Date Of Execution: 22 Feb 1681
Execution Place: unknown
Captain Dudley was born at Swepston in Leicestershire. His father once possessed a considerable estate, but through extravagance he lost the whole except sixty pounds per annum. In these reduced circumstances he went to London, intending to live in obscurity, corresponding to the state of his finances.
Richard his son had a promising genius, and received a liberal education at St Paul's school. But a natural vicious disposition baffled all restraints. When only nine years old he showed his covetous disposition, by robbing his sister of thirty shillings, and flying off with that sum. In a few days, however, he was found, brought home, and sent to school. But his vicious disposition strengthened by indulgence. Impatient at the confinement of a school, he next robbed his father of a considerable sum of money, and absconded. But his father discovered his retreat, and found him a little way from town in the company of two lewd women.
Despairing of his settling at home, his father sent him on board a man of war, in which he sailed up the Straits, and behaved gallantly in several actions. Upon his arrival in England, he left the ship, on pretence that a younger officer had been preferred before him, upon the death of one of the lieutenants. In a short time he joined a band of thieves, assisted them in robbing the country house of Admiral Carter, and escaped detection.
The next remarkable robbery in which he was engaged, was that of breaking into the house of a lady of Blackheath, and carrying off a large quantity of plate.
He and his associates were also successful in selling the plate to a refiner; but in a short time he was apprehended for this robbery, and committed to Newgate prison. While there, he sent for the refiner, and severely reproached him in the following manner: 'It is,' said he, 'a hard thing to find an honest man and a fair dealer: for, you cursed rogue, among the plate you bought, there was a cup with a cover; which you told us was but silver gilt, and bought it at the same price with the rest; but it plainly appeared, by the advertisement in the gazette, that it was a gold cup and cover; but I see you are a rogue, and that there is no trusting anybody.' Dudley was tried, convicted for this robbery, and sentenced to death; but his youth and the interest of his friends, procured him a royal pardon.
For two years he conducted himself to the satisfaction of his father, so that he purchased for him a commission in the army. In that situation he also acquitted himself honourably, and married a young lady of a respectable family, with whom he received an estate of an hundred and forty pounds a year. This, with his commission, enabled them to live in a genteel manner. Delighting, however, in company, and having become security for one of his companions of a debt, and that person being arrested for it, one of the bailiffs was killed in the scuffle, and Dudley was suspected as having been the murderer.
Having by frequent crimes vanquished every virtuous feeling, and being more inclined to live upon the ruins of his country than the fruits of industry, he abandoned his own house, and joined a band of robbers. Dudley soon became so expert, that there was scarcely any robbery committed, but he acted a principal part. Pleased with this easy way of obtaining money, and supporting an extravagant expense, he also prevailed upon Will his brother to join him in his employment. It happened, however, that Will had not been long in his new occupation, when the Captain was apprehended for robbing a gentleman of a watch, a sword, a whip, and nine shillings. But fortunately for him the evidence was defective, and he escaped death a second time.
Now, hardened in vice, he immediately returned to his old trade. He robbed on the highway, broke into houses, picked pockets, or performed any act of violence or cunning by which he could procure money. For a length of time he went on with impunity, but was at last apprehended for robbing Sir John Friend's house. Upon trial the evidence was decisive, and he received sentence of death. His friends again interposed, and through their influence his sentence was changed for that of banishment. Accordingly, he and several other convicts were put on board a ship bound for Barbados. But they had scarcely reached the Isle of Wight, when he excited his companions to a conspiracy, and having concerted their measures while the ship's company were under the hatches, they went off with the long boat.
No sooner had he reached the shore than he abandoned his companions, and travelled through woods and by-paths. Being in a very mean dress, he begged when he had no opportunity to steal. Arriving however at Hounslow Heath, he met with a farmer, robbed him, seized his horse, and having mounted, set forward in quest of new spoils. This was a fortunate day, for Dudley had not proceeded far on the heath when a gentleman well dressed, and better mounted than the farmer, made his appearance. He was commanded to halt and surrender. Dudley led him aside in a secret thicket, exchanged clothes and horse, rifled his pockets, then addressed him, saying, "That he ought never to accuse him of robbing him, for, according to the old proverb, exchange was no robbery;" so bidding him good day, he rode off for London. Arrived there he went in search of his old associates, who were glad to see their friend; who in consequence of his fortunate adventures and high reputation among them, received the title of Captain, and all agreed to be subject to his commands. Thus, at the head of such an experienced and desperate band, no part of the country was secure from his rapine, nor any house sufficiently strong to keep him out. The natural consequences were, that he soon became known and dreaded all over the country.
To avoid being taken, and to prevent all enquiries, he paid a visit to the north of England, and being one day in search of plunder, he robbed a Dutch Colonel of his horse, arms, and fine laced coat. Thus equipped, he committed several robberies. He at length, however, laid aside his colonel's habit, only using his horse, who soon became dexterous at his new employment. But one day meeting a gentleman near Epsom, he resisted the Captain's demands, and discharged his pistol at Dudley. In the combat, however, he was victorious, wounded the gentleman in the leg, and having stripped him of his money, conveyed him to the next village, that he might receive medical assistance, and then rode off in search of new adventures. The Captain and his men were very successful in this quarter. No stage, nor coach, nor passenger, of which they had intelligence, could escape their depredations, and scarcely a day passed without some notorious robbery being committed.
Captain Dudley and his men went on in a continued course of success, acquiring much wealth, which was as soon dissipated in riot and extravagance, as their extravagance was equal to their gains.
One day, however, having attacked and robbed the Southampton coach, they were keenly pursued, and several of them taken, but Dudley escaped. Deprived of the chief of his own forces, he now joined himself to some house-breakers, and with them continued to commit many robberies; in particular, with three others, he entered the house of an old woman in Spitalfields, gagged her, bound her to a chair, and rifled the house of a considerable sum of money, which the good woman had been long in scraping together. Hearing the money clink that was going to be taken from her, she struggled in her chair, fell down upon her face, and was stifled to death, while the Captain and his companions went off with impunity. But when the old woman came to be interred, a grandchild of hers, who had been one of the robbers, when about to be fitted with a pair of gloves, changed his countenance, was strongly agitated, and began to tremble. He was suspected, charged with the murder, confessed the crime, and, informing upon the rest, two of them were taken, tried and condemned, and all three hung in chains.
But though Dudley's name was published as accessory to the murder, yet he long escaped detection. At length, however, he was apprehended, and charged with several robberies, of which he, by dexterous management, evaded the deserved punishment. He was also called to stand trial for the murder of the old woman; but the principal evidence, upon whose testimony the other three were chiefly condemned, being absent, he escaped suffering for that crime. The dexterous manner in which he managed that trial, the witnesses that he had suborned, and the manner in which he maintained his innocence before the jury were often the cause of his boast and amusement.
The profligate Dudley was no sooner relieved from prison than he hastened to join his own companions in vice. Exulting to see their Captain again at their head, they redoubled their activity, and committed all manner of depredations. Among other adventures, they robbed a nobleman on Hounslow Heath of fifteen hundred pounds, after a severe engagement with his servants, three of whom were wounded, and two had their horses shot under them.
Having at length with his companions committed so many robberies upon the highway, a proclamation was issued against them, offering a reward to those who should bring them, either dead or alive. This occasioned their detection in the following manner: Having committed a robbery, and being closely pursued to Westminster ferry, the wherrymen refused to carry any more that night. Two of them then rode off, and the other four gave their horses to a waterman to lead to the next inn. The hones being foaming with sweat, he began to suspect that they were robbers who had been keenly pursued. He communicated his suspicions to the constable, who secured the horses, and went in search of the men.
He was not long in seizing one of them. He confessed, and the constable hastening to the inn, secured the rest, and having placed a strong guard upon them, rode to Lambeth and securing the other two, led them before a justice of the peace, who committed them to Newgate.
At the next sessions Captain Dudley, his brother, and three other accomplices, were tried, and condemned to suffer death. After sentence, Captain Dudley was brought to Newgate, where he conducted himself agreeably to his sad situation. He was conveyed from Newgate with six other prisoners. He appeared cheerful, but his brother lay all the time sick in the cart. The ceremonies of religion being performed, they were launched into another world, to answer for the numerous crimes of their guilty lives.
The bodies of the Captain and his brother were put into separate coffins, to be conveyed to a disconsolate father; at the sight he was so overwhelmed, that he sunk upon the dead bodies and expired. Thus the father and the two sons were buried in one grave.