CAPTAIN PHILIP STAFFORD
Whose Patrimony being sequestered by the Roundheads took to the Highway and was hanged at Reading
CAPTAIN STAFFORD was born about the year 1622, at a small village in Berkshire, about seven miles from New bury. His father was a sort of gentleman farmer, having about fifty pounds a year of his own estate; upon which, by the help of his industry, he lived in a very comfortable manner. Our Philip was an only child, which made the farmer very careful to bring him up as handsomely as he was able. He sent him to school first in the country, afterwards to the free school at Reading, at both of which places his improvements were as considerable as could be expected from one of his age; and indeed might have been much greater had his application been equal to the sprightliness of his wit and the uncommon vivacity of his temper. These qualifications, however, showed themselves more to advantage in the other parts of his life than they did in a sedentary course of study. His conversation, even almost in his childhood, was very agreeable, as his resentment was generally fatal to those of his own age and stature. Never a lad in all the parishes round but would shudder at the name of Philip Stafford, and if he was not always the best scholar, he was indisputably the head boy in every school he went to.
His father designed him for the heir of his industry, as well as of his estate, and therefore put him out to no trade; but when the time generally allotted for the education of young men of a moderate fortune was expired, he took him home to the plough, and, as soon as he conceived him equal to the burden, gave him the whole management of his affairs. Philip was a tolerable good farmer, but a much better ringer, wrestler and back-sword player; in all which exercises he was looked upon as the hero of the whole country.
He had imbibed in his infancy such principles of religion and loyalty as are common to men in his father's circumstances; these were strengthened by the company he afterwards kept, and the manly amusements he daily followed; so that when the Civil war broke out between King Charles I. and his Parliament, Stafford was one of the first of his country who voluntarily entered into the service of his Sovereign. He continued in the army through the whole series of that unnatural rebellion; and we have no reason to doubt but he behaved with a great deal of bravery, though his actions are buried and lost in the universal confusion of the times. We have not only all the other particulars of his life which are recorded to support such a presumption, but the military honours he received are an undeniable proof that he distinguished himself on some extraordinary occasion; for the title of Captain, which he afterwards bore, was really conferred on him while he was in the service.
Everyone is acquainted with the dismal catastrophe of those unhappy troubles. As soon as the King was dead, and the rebels had got all into their hands, the Royalists were obliged to shift from place to place all over the nation, and to use all the cautionary means they could invent to secure themselves. The small patrimony of Mr Stafford was sequestered, among the many larger estates of gentlemen who had continued in their duty to the last; and he soon found himself in no capacity of getting a moderate subsistence. What was to be done in such a situation as this? He looked every way and could see no prospect of an honest livelihood. This at last determined him in the course which he immediately fell into, and which entitles him to a place in this collection. The resolution he set out with was to raise contributions among the enemies of his master only, whom he vowed never to spare in anything wherein he had an opportunity of doing any damage either to their persons or estates.
He first cast his eyes upon an old republican who had drunk deep in the troubled stream of the times, and had married a young lady in order to obtain her fortune. In the character of a servant, and assuming the dress and the language of the party, he succeeded in hiring himself as a servant into that family. By his insinuating address and engaging manners, he won the affections of his master, and was soon admitted to enter into conversation with his master and mistress, and in the most dexterous manner imitated the religious phrases and sentiments of that party. But he soon employed language of a different kind to his mistress; alienated her affections from her lawful husband, and so grossly imposed upon him, that when he would sometimes unexpectedly find them alone and in close conversation, he would conclude that religion was the subject of their earnest conversation. Under the disguise of religion, and emboldened by the credulity of the old husband, Stafford remained with increasing favour in that family, until an heir was born to enjoy the fortune of the good old republican.
Indifferent to all the ties of honour and of religion, Stafford and the lady carried on their criminal correspondence; and often amused themselves with the credulity of the husband, and his unabated attachment to Stafford. In the moments of wanton levity, the lady had made him a present of a ring, and also of some jewels, and had not only informed him of a quantity of jewels which her husband had collected, but actually showed him the place where they were deposited. The violent passion of avarice now assumed the superiority in his criminal mind, and he formed the resolution to seize the cabinet of jewels, and even to abandon his favourite mistress in quest of new adventures.
But his plan could not be effected without the aid of some other person, and he was long doubtful whom he could trust in so delicate and important a matter. At last he fixed upon one of the name of Tom Pretty, the son of a French refugee, whom he had formerly known at school, and with whose temper and disposition he was thoroughly acquainted. He accordingly provided a key to the door of the place where the jewels were deposited, took care to have the window so broke and injured that it appeared to have suffered violence from without, and a ladder brought and laid at the foot of the window, and such noise made as might be heard by some of the servants. Stafford, always attentive to his duty and master's interest, was the first to give the alarm in the morning. The rest of the servants were called, they remembered to have heard the noise, they saw the ladder, and suspicion could rest upon none of them, far less upon the faithful Stafford.
Tom Pretty was successful in disposing of the jewels at a good price, received such a gratuity as was sufficient to retain him in the service of his new employer, who remained for some time in his station to prevent the shadow of guilt staining the fair character which he had so dexterously maintained.
Fully convinced that he could always render the ladies subservient to the accomplishment of his plans, Stafford next directed his attack upon the virtue of a very handsome lady who had been two years married. To his no small mortification, however, he found that she estimated its value at the sum of one hundred guineas. When all his attempts to alter her first proposal were unsuccessful, his inventive mind devised the following scheme to effectuate his purpose. Being upon friendly terms with the husband, and frequently visiting in the family, he one day took an opportunity to borrow an hundred guineas, under the pretence that he stood in need of that sum to complete a L.500 purchase, in the meantime showing him L.400 which he had in reserve from the late sale of the jewels. He readily obtained his request, and having arranged matters with the lady, he came, according to appointment, one day to her house, when several persons were at dinner, and the husband absent. He immediately pulled out his purse, and addressed her, saying, "I have borrowed one hundred guineas from your husband, and as he is not here, I will leave the money with you, and those here present will be witnesses to the payment." The good lady, unacquainted with the fact, that he had borrowed that sum from her husband, only supposed that this was a dexterous manoeuvre to prevent suspicion, received the money with all good humour. It is unnecessary to relate the sequel of the adventure.
In a few days after, Stafford took an opportunity, when the husband was present, to inform him, that, in the presence of several guests at his table, he had repaid the hundred guineas to his wife that he had lately borrowed from him. The lady changed colour, but could not deny the fact, and the husband was satisfied with the punctual repayment of his money. Nor was Stafford contented with the success of his adventure, but took care to have the same whispered all over the neighbourhood.
It happened that Stafford was riding along very solitary on the Western Road one miserable cold day. His design was only to go and see his relations, having at that time money enough; and it was not customary with him to rob anybody while the stock was high. But fortune threw a very considerable prize in his way in the following manner.
Just as he came to the entrance of Maidenhead Thicket he espied an old formal gentleman trotting before him. As he looked upon him, by his plain coat and broad-brimmed hat, to be one of the godly, as they were then universally called, he immediately resolved, contrary to his intention in travelling, to take hold of the opportunity, and try the depth of the old man's pocket.
He soon came up with Mr Primitive, and began such conversation as is common to travellers, more particularly the severity of the season occasioned pretty many reflections, as they both felt it to a high degree. "I hope," says Stafford, "after such a terrible journey as this, I shall meet with a very good lodging at night, or else I shall think the stars are against me indeed."
The old man upon this assumes an air of piety, and begins to reprehend the captain for his profaneness in mentioning the stars as if they had any influence over a man's circumstances. He told him it was a heathenish manner of expressing himself, and very unwelcoming the mouth of a Christian.
"For my part," says he, "I ascribe everything that befalls me to a wise Providence, and am always content with any lot, as being assured in myself that all things are for the best, and work together for the good of the elect."
"And do you believe yourself to be one of those elect? "says Stafford.
"It is the earnest desire of my soul," replied the old man, "to find the evidences of it in myself; it is what I pray for earnestly day and night; and I truly hope that my prayers ascend with a savour sweet-smelling and acceptable, and that I shall receive an answer of joy and peace. of this I am the more confident, as I have hitherto found that the pious ejaculations of my heart have not been in vain upon particular occasions."
Here the captain endeavoured to reform his phiz, and to look as demurely as his companion. "Verily, brother," said he, "whoever thou art, thy reproof is just; but as I was upon a journey, and uncertain what the company was that I was thus providentially fallen into, I was willing to conform myself to it, for the security of the outward man. If I had found thee speaking in such a manner as had discovered the corruption of thy heart, and proved thee to be one of the unregenerate, I should have endeavoured, as far as it would have appeared consistent with my high character as a Christian, to have given thee thine own way in conversation. But since, to my unspeakable joy and consolation in this desert place, I have found thee such as my heart would wish, I make no scruple to unbosom myself unto thee, begging that thou wouldst extend thy bowels of Christian compassion unto my weakness, which occasioned me to conceal the real sentiments of my soul, through timidity of thy person, to me unknown. I would furthermore entreat that thou wouldst endeavour to make our journeying together profitable unto our mutual edification, by a relation of some of those experiences which thou hast hinted to, as the effect of thy being found in the way of thy duty."
The old hypocrite was transported to hear such a speech as this, and made no question but he was luckily fallen into company with a stone of the spiritual building, and a brother member of the sacred body of the Church. "Forasmuch," replied he, "as it seemeth to thee thy desire that I should communicate unto thee something of what I have done in the course of my duty, and inwardly experienced as the return of my humble petitions, know that I have always, since I have been made sensible what hard work and the divine influence mean, constantly called for a blessing upon what I have undertaken. In an especial manner, when I have set out on a journey, as at present, I have been more earnest in entreating that I might pass the road in safety; and that at night in a good inn I might take up my quarters, and repose upon a bed of down. Not so much that I desire to indulge my tenement of clay in the course of this my pilgrimage, as that I look upon it to be typical of that eternal rest into which I hope to be received when I shall put off this outward man, this earthly tabernacle of flesh. It is, my friend, a help to my meditation on these things, when I lie extended at ease in the night; and I never yet found but that every particular has been answerable to my desires, and, indeed, proportioned to the degree of warmth with which I have expressed them. It is for this reason, that when I have been diligent in my duty, and taken such a quantity of money in my pocket as will bear my expenses in a comfortable manner, I am under no apprehensions of any danger that may attend me."
"I hope then," quoth Stafford," thou wert not at all wanting this morning in thy exercises, both for thy sake and my own; forasmuch as with thy good liking I am determined to accompany thee this evening."
Hereupon the old man assuring him that he was never in all his life more fervent than that morning, the captain seemed pretty contented, till they came to the middle of the thicket, when he thought it very proper to take advantage of the place, and ease the old hypocrite of his money, which was of more service to him in his getting good lodging than all his boasted piety, the latter being only superficial.
To this end he addressed him in the following manner: -- "Brother, I perceive by what you have related that you are a man favoured by heaven in an extraordinary degree, and that it is impossible to hinder you of anything that you have once prayed for. To what purpose then should you carry money with you? Now, for my part, I cannot pretend to any such particular token of the divine regard, and therefore I have no room to expect anything out of the common way; so that I think what money you have about you will be much more serviceable to me than to your who are certain of the best usage wherever you go."
The old man began to stare upon his new companion, and wondered what he was driving at; but he did not remain long in suspense, for Stafford told him very plainly that it would be to no purpose for him to make many words, since he was now in earnest. "Therefore," says he, "without ceremony deliver your money."
At these words he clapped a pistol to his breasts which terrified the venerable saint to such a degree that he pulled out a purse with forty guineas in it and gave it with a trembling hand. It was now plain that, how sure soever our good man was of heaven, he was not willing to leave the world on a sudden, which is no uncommon case. Stafford being willing to spoil the old man's lodging entirely, shot his horse, after he had rifled him of everything that he had which was valuable, and then forced him a considerable way into the thicket, where he bound him fast, and left him on the cold ground. In this condition he lay till next morning, when he was taken up half dead.
The captain, after this robbery was very sensible that, how bad soever the lodging of his Roundhead companion might be, his own would be as little to his satisfaction if he were taken; he therefore thought it most advisable to get out of the main road as fast as he could. This he did by crossing the country into Buckinghamshire and riding till he thought he was out of all danger for that night.
Having, upon a certain time, got together a considerable quantity of money, and being under some apprehensions of a discovery, he made off into the north of England, and took shelter in a country village, so obscure that it was next to impossible he should ever be detected. He was afraid in this place to make any great figure, or to seem extravagant, because he well knew that country people are apt to be very inquisitive into the circumstances of such men; and as he was resolved to be as godly as he was able while he resided here, it was not expedient for him to put the congregation to any trouble; for he had now joined himself to a people who assembled in the neighbourhood, and was customary in those days for a new member, if he was in any respect suspicious, to give a very particular account of himself. By this prudent management the captain not only avoided their inquisition, but made his ready cash last a great deal longer than it otherwise would have done.
In this place Stafford soon got the reputation of a very good man; he attended constantly at public service, and not only that, but also at all their private meetings and conferences, when he would frequently exercise his own gift, and pour out a tedious rhapsody of unintelligible jargon, with a great deal of seeming warmth and affection. As it was no difficult thing for a man of the captain's good sense to be the greatest orator in such a congregation as this, it was but a very little while before his talents were every where talked of; he was sent for to all the meetings round about, and public thanks were frequently returned to Providence, who had sent such an eminent Christian among them.
It was not above a year that he had been in this place before their venerable pastor, who had formerly been an indifferent good tailor, departed this life. The sorrow on this melancholy occasion was universal, and the cause of religion a thousand times said to be in danger, by the loss of such a substantial pillar of the Church (for so they called themselves) as their dear glorified minister.
When the general lamentation was a little over, the flock began to look round for one to feed them in the room of the deceased. All their eyes were immediately fixed on Stafford, who was esteemed the most able brother for the important charge.
The captain had by this time wasted his capital stock pretty considerably, and he must very soon have been under an absolute necessity of recruiting by some means or other; he durst not as yet appear on the road again, for he had made himself so notorious just before his retirement that a large reward had been offered for taking him, and his person had been so particularly described that it was in vain to think of disguising himself. An offer of forty pounds a year, besides a prospect of other acquisitions, was not it may be imagined, at this time very unacceptable; so when the elders of the congregation waited on him in a body with their resolution he consented, after due form, to accept of the proposal.
The ceremony of his ordination is foreign to our purpose, and therefore we omit it. Behold Captain Philip Stafford, our hero, in a stiff band, a black coat and skull cap, mounted behind a velvet cushion, holding forth, with all the eloquence he was master of against all sin, and even the very appearance of sin; advising them to crush the first motions of it in their hearts, and never suffer it to break forth into practice.
Hear him describe the pleasures of a good conscience, void of difference towards God and man! What a load of accusations he lays upon his friend Satan the grand enemy of souls -- enough to break the back of any poor devil in Christendom! Never was preaching more effectual, or more weeping and repentance than among the old women of Stafford's congregation. Everyone exerted herself to the utmost that the circumstances of their minister might be as easy as possible, and that such a faithful labourer in the vineyard of the church might not go without his reward. Presents were sent him continually, he was invited to dinner every day by one or another of the members; and he has often protested since that, bating the hypocrisy he was obliged to use, the time he was a teacher was the pleasantest part of his life.
At last, as the revenue did not now answer his purpose, he took an opportunity to leave his little flock, without giving them any warning, carrying on with him all the sacramental plate and linen, to a pretty large value.
The last adventure which we shall relate of the captain is that for which he suffered. A farmer of considerable note in Berkshire had been at Reading to sell his corn at a time when that commodity was very dear. The farmer had the reputation of being a very honest good man; but as the price of corn was very advantageous to him he could not help being elated by the success he had met with at market, and he was now riding home in a very pleasant temper, meditating (as he himself confessed) on the riches he was about to get for his family. The captain overtook him about forty miles from Reading, and accosted him in a very friendly manner with "Pray farmer, what is it o-clock?" The farmer being, as I said before, pretty full of his good fortune. immediately thought Mr Stafford had known him, and when he asked him what corn was a load he therefore very readily answered: "Sixteen pound ten the best wheat." Stafford guessed the honest countryman's mistake; but at that time thought their conversation was likely to turn upon a subject that would be to his advantage." And have you, farmer," said he, "sold any wheat for that price today?" "Yes," says the countryman, "I have sold two loads, and I thank God I have got the money for it in my pocket." This was spoken very innocently, for the farmer thought all the while he was with somebody who asked him these questions out of kindness; he soon found to the contrary, for the captain pulled a pistol out of his pocket, and clapping it to the farmer's breast, he made him refund the thirty three pounds he had received a little before.
The captain's good fortune this day began to leave him, for he was scarce got three hundred yards from the ground where he committed the robbery before two gentlemen came up to the farmer, who told them how he had been used. The gentlemen being well mounted rode after him with all the speed they could, and in less than a quarter of an hour overtook and dismounted him. The money was all found upon him, and several of the pieces were very remarkable; so that he was carried to the next Justice of the Peace, and by him committed to the county jail, where he lay till the ensuing assizes, which were not for a great while afterwards.
At the assizes the farmer, who was a very conscientious man, refused to appear against the prisoner, because he was not certain whether or no it was the same man who had robbed him. The evidence, nevertheless, of the two gentle-men, and the money, which answered exactly to the account which the farmer had given of what he had lost, together with the bad character of the captain himself in his own country, where he now was, were thought sufficient to condemn him; and the sentence passed accordingly, and a day was fixed for his execution.
While Stafford was in prison, before his condemnation, he lived in a very grand manner. He had a wicket made before the jail porch to hide his fetters, where he used to sit frequently with one of the keepers, and converse with gentlemen of the best fashion in the whole town. He had, moreover, settled a correspondence with several of his own profession, who came to see him in prison. These, then, undertook to rescue him from the gallows, and afterwards to constitute him their head. The report of this compact, by some means or other, took wind before the time, and the post-boy was ordered what to say if any man should ask him any questions on the road. This charge to the post-boy was thought to be the only reason why they did not come as they had promised; for two or three men well mounted one day demanded of him when Stafford was to be executed, and the boy told them the usual day, which was now changed to another purely upon the account of this report.
The captain had a new light-coloured suit of clothes made to go to the gallows (for he did not expect to be hanged), in which he appeared as though he had been going to a wedding. He had a nosegay in his bosom, and his countenance was without the least appearance of concern all the way. As he passed by a tavern he ordered the cart to stop, and called for a pint of wine, which he drank all off, and told the vintner he would pay him when he came back. At the gallows he stood up and looked round him very wistfully some minutes, still desiring more time. At last, when the sheriff bid him prepare, and he saw no remedy, his colour was observed to change, and he trembled very much, but said nothing. Just at the instant that the cart was ordered to be drawn away he delivered a paper to the sheriff, and then was turned off in a great deal of confusion. The contents of the paper were as follows: --
"It is not merely in compliance with the common custom of malefactors that I write anything to leave behind me in the world; if there had not seemed a more than ordinary necessity for this declaration from me, upon the account of my having been so universally talked of, I should have been contented to have suffered in silence what the justice of the law has required.
"I confess not only the fact for which I die, but also almost all those that are laid to my charge by common fame, besides innumerable others of the same nature; yet I hope that what I am about to offer will plead a little in my favour, and in some measure abate the horror which many sober people are apt to conceive at the bare recital of my crimes.
"I was brought up in principles of honour and virtue by my parents, and I continued to act agreeably to those principles for many years, as several worthy gentlemen now living can testify. I can moreover call upon a greater witness than any mortal to attest that I have always thought in my soul nothing so mean and so unworthy of human nature as fraud, of what kind soever it might be. It was only the iniquity of the times in which it has been my unhappiness to have lived that occasioned my abandoning in practice what my judgment always approved of, notwithstanding the pains I have taken to work myself into a belief that virtue is nothing but a vain chimera.
"The cruelty with which all the loyal party was prosecuted during the late Civil War gave me a very despicable opinion of those who executed it. This opinion was afterwards strengthened when I beheld the same people dividing among themselves, and using an equal severity towards each other, as any one party got uppermost. I soon found that their religion was but a pretence, and their appearance of sanctity nothing more than hypocrisy; that interest was the only point they pursued, and their hyperbolical cant concerning another world a mere engine to draw to themselves larger possessions in this, which they had the confidence to affirm they had learned entirely to despise. These things made me determine, when my estate was quartered, and my principles prevented my getting an honourable subsistence, to take openly from some of those hypocrites what they unjustly, though more craftily, had taken from better people.
"What lies most heavily upon my conscience is my having ever condescended to deal with these men in their own way, by imposing upon them under a show of piety. May God forgive me in this particular! I must, however, take the freedom to say that I was never able to match several that I have met with, to whom I have not thought myself inferior as to my genius in this their darling vice, hypocrisy; and that when I most succeeded in my impostures, it was more owing to a fluency of words, which I always had, than to my art in counterfeiting their formality in my common behaviour.
" I shall not trouble the world with any more of these things, which only relate to my Maker, and my own conscience. Give me leave to say that as I have not been a common offender, I would hope my remains will be treated with a little more decency than the bodies of the unhappy wretches who suffer at this place commonly are.
"As I die justly, I have no occasion to say anything concerning the instruments of my death, who only exercise what the law demands. If there are any other persons who are conscious that they have given me just cause of offence, let them know that I forgive them from my very heart; and that I die in peace with all the world to which I can very calmly bid farewell."
In compliance with Mr Stafford's request concerning his body, the sheriff ordered him to be buried under the tower of St Mary's Church at Reading. Several persons of fashion honoured his funeral with their attendance, and the women in particular were observed to shed abundance of tears.