Jack Sheppard [Laws L6]
DESCRIPTION: Jack Sheppard, the apprentice of carpenter William Woods, is scorned by his master's daughter. After marrying two (!) women, he seeks to rob Woods, is captured, but is freed by an accomplice. Imprisoned, he escapes again, but is at last taken and hanged
EARLIEST DATE: 1928 (Mackenzie)
KEYWORDS: courting robbery outlaw execution apprentice
1724 - execution of Jack Sheppard
FOUND IN: Canada(Mar)
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Laws L6, "Jack Sheppard"
Mackenzie 127, "Jack Sheppard" (1 text)
DT 568, JCKSHEPP
cf. "Nix My Dolly Pals Fake Away" (subject)
NOTES: There are a number of Jack Sheppard broadsides, including song collections, in the Bodleian catalog, but I don't find this song; see, for example, the eight songs headed "Jack Sheppard's Songs" [Bodleian, Harding B 11(1841),..., unknown, n.d.]. There is no question, though, that Mackenzie 127 is Laws L6: it is Laws's only reference. - BS
Nor does it seem to have turned up in tradition anywhere else; one wonders why Laws listed it as a current traditional song rather than relegating it to the list of doubtful songs.
Sheppard was a real person; according to Benet, p. 1023, he was born c. 1701 to a carpenter in Smithfield. He turned highwayman at a young age.
By 1724 he was captured; he twice escaped from Newgate, but was caught again and executed in that year. Such was his fame that, according to Sharpe, p. 84, his gaolers earned hundreds of pounds by granting admission to see him.
Daniel Defoe wrote a romance about him (titled, naturally, Jack Sheppard) in the year of his execution, and W. H. Ainsworth -- the man who created the legend of Dick Turpin and Black Bess (see the notes to "My Bonny Black Bess (II) (Poor Black Bess; Dick Turpin's Ride)" [Laws L9]) -- also wrote about him in 1839 (Sharpe, p. 161). This book was very successful, and spawned a flurry of Sheppard publications and plays (Sharpe, p. 162).
Even more notably, according to Brumwell/Speck, p. 149, the character Macheath in Gay's "Beggar's Opera" is a "thinly veiled portrait" of Sheppard. Which means (according to Wikipedia) that Sheppard is the ultimate inspiration for Brecht and Weill's Macheath, or "Mackie Messer"/"Mack the Knife." - RBW
Last updated in version 3.7
- Benet: William Rose Benet, editor, The Reader's Encyclopdedia, first edition, 1948 (I use the four-volume Crowell edition but usually check it against the single volume fourth edition edited by Bruce Murphy and published 1996 by Harper-Collins)
- Brumwell/Speck: Stephen Brumwell and W. A. Speck, Cassell's Companion to Eighteenth-Century Britain, Cassell & Co., 2001
- Sharpe: James Sharpe, Dick Turpin: The Myth of the English Highwayman, Profile Books, 2004 (I use the 2005 paperback edition)
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