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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: October 2019

3 - Trust, Sociability, and Criminal Networks


A ‘pleasant tale’ in the The Third and Last Part of Conny-Catching (1592) narrates how ‘an honest substantiall Citizen was made a Connie, and simplie entertained a knaue that carried awaie his goods verie politickly’. In this tale, a cony-catcher promised others of his ‘profession’ that he would perform an impressive feat of deception. True to his word, he spent a fortnight watching a citizen's house, in order to learn the name of one of the maids, as well as where she was from and her family relations in the country. Thus prepared, he stopped the maid in the street, ‘and kissing her sayd. Coosen Margeret, I am verye glad to sée you well, my unckle your father, and all your friends in the Countrey are in good health God be praised.’ The maid, who had not been back in the country for eleven years, had no reason to mistrust his words. Her ‘cousin’ further claimed that her father had asked him to bring ‘a gammon of bacon and a cheese’ to her masters, as a way to entreat them to let her visit her family at Whitsuntide.

Having staged this encounter carefully, the cony-catcher was also introduced to the mistress of the house, who, impressed with his good manners and out of love for her maid, invited her ‘cousin’ to dinner the next day. The ‘wilye Treacher’, as Greene describes him, was all too willing to do so. On the next day, the cony-catcher was greatly entertained: not only was the dinner scrumptious, but he was also shown around the rich citizen's shop. At dinner, he cleverly stretched the conversation until it was late at night. Having intimated that his lodging was outside the City, in St Giles in the Fields, he received an invitation from his hosts to spend the night there.

This was his aim all along. At night, when everyone else was asleep, he stole away plate and expensive fabrics. Leaving the house, he met three or four of his companions outside, who ‘lurked therabouts for the purpose’ of helping him to carry this loot to a ‘theefe receiver’ (someone who fenced stolen goods).