept a house at Islington. The constable coming one night, he would needs search Meg's house, whereupon she came down in her shift with a cudgel, and said—"Mr. Constable, take care you go not beyond your commission, for if you do I'll so cudgel you as you never was since Islington has been." The constable, seeing her frown, told her he would take her word, and so departed.

Meg, because in her house there should be a good decorum, hung up a table containing these principles:—

First. If a gentleman or yeoman had a charge about him, and told her of it, she would repay him if he lost it; but if he did not reveal it, and said he was robbed, he should have ten bastinadoes, and afterwards be turned out of doors.

Secondly. Whoever called for meat and had no money to pay should have a box on the ear and a cross on the back that he might be marked and trusted no more.

Thirdly. If any good fellow came in and said he wanted money, he should have his belly full of meat and two pots of drink.

Fourthly. If any raffler came in and made a quarrel, and would not pay his reckoning, to turn into the fields and take a bout or two with Meg, the maids of the house should dry beat him, and so thrust him out of doors.

These and many such principles she established in her house, which kept it still and quiet.