Date Of Execution: 1 Jan 1317
Execution Place: York
Head of a Gang of Robbers who had the audacity, so it is said, to hold up King Edward II.
THE gentleman we are going to give an account of was descended of very honourable parents at Northallerton, a market-town in the North Riding of Yorkshire. The family was very ancient, and came into England with William the Conqueror, who assigned them lands for the services done him in the North of England, where they lived in great esteem, and the successors after them for several ages, till the time of Sir Gosselin. The father of this gentleman, being a pious and devout man, sent his son to Peter College, in Cambridge, where for some time he pursued his studies with great warmth, and to outward appearance gave signs of making a fine man. This gave the ancient father extreme joy, who began to think of placing his son in the priesthood; but it seems Gosselin sat at his books purely to amuse his father and to gain some advantage he had in view by it. It was found out afterwards that a religious life, as his father had designed for him, was not the thing he relished; but that the prosecution of amours and love intrigues had the greatest ascendant over his mind; nay, he began now to display his natural propensity to a luxurious and profligate life.
These steps creating great discontent in the breast of the father, he took the violent courses of his son so much to heart that it was not long before he died, leaving our gentleman in full possession both of the dignity of the family and his estate, valued at twelve hundred pounds per annum, a considerable fortune in those days. Thus our gentleman becomes a knight, rolls in a plentiful fortune, and gives a loose more extravagant than ever to his ill course. He associates a brother of his, named Robert, with him, and they two together, by their profuseness, soon made an end of the estate.
Being now out of the reach of maintaining themselves as usual, and finding the poverty of their circumstances still increasing upon them, they perceived there was no other way of supporting themselves than by raising contributions on the highway. To this end, being men of extraordinary valour and courage, they equipped themselves out for a daring enterprise, which was to rob two cardinals, sent into this kingdom by the Pope to mediate a peace between England and Scotland and terminate the differences then on foot between Edward II. and the Earl of Lancaster.
One Middleton and Selby, two robbers of these times, having heard of Denville's design, came and joined him with all the forces under their command, which were no inconsiderable number. In short, the cardinals were robbed, and a very large booty taken from them, which put our bravo into a tolerable way of subsistence for some time; but there happening some difference between Middleton and him, with regard to the sharing of this booty, the former left the association, and went some time on the road by himself; but being soon apprehended, was brought up to London, and there executed.
All this while Sir Gosselin pursued his illegal practices; the valour of his arm and the continual preys he and his men made on all travellers put the whole country into a terrible panic; for there was no such thing as travelling with any safety; and the great number of persons, of whom his gang was composed, plainly showed that they defied the laws, and everything else. What they could not obtain on the highway, they sought for in houses, monasteries, churches and nunneries, which were rifled without any distinction, and the most valuable and sacred things carried off. The men under Sir Gosselin's conduct led a most licentious life, and, like their master, committed the worst of villainies and barbarities. Persons were murdered in their houses when their goods might have been taken without using bloodshed: so that killing and doing havoc rather looked like sport or pastime with these desperadoes. Our countryman Tom Shadwell seems to point at our knight in his play called The Libertine; nay, to have founded the main plot of that piece upon his barbarous and licentious conduct. They who have a mind to be further informed in this particular may, by perusing that dramatic performance, see how near the whole conduct of the libertine squares with that of the person we are speaking of.
A while after, our knight and his associates marching on the road between Marlow in Buckinghamshire and Henley-upon-Thames, met with a Dominican monk, named Andrew Sympson, who not only was obliged to deliver what little gold he had to them, but also to climb into a tree and preach them a sermon, which he did with a great deal of judgment and good sense, though pronounced extempore. This sermon is at the very time recorded in the Bodleian Library as a piece containing sound divinity and a great deal of wit.
This sermon was vastly well received by Sir Gosselin and his associates, who returned the monk their extraordinary thanks for the excellent sermon he had made; in short, they gave back not only the gold they had taken from him, but, making a collection among themselves, presented to him a purse (above his money) by Sir Gosselin, their spokesman, who, after a few ceremonies on either side, left the monk to descend out of the tree quietly, and go home in peace.
If accounts be true that are transmitted down to us concerning this knight and his confederates, whole parties of horse and foot sent out to suppress their career were several times defeated; at which the whole kingdom was put into so much terror and amazement that none durst take a journey or appear on the roads. The King then reigning having acquainted his nobles of his intention to make a progress through the north of England, Sir Gosselin came timely to heat of it, and accordingly put himself and his whole gang in priests' habits. Now the King being on his progress, and near Norwich, our adventurers, being a considerable number, drew up to him in their venerable habits, which making the King halt to observe them a little more closely, Sir Gosselin closed up with him. The King upon this seemed desirous to hear what he had to say, which Sir Gosselin observing, after a low obeisance made to his Majesty, he told him that he was not come to discourse about religious matters, but secular affairs, which was to lend him and his needy brothers what money he had about him, otherwise not all the indulgences he could obtain from the Pope should save him from being exposed to a very hard and rigid penance. The King, having but about forty to attend him, found it impossible to get clear of his adversary, or save his money, but was obliged to surrender all, nay, look on while his noblemen's pockets were searched; after which Sir Gosselin and his associates left them to perform the remaining part of their progress.
This attempt upon the King was highly resented; and several proclamations, with considerable rewards inserted, were issued to apprehend any of the persons concerned in this robbery, alive or dead. In less than six months above sixty were treacherously taken by people in order to obtain the premium. Notwithstanding, this change of fortune was so far from working any reformation in our knight, that he and his brother robbed with greater boldness; so that those noblemen and gentlemen who had seats in the country were afraid to reside at them, and were obliged to secure themselves and their effects in the fortified cities and towns of the kingdom.
The last adventure which we have on record of this knight was this: Sir Gosselin and the remaining part of the associates being in the north of England were determined to see what the rich Bishop of Durham could afford them; accordingly they got into his palace, which they rifled from top to bottom of all the valuable things in it; and, not content with the spoil they found, bound the reverend prelate and his servants hand and foot, while they went down into the cellar, drank as much wine as they could well digest, and then let the rest run out of the barrels; after which they departed, leaving the ecclesiastic to call upon God to deliver him in his necessities.
But fortune now weighs down the scale of our knight's iniquities It seems a man kept a public house in a by-place in Yorkshire, where Sir Gosselin frequently went, not so much for the liquors there, as the beauty of the woman of the house. A freer acquaintance than consisted with decency had been kept up very openly some time between the knight and the landlady; which the husband at first connived at, through a notion his dignified customer, and the company he brought to his house, would be of considerable advantage to his trade. But Sir Gosselin and his wife pursuing their love intrigues in broad daylights to the small scandal of his family, and he beginning too late to think himself injured, found no other resource to repair the ill name thrown upon him by the people in the neighbourhood than by removing the knight out of the way. To which end he goes to the sheriff of the county, and acquaints him how Sir Gosselin might be apprehended with little difficulty at his house, provided he came that night. The sheriff rejoiced at the opportunity, but considered that the knight and his associates were men of desperate fortunes, vast courage, and resolved to hazard the last rather than surrender or be taken; upon which he mustered up between five and six hundred men-at-arms, came privately at night with them to the house, which they vigorously attacked as our knight and his company were revelling over their cups. Now or never was an important battle, or rather siege, to be determined. The persons within resolutely defended themselves for some time, and the men-at-arms without were not less valiant. Good fortune seemed to incline to our knight's side, who, in conjunction with his men, laid two hundred of his adversaries dead on the spot; but being tired with the slaughter, and fresh enemies pouring in upon him he was presently hemmed in on every side, and obliged to surrender, though not without fighting to the last. The sheriff, exasperated to think of losing so many men, took care to put the captive knight, and three and twenty of his comrades, who were made prisoners at the same time, under a very strong guard, who safely conducted them to York, where, without any trial, or other proceedings had upon them, they were executed, to the joy of thousands, the satisfaction of the great, and the desire of the common people, who waited upon them to the gallows, triumphing at their ignominious exit.