Cony-Catching - The Discovery of the Prigging Law or Nature of Horse Stealing.

The Discovery of the Prigging Law or Nature of Horse Stealing.

Illustration The Horse Thief

            TO the effecting of this base villainy of Prigging or horse stealing, there must of necessity be two at the least, and that is the Prigger and the Marter. The prigger is he that steals the horse, and the marter is he that receives him, and chops and changeth him away in any fair, mart, or other place where any good vent for horses is: and their method is thus.

                The prigger if he be a lanceman, that is, one that is already horsed, then he hath more followers with him, and they ride like gentlemen, and commonly in the form of drovers, & so coming into pasture grounds or enclosures, as if they meant to survey for cattle, do take an especial and perfect view where prankers or horses be, that are of worth, and whether they be trammelled or no, that is whether they have horse-locks or no, then lie they hovering about till fit oportunity serve, and in the night they take him or them away, and are skilful in the black art, for picking open the trammels or locks, and so make haste till they be out of those quarters. Now if the priggers steal a horse in Yorkshire, commonly they have vent for him in Surrey, Kent, or Sussex, and their marters that receive them at his hand, chops them away in some blind fairs after they have kept them a month or two, till the hue and cry be ceased and passed over. Now if their horse be of any great valure and sore sought after, and so branded or ear marked, that they can hardly sell him without extreme danger, either they brand him with a cross brand upon the former, or take away his ear mark, and so keep him at hard meat<29> till he be whole, or else sell him in Cornwall or Wales, if he be in Cumberland, Lincolnshire, Norfolk or Suffolk, but this is if the horse be of great valour and worthy the keeping: Marry if he be only coloured and without brands, they will straight spot him by sundry policies, and in a black horse, mark saddle spots, or star him in the forehead and change his tail, which secrets I omit least I should give too great a light to other to practice such lewd villainies. But again to our lance-men priggers, who as before I said, cry with the lapwing farthest from their nest and from their place of residence, where their most abode is, furthest from thence they steal their horses, and then in another quarter as far off they make sale of them by the marter's means, without it be some base prigger that steals of mere necessity, and beside is a Trailer. The trailer is one that goeth on foot, but meanly attired like some plain gran of the country, walking in a pair of boots without spurs, or else without boots, having a long staff on his neck, and a black buckram bag at his back, like some poor client that had some writing in it, and there he hath his saddle, bridle and spurs, stirrups and stirrup leathers, so quaintly and artificially made that it may be put in the slop of a man's hose<30>, for his saddle is made without any tree, yet hath both cantle & bolsters, only wrought artificially of cloth and bombast, with folds to wrap up in a short room, his stirrups are made with devices and gins that one may put them in a pair of gloves, and so are his spurs, and then a little white leather headstall and reins with a small Scottish brake or snaffle, all so featly formed, that as I said before they may be put in a buckram bag. Now this trailer he bestrides the horse which he priggeth, and saddles and bridles him as orderly as if he were his own, and then carries him far from the place of his breed, and there sells him. Oh will some man say, it is easier to steal a horse then to sell him, considering that her Majesty and the honourable Privy Council, hath in the last Act of Parliament made a strict statute for horse stealing, and the sale of horses, whose proviso is this: That no man may buy a horse untolled, nor the toll be taken without lawful witnesses, that the party that selleth the horse is the true owner of him, upon their oath and special knowledge, and that who buyeth a horse without this certificate or proof, shall be within the natue of Felony, as well as the party that stealeth him.<31> To this I answer that there is no Act, Statute, nor Law so strict conveyed, but there be straight found starting-holes to avoid it, as in this. The prigger when he hath stolen a horse and hath agreed with his marter, or with any other his confederate, or with any honest person to sell the horse, bringeth to the toller, which they call the rifler, two honest men either apparelled like citizens, or plain country yeomen, and they not only affirm, but offer to depose, that they know the horse to be his, upon their proper knowledge, although perhaps they never saw man nor horse before, and these perjured knaves be commonly old knights of the post,<32> that are foisted off from being taken for bail at the kings bench, or other places, and seeing for open perjuries they are refused, there they take that course of life, and are wrongly called equerries, but it were necessary and very much expedient for the commonwealth, that such base rogues should be looked into, and be punished as well with the pillory, as the other with the halter. And thus have I revealed the nature of priggers, or horse-stealers briefly, which if it may profit, I have my desire, but that I may recreate your minds with a pleasant history, mark the sequel.

A pleasant story of a horse-stealer.

            NOT far off from Truro in Cornwall, a certain prigger, a horse-stealer, being a lance-man, surveying the pastures thereaboutes, spied a fair black horse without any white spot at all about him, the horse was so fair and lusty, well proportioned, of a high crest, of a lusty countenance, well buttocked, and strongly trussed, which set the prigger's teeth a-water to have him: well he knew the hardest hap was but a halter, and therefore he ventured fair, and stole away the prancer: and seeing his stomach was so good as his limbs, he kept him well, and by his policy seared him in the forehead, and made him spotted in the back, as if he had been saddle-bitten, and gave him a mark in both ears, whereas he had but a mark in one. Dealing thus with his horse, after a quarter of a year, that all hurly-burly was passed for the horse, he came riding to Truro to the market, and there offered him to be sold, the gentleman that lost the horse, was there present, and looking on him with other gentlemen, liked him passing well, and commended him: insomuch that he beat the price of him, bargained, & bought him: and so when he was tolled, and that the horse-stealer clapped him good luck: Well my friend, quoth the gentleman, I promise thee I like the horse the better, in that once I lost one as like him as might be, but that mine wanted these saddle spots, and this starre in the forehead. It may be so sir, said the prigger, and so the gentleman and he parted: the next day after, he caused a letter to be made, and sent the gentleman word that he had his horse again that he lost, only he had given him a mark or two, and for that he was well rewarded, having twenty mark for his labour. The gentleman hearing how he was cozened by a horse-stealer, and not only robbed, but mocked, let it pass till he might conveniently meet with him to revenge it. It fortuned not long after, that this lanceman prigger was brought to Truro gaol for some such matter, and indeed it was about a mare that he had stolen: but as knaves have friends, especially when they are well moneyed, he found divers that spake for him, and who said it was the first fault: and the party plaintiff gave but slender evidence against him, so that the judge spake favourably in his behalf: the gentleman as then sat in the bench, and callling to mind the prigger's countenance, how he had stolen his horse and mocked him, remembered he had the letter in his pocket that he sent him, and therefore rising up, spake in his behalf, and highly commended the man, and desired the judges for one fault he might not be cast away, and besides, may it please you (quoth he) I had this morning a certificate of his honesty and good behaviour sent me, and with that he delivered them the letter, and the judge and the rest of the bench smiled at this conceit, and asked the fellow if he never stole a horse from that gentleman: no quoth the prigger, I knew him not: your honours mistake me, said the gentleman, he did but borrow a black horse of me, and marked him with a star in the forehead, and asked twenty mark of me for his labour, and so discoursed the whole matter: whereupon the quest went upon him, and condemned him: and so the prigger went to heaven in a string, as many of his faculty had done before.

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