JOHN HOLLIDAY OR SIMPSON
Housebreaker and Highwayman, who robbed a King at Hertford, and a Church, and was hanged at Tyburn in 1700
THIS man, whose career of villainy in England was not long, had committed a variety of depredations in Flanders, where he served as a soldier under King William III. On the Peace of Ryswick he received his discharge, and with several of his confederates in acts of villainy repaired to London, where they formed themselves into a gang of robbers, of which Holliday, under the name of Simpson, was appointed their captain. They were alternately highwaymen and housebreakers.
In the year 1700 Holliday was indicted in the name of Simpson for a burglary in the house of Elizabeth Gawden, of stealing thereout two feather beds and other articles; to which he pleaded guilty, and was, for that offence, hanged at Tyburn.
While under sentence of death he said that his name was not Simpson, but Holliday, and that during a great part of the war in the reign of King William he was a soldier in Flanders, where he used to take frequent opportunities of robbing the tents of the officers; and once, when the army lay before Mons, and his Majesty commanded in person, Simpson happened to be one of those who were selected to guard the Royal tent.
On an evening when the King, accompanied by the Earl (afterwards Duke) of Marlborough and Lord Cutts, went out to take a view of the situation of the army, Simpson, with a degree of impudence peculiar to himself, went into his Majesty's tent and stole about a thousand pounds. It was some days before this money was missed, and when the robbery was discovered, Simpson escaped all suspicion.
He said he had committed more robberies than he could possibly recollect, having been a highwayman as well as a housebreaker.
He committed numerous robberies in Flanders as well as in England, and he affirmed that the gates of the city of Ghent had been twice shut up within a fortnight to prevent his escape; and that when he was taken, his arms, legs, back and neck were secured with irons; in which condition he was carried through the streets, that he might be seen by the crowd.
Simpson and two of his companions used frequently to stop and rob the Roman Catholics at five o'clock in the morning as they were going to Mass; he repeatedly broke into the churches of Brussels, Mechlin and Antwerp, and stole the silver plate from the altar.
This offender further acknowledged that, having killed one of his companions in a quarrel, he was apprehended, tried and condemned for the fact by a court martial of officers, and sentenced to be executed on the following day, in sight of the army, which was to be drawn up to see the execution.
During the night, however, he found means to escape, and took refuge in the Church of St Peter, in Ghent, where the army then lay. Being thus in a place of sanctuary, he applied to the priests, who made interest with Prince Eugene; and their joint intercession with King William, who arrived in the city about four days afterwards, obtained his full pardon, and he was permitted immediately to join the army.
A few days after he had obtained his pardon he broke into the church and robbed it of plate to the value of twelve hundred pounds; which he was the better enabled to do as he was acquainted with the avenues of the church and knew where the plate was deposited.
He was apprehended on suspicion of this sacrilege; for as a crime of this kind is seldom committed by the natives of the country it was conjectured that it must have been perpetrated by some one at least of the soldiers. And information being given that two Jews had embarked in a boat on the Scheldt for Middleburg, on the day succeeding the robbery, and that Simpson had been seen in company with these Jews, this occasioned his being taken into custody. But as no proof arose that he had sold any plate to these men, it was thought necessary to dismiss him.