Cony-Catching - The Art of Cross-Biting.

The Art of Cross-Biting.

            THE Cross-biting law is a public profession of shameless cozenage, mixed with incestuous whoredoms, as ill as was practised in Gomorrah or Sodom, though not after the same unnatural manner: for the method of their mischievous art (with blushing cheeks & trembling heart let it be spoken) is, that these villainous vipers, unworthy the name of men, base rogues (yet why do I term them so well) being outcasts from God, vipers of the world, and an excremental reversion of sin, doth consent, nay constrain their wives to yield the use of their bodies to other men, that taking them together, he may cross-bite the party of all the crowns he can presently make, and that the world may see their monstrous practices, I will brifly set down the manner.

            They have sundry preys that they call simplers, which are men fondly and wantonly given, whom for a penalty of their lust, they fleece of all that ever they have: some merchants, prentices, serving-men, gentlemen, yeomen, farmers, and all degrees, and this is their form: there are resident in London & the suburbs, certain men attired like gentlemen, brave fellows, but basely minded, who living in want, as their last refuge, fall unto this cross-biting law and to maintain themselves, either marry with some stale whore, or else forsooth keep one as their friend: and these persons be commonly men of the eight laws before rehearsed: either high lawyers, versers, nips, cony-catchers, or such of the like fraternity. These when their other trades fail, as the cheater, when he has no cozen to grime with his stop dice,<10> or the high lawyer, when he hath no set match to ride about, and the nip when there is no term, fair, nor time of great assembly, then to maintain the main chance, they use the benefit of their wives or friends, to the cross-biting of such as lust after their filthy enormities: some simple men are drawn on by subtle means, which never intended such a bad matter. In summer evenings, and in the winter nights, these traffics, these common trulls I mean, walk abroad either in the fields or streets that are commonly haunted, as stales to draw men into hell, and afar of, as attending apple-squires, certain cross-biters stand aloof, as if they knew them not: now so many men so many affections. Some unruly mates that place their content in lust, letting slip the liberty of their eyes on their painted faces, feed upon their unchaste beauties, till their hearts be set on fire: then come they to these minions, and court them with many sweet words: alas their loves needs no long suits, for they are forthwith entertained, and either they go to the tavern to scale up the match with a pottle of hippocras, or straight she carries him to some bad place, and there picks his pocket, or else the cross-biters comes swearing in, & so out-face the dismayed companion, that rather then he would be brought in question, he would disburse all that he hath present. But this is but an easy cozenage. Some other meeting with one of that profession in the street, will question if she will drink with him a pint of wine, their trade is never to refuse, and if for manners they do, it is but once: & then scarce shall they be warm in the room, but in comes a terrible fellow, with a side hair & a fearful beard, as though he were one of Polyphemus'<11> cut, & he comes frowning in & saith, what hast thou to do base knave, to carry my sister or my wife to the tavern: by his owns<12> you whore, 'tis some of your companions, I will have you both before the justice, Deputy, or Constable, to be examined. The poor serving-man, apprentice, farmer, or whatsoever he is, seeing such a terrible huff-snuff, swearing with his dagger in his hand, is fearful both of him and to be brought in trouble, and therefore speaks kindly and courteously unto him, and desires him to be content he meant no harm. The whore, that hath tears at command, falls a weeping, and cries him mercy. At this submission of them both he triumphs like a braggart, and will take no compassion: yet at last, through entreaty of other his companions coming in as strangers, he is pacified with some forty shillings, and the poor man goes sorrowful away, sighing out that which Solomon hath in his Proverbs, A shameless woman hath honey in her lips, and her throat as sweet as honey, her throat as soft as oil: but the end of her is more bitter than aloes, and her tongue is more sharp than a two edged sword, her feet go unto death, and her steps lead unto hell.<13>

            Again these trulls when they have got in a novice, then straight they pick his purse, and then have they their cross-biters ready, to whom they convey the money and so offer themselves to be searched: but the poor man is so outfaced by these cross-biting ruffians, that he is glad to go away content with his loss, yet are these easy practices. O might the justices send out spials in the night, they should see how these street walkers will jet in rich garded gowns, quaint periwigs, ruffs of the largest size, quarter and half deep, gloried richly with blue starch, their cheeks dyed with surfling water, thus are they tricked up, and either walk like stales up and down the streets, or stand like the devil's Si quis<14> at a tavern or alehouse, as if who should say, if any be so minded to satisfy his filthy lust, to lend me his purse, and the devil his soul, let him come in and be welcome. Now sir comes by a country farmer, walking from his inn to perform some busines, and seeing such a gorgeous damsel, he wondering at such a brave wench, stands staring her on the face, or perhaps doth but cast a glance, and bid her good speed, as plain simple swains have their lusty humours as well as others: the trull straight beginning her exordium<15> with a smile, saith, how now my friend, what want you, would you speak with anybody here? If the fellow have any bold spirit, perhaps he will offer the wine, & then he is caught, 'tis enough: in he goes, and they are chambered: then sends she for her husband, or her friend, and there either the farmer's pocket is stripped, or else the cross-biters fall upon him, and threaten him with Bridewell and the law: then for fear he gives them all in his purse, and makes them some bill to pay a sum of money at a certain day. If the poor farmer be bashful, and passeth by one of these shameless strumpets, then will she verse it with him, and claim acquaintance of him, and by some policy or other fall aboard on him, and carry him into some house or other: if he but enter in at the doors with her (though the poor farmer never kist her) yet then the cross-biters, like vultures, will prey upon his purse, and rob him of every penny. If there be any young gentleman that is a novice and hath not seen their trains, to him will some common filth (that never knew love) feign an ardent and honest affection, till she and her cross-biters have versed him to the beggar's estate. Ah gentlemen, merchants, yeomen and farmers, let this to you all, and to every degree else, be a caveat to warn you from lust, that your inordinate desire be not a mean to impoverish your purses, discredit your good names, condemn your souls, but also that your wealth got with the sweat of your brows, or left by your parents as a patrimony, shall be a prey to those cozening cross-biters. Some fond men are so far in with these detestable trugs, that they consume what they have upon them, and find nothing but a Neapolitan favour<16> for their labour.

            Read the seventh of Solomon's proverbs, and there at large view the description of a shameless and impudent courtesan: yet is there another kind of cross-biting which is most pestilent, and that is this. There lives about this town certain householders, yet mere shifters and cozeners, who learning some insight in the civil law, walk abroad like parators, sumners<17> and informers, being none at all either in office or credit, and they go spying about where any merchant, or merchant's prentice, citizen, wealthy farmer, or other of credit, either accompany with any woman familiarly, or else hath gotten some maid with child, as men's natures be prone to sin, straight they come over his fallows thus: they send for him to a tavern, & there open the matter unto him, which they have cunningly learned out, telling him he must be presented to the Arches<18>, & the citation shall be peremptorily served in his parish church. The party afraid to have his credit cracked with the worshipful of the City, and the rest of his neighbours, & grieving highly his wife should hear of it, straight takes composition with this cozener for some twenty marks, nay I heard of forty pound cross-bitten at one time, & then the cozening informer or cross-biter promiseth to wipe him out of the book, & discharge him from the matter, when it was neither known nor presented: so go they to the woman, and fetch her off if she be married, and though they have this gross sum yet oft times they cross-bite her for more: nay thus do they fear citizens, prentices, & farmers, that they find but any way suspicious of the like fault. The cross-biting bawds, for no better can I term them, in that for lucre they conceal the sin, and smother up lust, do not only enrich themselves mightily thereby, but also discredit, hinder, and prejudice the court of the Arches, and the Officers belonging to the same. There are some poor blind patches of that faculty, that have their tenements purchased, and their plate on the board very solemnly, who only get their gains by cross-biting, as is afore rehearsed. But leaving them to the deep insight of such as be appointed with Justice to correct vice, again to the crew of my former cross-biters, whose fee simple to live upon, is nothing but the following of common, dishonest and idle trulls, and thereby maintain themselves brave, and the strumpets in handsome furniture. And to end this art with an English demonstration, I'll tell you a pretty tale of late performd in Bishopgate street, there was there five traffics, pretty, but common housewives, that stood fast by a tavern door, loking if some prey would pass by for their purpose, anon the eldest of them, and most experienced in that law, called Mal B., spied a master of a ship coming along: here is a simpler quoth she, I'll verse him, or hang me. Sir, said she, God even, what, are you so liberal to bestow on three good wenches that are dry, a pint of wine. In faith, fair women quoth he, I was never niggard for so much, and with that he takes one of them by the hand, and caries them all into the tavern, there he bestowed cheer and hippocras upon them, drinking hard till the shot came to a noble, so that they three carousing to the gentleman, made him somewhat tipsy, and then & venus in vinis, ignis in igne fuit,<19> well, night grew on, and he would away, but this mistress Mal B. stopped his journey thus, gentleman, quoth she, this undeserved favour of yours makes us so deeply beholding to you, that our ability is not able any way to make sufficient satisfaction, yet to show us kind in what we can, you shall not deny me this request, to see my simple house before you go. The gentleman a litle whiffled, consented, & went with them, so the shot was paid, & away they go: Without the tavern door stood two of their husbands, J. B. & J. R. and they were made privy to the practice. Home goes the gentleman with these lusty housewives, stumbling, at last he was welcome to M. Mal's house, and one of the three went into a chamber, and got to bed, whose name was A. B. After they had chatted a while, the gentleman would have been gone, but she told him that before he went, he should see all the rooms of her house, and so led him up into the chamber where the party lay in bed: who is here said the gentleman. Marry saith Mal, a good pretty wench sir, and if you be not well, lie down by her, you can take no harm of her: drunkenness desires lust, and so the gentleman begins to dally, and away goes she with the candle, and at last he put of his clothes and went to bed: yet he was not so drunk, but he could after a while remember his money, and feeling for his purse all was gone, and three links of his whistle broken off: the sum that was in his purse was in gold and silver twenty nobles. As thus he was in a maze, though his head were well laden, in comes J. B. the good man of the house, and two other with him, and speaking somewhat loud, peace husband quoth she, there is one in bed, speak not so loud. In bed, saith he, gogs nownes<20> I'll go see, and so will I, saith the other: you shall not saith his wife, but strove against him, but up goes he and his cross-biters with him, & seeing the gentleman in bed, out with his dagger, and asked what base villain it was that there sought to dishonest his wife: well, he sent one of them for a constable, and made the gentleman rise, who half drunk yet had that remembrance to speak fair, and to entreat him to keep his credit: but no entreaty could serve, but to the Compter he must, & the constable must be sent for: yet at the last one of them entreated that the gentleman might be honestly used, and carried to a tavern to talk of the matter till a constable come. Tut, saith J. B. I will have law upon him: but the base cross-biter at last stooped, and to the tavern they go, where the gentleman laid his whistle to pawn for money, & there bestowed as much of them as came to ten shillings, and sat drinking and talking until the next morrow. By that the gentleman had stolen a nap, and waking it was daylight, and then seeing himself compassed with these cross-biters, and remembering his night's work, soberly smiling, asked them if they knew what he was: they answered, not well. Why then quoth he, you base cozening rogues, you shall ere we part: and with that drawing his sword, kept them into the chamber, desiring that the constable might be sent for: but this brave of his could not dismay M. Mall, for she had bidden a sharper brunt before, witness the time of her martyrdom, when upon her shoulders was engraven the history of her whorish qualities: but she replying, swore, sith he was so lusty, her husband should not put it up by no means. I will tell thee thou base cross-biting bawd, quoth he, and you cozening companions, I serve a noble man, & for my credit with him, I refer me to the penalty he will impose on you, for by God I will make you an example to all cross-biters ere I end with you, I tell you villains, I serve, and with that he named his Lord. When the guilty whores and cozeners heard of his credit and service, they began humbly to entreat him to be good to them: then quoth he, first deliver me my money, they upon that gladly gave him all, and restored the links of his chain. When he had all, he smiled, and swore afresh that he would torment them for all this, that the severity of their punishment might be a caveat to others to beware of the like cozenage: and upon that knocked with his foot, and said he would not let them go till he had a constable. Then in general they humbled themselves, so recompensing the party, that he agreed to pass over the matter, conditionally beside, that they would pay the sixteen shillings he had spent in charges, which they also performed. The gentleman stepped his way, and said, you may see the old proverb fulfilled, Fallere fallentem non est fraus.<21>

            Thus have I deciphered an odious practice not worthy to be named: and now wishing all, of what estate soever, to beware of filthy lust, and such damnable stales as draws men on to inordinate desires, and rather to spend their coin amongest honest company, than to bequeath it to such base cross-biters, as prey upon men, like ravens upon dead carcasses, I end with this prayer, that cross-biting and cony-catching may be as little known in England, as the eating of swine's flesh was amongst the Jews. Farewell.

Nascimur pro patria.


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