Cony-Catching - The Art of Cony-Catching

The Art of Cony-Catching

            THERE be requisite effectually to act the art of cony-catching three several parties: the Setter, the Verser, and the Barnacle. The nature of the Setter, is to draw any person familiarly to drink with him, which person they call the Cony, & their method is according to the man they aim at: if a gentleman, merchant, or apprentice, the cony is the more easily caught, in that they are soon induced to play, and therefore I omit the circumstance which they use in catching of them. And for because the poor country farmer or yeoman is the mark which they most of all shoot at, who they know comes not empty to the Term, I will discover the means they put in practice to bring in some honest, simple & ignorant men to their purpose. The cony-catchers, apparelled like honest civil gentlemen, or good fellows, with a smooth face, as if butter would not melt in their mouths, after dinner when the clients are come from Westminster Hall and are at leisure to walk up and down Paul's, Fleet-street, Holborn, the Strand, and such common haunted places, where these cozening companions attend only to spy out a prey: who as soon as they see a plain country fellow well and cleanly apparelled, either in a coat of homespun russet, or of frieze, as the time requires, and a side pouch at his side, there is a cony, saith one. At that word out flies the Setter, and overtaking the man, begins to salute him thus: Sir, God save you, you are welcome to London, how doth all our good friends in the country, I hope they be all in health? The countryman seeing a man so courteous he knows not, half in a brown study at this strange salutation, perhaps makes him this answer. Sir, all our friends in the country are well thanks be to God, but truly I know you not, you must pardon me. Why sir, saith the Setter, guessing by his tongue what country man he is, are you not such a country man, if he say yes, then he creeps upon him closely: if he say no, the straight the setter comes over him thus: in good sooth sir, I know you by your face & have been in your company before, I pray you (if without offence) let me crave your name and the place of your abode. The simple man straight tells him where he dwells, his name, and who be his next neighbours, and what gentlemen dwell about him. After he hath learned all of him then he comes over his fallows kindly: sir, though I have been somewhat bold to be inquisitive of your name, yet hold me excused, for I took you for a friend of mine, but since by mistaking I have made you slack your business, we'll drink a quart of wine, or a pot of ale together: if the fool be so ready as to go, then the cony is caught: but if he smack the setter, and smells a rat by his clawing, and will not drink with him, then away goes the setter, and discourseth to the verser the name of the man, the parish he dwells in, and what gentlemen are his near neighbours, with that away goes he, & crossing the man at some turning, meets him full in the face, and greets him thus.
            What goodman Barton, how fare all our friends about you? you are well met, I have the wine for you, you are welcome to town. The poor countryman hearing himself named by a man he knows not, marvels, & answers that he knows him not, and craves pardon. Not me goodman Barton, have you forgot me? why I am such a man's kinsman, your neighbour not far off: how doth this or that good gentleman my friend? good Lord that I should be out of your remembrance, I have been at your house divers times. Indeed, sir, saith the farmer, are you such a man's kinsman, surely sir if you had not challenged acquaintance of me, I should never have known you, I have clean forgot you, but I know the good gentleman your cousin well, he is my very good neighbour: & for his sake saith the verser, we'll drink afore we part, haply the man thanks him, and to the wine or ale they go, then ere they part, they make him a cony, & so ferret-claw him at cards, that they leave him as bare of money, as an ape of a tail: thus have the filthy fellows their subtle fetches to draw on poor men to fall into their cozening practices: thus like consuming moths of the common wealth, they prey upon the ignorance of such plain souls, as measure all by their own honesty, not regarding either conscience, or the fatal revenge that's threatened for such idle & licentious persons, but do employ all their wits to overthrow such as with their handy thrift satisfy their hearty thirst: they preferring cozenage before labour, and choosing an idle practice before any honest form of good living. Well, to the method again of taking up their conies. If the poor countryman smoke them still, and will not stoop unto either of their lures: then one, either the verser, or the setter, or some of their crew, for there is a general fraternity betwixt them, steppeth before the cony as he goeth, and letteth drop twelve pence in the highway, that of force the cony must see it. The countryman spying the shilling, maketh not dainty, for quis nisi mentis inops ollatum respuit aurum,<5> but stoopeth very mannerly and taketh it up: then one of the cony-catchers behind crieth half part, and so challengeth half of his finding. The countryman content, offereth to change the money. Nay faith friend, saith the verser, ''tis ill luck to keep found money, we'll go spend it in a pottle of wine, or in a breakfast, dinner or supper, as the time of day requires: If the cony say he will not, then answers the verser, spend my part: if still the cony refuse, he taketh half and away, if they spy the countryman to be of a having and covetous mind, then have they a further policy to draw him on: another that knoweth the place of his abode, meeteth him and saith Sir, well met, I have run hastily to overtake you, I pray you dwell you not in Darbyshire, in such a village? Yes marry do I friend saith the cony, then replies the verser, truly sir I have a suit to you, I am going out of town, & must send a letter to the parson of your parish, you shall not refuse to do a stranger such a favour as to carry it him, haply, as men may in time meet, it may lie in my lot to do you as good a turn, and for your pains I will give you xii. pence. The poor cony in mere simplicity saith, sir, I'll do so much for you with all my heart, where is your letter? I have it not good sir ready written, but may I entreat you to step into some tavern or alehouse, we'll drink the while, and I will write but a line or two: at this the cony stoops, and for greediness of the money, and upon courtesy goes with the setter unto the tavern. As they walk they meet the verser, and then they all three go into the tavern together.

            See gentlemen what great logicians these cony-catchers be, that have such rhetorical persuasions to induce the poor countryman to his confusion, and what variety of villainy they have to strip the poor farmer of his money. Well, imagine the cony is in the tavern, then sits down the verser, and saith to the setter, what sirrah, wilt thou give me a quart of wine, or shall I give thee one? we'll drink a pint saith the setter, & play a game at cards for it, respecting more the sport than the loss: content quoth the verser, go call for a pair, and while he is gone to fetch them, he saith to the cony, you shall see me fetch over my young master for a quart of wine finely, but this you must do for me, when I cut the cards, as I will not cut above five off, mark then of all the greatest pack which is undermost, & when I bid you call a card for me, name that, and you shall see we'll make him pay for a quart of wine straight, truly saith the cony, I am no great player at cards, and I do not well understand your meaning, why, saith he, it is thus: I will play at mum-chance, or decoy, that he shall shuffle the cards, and I will cut: now either of us must call a card, you shall call for me, and he for himself, and whose card comes first wins, therefore when I have cut the cards, then mark the nethermost of the greatest heap, that I set upon the cards which I cut off, & always call that for me. O now saith the cony, I understand you, let me alone, I warrant I'll fit your turn, with that in comes the setter with his cards, and asketh at what game they shall play, why saith the verser, at a new game called mum-chance, that hath no policy nor knavery, but plain as a pike-staff, you shall shuffle and I'll cut, you shall call a card, and this honest man, a stranger almost to us both, shall call another for me, and which of our cards comes first, shall win, content saith the setter, for that's but mere hazard, & so he shuffles the cards, and the verser cuts off some four cards, and then taking up the heap to set upon them, giveth the cony a glance of the bottom card of that heap, and saith, now sir, call for me. The cony to blind the setter's eyes, asketh as though he were not made privy to the game, what shall I cut? what card saith the verser? why what you will, either heart, spade, club or diamond, court-card or other. O is it so, saith the cony? why then you shall have the four of hearts, which was the card he had a glance of, and saith the setter (holding the cards in his hand, and turning up the uppermost card, as if he knew not well the game) I'll have the knave of trumps. Nay saith the verser, there is no trump, you may call what card you will: then saith he, I'll have the ten of spades, with that he draws, and the four of hearts comes first: well saith the setter, 'tis but hazard, mine might have come as well as yours, five is up, I fear not the set: so they shuffle and cut, but the verser wins. Well saith the setter, no butter will cleave on my bread, what, not one draught among five: drawer, a fresh pint, I'll have another bout with you: but sir I believe, saith he to the cony, you see some card, that it goes so cross on my side. I, saith the cony, nay I hope you think not so of me, 'tis but hazard and chance, for I am but a mere stranger unto the game, as I am an honest man I never saw it before.
            Thus this simple cony closeth up smoothly to take the verser's part, only for greediness to have him win the wine: well answers the setter, then I'll have one cast more, and to it they go, but he loseth all, and beginneth to chafe in this manner: were it not quoth he, that I care not for a quart of wine, I could swear as many oaths for anger, as there be hairs on my head, why should not my luck be as good as yours, and fortune favour me as well as you? what, not one called card in ten cuts, I'll forswear the game for ever. What, chafe not man, saith the verser, seeing we have your quart of wine. I'll show you the game, and with that discourseth all to him, as if he knew it not. The setter, as simply as if the knave were ignorant, saith, marry, I think so, you must needs win, when he knows what card to call, I might have played long enough before I had got a set. Truly says the cony, 'tis a pretty game, for 'tis not possible for him to lose that cuts the cards: I warrant the other that shuffles may lose Saint Peter's cope if he had it. Well, I'll carry this home with me into the country, and win many a pot of ale with it. A fresh pint, saith the verser, and then we'll away: but seeing sir, you are going homeward, I'll learn you a trick worth the noting, that you shall win many a pot with in the winter nights: with that he culls out the four knaves, & pricks one in the top, one in the midst, and one in the bottom. Now sir, saith he, you see these three knaves apparently, thrust them down with your hand, & cut where you will, & though they be so far asunder, I'll make them all come together. I pray you let's see that trick, saith the cony, methinks it should be impossible. So the verser draws, and all the three knaves comes in one heap: this he doth once or twice, then the cony wonders at it, and offers him a pint of wine to teach it him. Nay, saith the verser, I'll do it for thanks, and therefore mark me where you have taken out the four knaves, lay two together above, and draw up one of them that it may be seen, then prick the other in the midst, & the third in the bottom, so when any cuts, cut he never so warily, three knaves must of force come together, for the bottom knave is cut to lie upon both the upper knaves. I marry, saith the setter, but then the 3 knaves you showed come not together. Truth, saith the verser, but not one among a thousand mark that, it requires a quick eye, a sharp wit, and a reaching head to spy at the first. Now gramercy sir for this trick, saith the cony, I'll domineer with this amongst my neighbours. Thus doth the verser and the setter feign friendship to the cony, offering him no show of cozenage, nor once to draw him in for a pint of wine, the more to shadow their villainy, but now begins the sport: as thus they sit tippling, comes the barnacle and thrusts open the door, looking into the room where they are, and as one bashful steppeth back again, and saith, I cry you mercy gentlemen, I thought a friend of mine had been here, pardon my boldnes. No harm saith the verser, I pray you drink a cup of wine with us and welcome: so in comes the barnacle, and taking the cup drinks to the cony, and then saith, what, at cards gentlemen? were it not I should be offensive to the company I would play for a pint till my friend come that I look for. Why sir, saith the Verser, if you will sit down you shall be taken up for a quart of wine. With all my heart, saith the barnacle, what will you play at, at primero, primo visto, sant, one and thirty, new cut, or what shall be the game? Sir, saith the verser, I am but an ignorant man at cards, & I see you have them at your fingers? end, I will play with you at a game wherein can be no deceit, it is called mum-chance at cards, and it is thus: you shall shuffle the cards, and I will cut, you shall call one, and this honest country yoman shall call a card for me, and which of our cards comes first shall win: here you see is no deceit, and this I'll play. No truly, saith the cony, me thinks there can be no great craft in this: well saith the barnacle, for a pint of wine have at you: so they play as before, five up, and the verser wins. This is hard luck, saith the barnacle, and I believe the honest man spies some card in the bottom, and therefore I'll make this, always to prick the bottom card: content saith the verser, and the cony to cloak the matter, saith: sir, you offer me injury to think that I can call a card, when I neither touch them, shuffle, cut, nor draw them: Ah sir, saith the barnacle, give losers leave to speak: well, to it they go again, and then the barnacle knowing the game best, by chopping a card wins two of the five, but lets the verser win the set, then in a chafe he sweareth 'tis but his ill luck, and he can see no deceit in it, and therefore he will play xii.d. a cut. The verser is content, & wins ii. or iii.s. of the barnacle, whereat he chafes, and saith, I came hither in an ill hour: but I will win my money again, or lose all in my purse: with that he draws out a purse with some three or four pound, & claps it on the bord: the verser asketh the cony secretly by signs if he will be his half, he says aye, and straight seeks for his purse: well, the barnacle shuffles the cards throughly, and the verser cuts as before, the Barnacle when he hath drawn one card, saith, I'll either win somthing or lose something, therefore I'll vie and revie<6> every card at my pleasure, till either yours or mine come out, and therefore twelve pence upon this card, my card comes first for twelve pence: no saith the verser, aye saith the cony, and I durst hold twelve pence more, why, I hold you, saith the Barnacle, and so they vie and revie till some ten shillings be on the stake: and then next comes forth the verser's card, that the cony called, and the barnacle loseth: well, this flesheth the cony, the sweetness of gain maketh him frolic, and no man is more ready to vie and revie than he. Thus for three or four times the barnacle loseth, at last to whet on the cony, he striketh his chopped card, and winneth a good stake. Away with the witch, cries the Barnacle, I hope the cards will turn at last. Aye much, thinketh the cony, twas but a chance that you asked so right, to ask one of the five that was cut off, I am sure there was forty to one on my side, and I'll have you on the lurch anon, so still they vie and revie, and for once that the barnacle wins, the cony gets five, at last when they mean to shave the cony clean of all his coin, the barnacle chafeth, and upon a pawn borroweth some money of the Tapster, & swears he will vie it to the uttermost, then thus he chops his card to cross-bite the cony: he first looks on the bottom card, and shuffles often, but still keeping that bottom card which he knows to be uppermost, then sets he down the cards, and the verser to encourage the cony, cut off but three cards, whereof the barnacle's card must needs be the uppermost, then shows he the bottom card of the other heap cut off to the cony, and sets it upon the barnacle's card which he knows, so that of force the card that was laid uppermost, must come forth first, and then the barnacle calls that card: they draw a card, and then the Barnacle vies, and the countryman vies upon him: for this is the law, as often as one vies or revies, the other must see it, else he loseth the stake: well, at last the barnacle plies it so, that perhaps he vies more money then the cony hath in his purse. The cony upon this, knowing his card is the third or fourth card, and that he hath forty to one against the Barnacle, pawns his rings if he have any, his sword, his cloak, or else what he hath about him, to maintain the vie, and when he laughs in his sleeve, thinking he hath fleeced the barnacle of all, then the barnacle's card comes forth, and strikes such a cold humour unto his heart, that he sits as a man in a trance, not knowing what to do, and sighing while his heart is ready to break, thinking on the money that he hath lost, perhaps the man is very simple and patient, and whatsoever he thinks, for fear goes his way quiet with his loss, while the cony-catchers laugh and divide the spoil, and being out of the doors, poor man, goes to his lodging with a heavy heart, pensive & sorrowful, but too late, for perhaps his state did depend on that money, and so he, his wife, his children, and his family, are brought to extreme misery. Another perhaps more hardy and subtle, smokes the cony-catchers, and smelleth cozenage, and saith, they shall not have his money so, but they answer him with braves, and though he bring them before an officer, yet the knaves are so favoured, that the man never recovers his money, and yet he is let slip unpunished. Thus are the poor conies robbed by these base minded caterpillars: thus are serving men oft enticed to play, and lose all: thus are prentices induced to be conies, and so are cozened of their master's money, yea young gentlemen, merchants, and others, are fetched in by these damnable rakehells, a plague as ill as hell, which is, present loss of money, & ensuing misery. A lamentable case in England, when such vipers are suffered to breed and are not cut off with the sword of justice. This enormity is not only in London, but now generally dispersed through all England, in every shire, city, and town of any receipt, and many complaints are heard of their egregious cozenage. The poor farmer simply going about his business, or unto his attorney's chamber, is catched up & cozened of all. The serving-man sent with his lord's treasure, loseth oft-times most part to these worms of the commonwealth, the prentice having his master's money in charge, is spoiled by them, and from an honest servant either driven to run away, or to live in discredit for ever. The gentleman loseth his land, the merchant his stock, and all to these abominable cony-catchers, whose means is as ill as their living, for they are all either wedded to whores, or so addicted to whores, that what they get from honest men, they spend in bawdy houses among harlots, and consume it as vainly as they get it villainously. Their ears are of adamant, as pitiless as they are treacherous, for be the man never so poor, they will not return him one penny of his loss.

            I remember a merry jest done of late to a Welshman, who being a mere stranger in London, and not well acquainted with the English tongue, yet chanced amongst certain cony-catchers, who spying the gentleman to have money, they so dealt with him, that what by signs, and broken English, they got him in for a cony, and fleeced him of every penny that he had, and of his sword, at last the man smoked them, and drew his dagger upon them at Ludgate, for thereabouts they had catched him, and would have stabbed one of them for his money, people came and stopped him, and the rather because they could not understand him, though he had a card in one hand, and his dagger in the other, and said as well as he could, a card, a card, Mon dieu. In the mean while the cony-catchers were got into Paul's, and so away. The Welshman followed them, seeking them there up and down in the church still with his naked dagger and the card in his hand, and the gentlemen marvelled what he meant thereby, at last one of his countrymen met him, and enquired the cause of his choler, and then he told him how he was cozened at cards, and robbed of all his money, but as his loss was voluntary, so his seeking them was mere vanity, for they were stepped into some blind ale house to divide the shares.

            Near to S. Edmunds Bury in Suffolk, there dwelt an honest man, a shoemaker, that having some twenty marks in his purse, long a-gathering, and nearly kept, in came to the market to buy a dicker of hides, and by chance fell among cony-catchers, whose names I omit, because I hope of their amendment. This plain countryman drawn in by these former devices was made a cony, and so straight stripped of all his xx. marks, to his utter undoing: the knaves escaped, and he went home a sorrowful man. Shortly after, one of these cony-catchers was taken for a suspected person, and laid in Bury gaol, the sessions coming, and he produced to the bar, it was the fortune of this poor shoemaker to be there, who spying this rogue to be arraigned, was glad, and said nothing unto him, but looked what would be the issue of his appearance, at the last he was brought before the justices, where he was examined of his life, and being demanded what occupation he was, said none, what profession then are you of, how live you? Marry quoth he, I am a gentleman, and live of my friends. Nay that is a lie, quoth the poor shoemaker, under correction of the worshipful of the bench, you have a trade, and are by your art a cony-catcher. A cony-catcher, said one of the justices, and smiled, what is he a warrener fellow, whose warren keepeth he, canst thou tell? Nay sir, your worship mistaketh me quoth the shoemaker, he is not a warrener, but a cony-catcher: the bench, that never heard this name before, smiled, attributing the name to the man's simplicity, thought he meant a warrener, which the shoemaker spying, answered, that some conies this fellow catched, were worth twenty mark apiece, and for proof quoth he, I am one of them: and so discoursed the whole order of the art, and the baseness of the cozening: whereupon the justices looking into his life, appointed him to be whipped, and the shoemaker desired that he might give him his payment, which was granted: when he came to his punishment, the shoemaker laughed, saying, 'tis a mad world when poor conies are able to beat their catchers, but he lent him so friendly lashes, that almost he made him pay an ounce of blood for every pound of silver.

            Thus we see how the generation of these vipers increase, to the confusion of many honest men, whose practices to my poor power I have discovered, and set out, with the villainous sleights they use to entrap the simple, yet have they cloaks for the rain, and shadows for their villainies, calling it by the name of art or law: as cony-catching art, or cony-catching law. And hereof it riseth, that like as law, when the term is truly considered, signifieth the ordinance of good men, established for the commonwealth, to repress all vicious living, so these cony-catchers turn the cat in the pan, giving to divers vile patching shifts, an honest & godly title, calling it by the name of a law, because by a multitude of hateful rules, as it were in good learning, they exercise their villainies to the destructio of sundry honest persons. Herupon they give their false conveyance, the name of cony-catching law, as there be also other laws; as high law, sacking law, figging law, cheating law and Barnard's law. If you marvel at these mysteries and quaint words, consider, as the carpenter hath many terms familiar enough to his prentices, that others understand not at all, so have the cony-catchers, not without great cause: for a falsehood once detected, can never compass the desired effect. Therefore will I presently acquaint you with the signification of the terms in a table.

            But leaving them till time and place, coming down Turnmill street the other day, I met one whom I suspected a cony-catcher, I drew him on to the tavern, and after a cup of wine or two, I talked with him of the maner of his life, & told him I was sorry for his friends' sake, that he took so bad a course, as to live upon the spoil of poor men, and specially to deserve the name of cony-catching, dissuading him from that base kind of life, that was so ignominious in the world, and so loathsome in the sight of God. Tut sir, quoth he, calling me by my name, as my religion is small, so my devotion is less, I leave God to be disputed on by divines, the two ends I aim at, are gain and ease, but by what honest gains I may get, never comes within the compass of my thoughts. Though your experience in travail be great, yet in some matters mine be more, yea, I am sure you are not so ignorant, but you know that few men can live uprightly, unless he have some pretty way more than the world is witness to, to help him withal: Think you some lawyers could be such purchasers, if all their pleas were short, and their proceedings justice and conscience? That offices would be so dearly bought, and the buyers so soon enriched, if they counted not pillage an honest kind of purchase? or do you think that men of handy trades make all their commodities without falsehood,when so many of them are become daily purchasers? nay what will you more, who so hath not some sinister way to help himself, but followeth his nose always straight forward, may well hold up the head for a year or two, but the third he must needs sink, and gather the wind into beggars' haven, therefore sir, cease to persuade me to the contrary, for my resolution is to beat my wits, and spare not to busy my brains to save and help me, by what means soever I care not, so I may avoid the danger of the law: whereupon, seeing this cony-catcher resolved in his form of life, leaving him to his lewdness I went away, wondering at the baseness of their minds, that would spend their time in such detestable sort. But no marvel, for they are given up into a reprobate sense, and are in religion mere atheists, as they are in trade flat dissemblers. If I should spend many sheets in deciphering their shifts, it were frivolous, in that they be many, and full of variety, for every day they invent new tricks, and such quaint devices as are secret, yet passing dangerous, that if a man had Argus eyes, he could scant pry into the bottom of their practices. Thus for the benefit of my country I have briefly discovered the law of cony-catching, desiring all justices, if such cozeners light in their precinct, even to use summum ius<7> against them, because it is the basest of all villainies. And that London prentices, if they chance in such cony-catchers' company, may teach them London law, that is, to defend the poor men that are wronged, and learn the caterpillars the highway to Newgate, where if Hind favour them with the heaviest irons in all the house, & give them his unkindest entertainment, no doubt his other petty sins shall be half pardoned for his labour: but I would it might be their fortune to happen into noble's, northward in Whitechapel, there in faith round Robin his deputy, would make them, like wretches, feel the weight of his heaviest fetters. And so desiring both honourable and worshipful, as well justices, as other officers, and all estates, from the prince to the beggar, to rest professed enemies to these base-minded cony-catchers, I take my leave.

Nascimur pro patria.<1>

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