King of the Gypsies
The title King of the Gypsies has been claimed or given over the centuries to many different people. It is both culturally and geographically specific. It may be inherited, acquired by acclamation or action, or simply claimed. The extent of the power associated with the title varied; it might be limited to a small group in a specific place, or many people over large areas. In some cases the claim was clearly a public relations exercise. As the term Gypsy is also used in many different ways the King of the Gypsies may be someone with no connection with the Romani people.
It has also been suggested that in places where they were persecuted by local authorities the "King of the Gypsies" is an individual, usually of low standing, who places himself in the risky position of an ad hoc liaison between the Romani and the gadje (non-Romani). The arrest of such a "King" limited the harm to the Romani people.
- 1 Scotland
- 2 England
- 2.1 Leaders identified in Martin Markall
- 2.2 Boswells
- 2.3 Harry Burton
- 2.4 Matty Cooper
- 2.5 Xavier Petulengro
- 2.6 Gilderoy Scamp
- 2.7 Louis Welch
- 3 Wales
- 4 Norway
- 5 Italy
- 6 Romania
- 7 Hungary
- 8 Poland
- 9 Bulgaria
- 10 United States of America
- 11 Further reading
- 12 References
John (Johnnie) Faa
Johnnie Faa of Dunbar was leader of the 'Egyptians', or Gypsies, in Scotland. Faa was granted a letter under the Privy Seal from King James IV in February 1540, which was renewed in 1553. It was addressed to "oure louit Johnne Faw, lord and erle of Litill Egipt" establishing his authority over all Gypsies in Scotland and calling on all sheriffs in the country to assist him "in executione of justice upoun his company and folkis", who were to "conforme to the lawis of Egipt".
Son and successor of Johnnie Faa, Johnne Wanne was granted Royal authority over all "Egyptians" in Scotland in May 1540. Records showed that by 1612 the Faa family had extended as far as Shetland. However, the initial tolerance of Gypsies did not last. In 1623 eight leaders of the Gypsies were hanged on the Burgh Muir, six of whom were of the Faa line. In the 1650s they were amongst those transported to Virginia.
William Faa II
Will Faa, "King of the Gypsies", died in Kirk Yetholm on 9 October 1847, aged 96. He was the son of William Faa I. Gypsies may have lived at Yetholm since before it became a permanent settlement, as the border location between Scotland and England made travel and avoidance of persecution easier. Settlement was encouraged when the laird built houses and a school for the Gypsy community during the 18th century. William Faa was an innkeeper (owned "The Queen") and footballer who lived at "The Gypsy Palace" off the Green, and entertained visitors there. The "Kelso Mail" carried his obituary entitled "Death of a Gypsy King", which said he was "always accounted a more respectable character than any of his tribe, and could boast of never having been in gaol during his life." His house continued to be a tourist attraction, and there was reportedly an "Old Palace" on the other side of Kirk Yetholm Green. William died without issue in 1847 when the 'Crown' passed to his sister Esther's husband Charles Blythe (1775-1861). Charles was an educated man who did much to live up to his role. On his death in 1861 there was a tussle between his many children for the right to be monarch. The role went to his daughter Esther Faa Blythe who reigned until 1883 when the gypsy culture was in serious decline. Following a gap (interregnum?)of several years in 1898 one of her sons Charles Rutherford was persuaded to accept the office and a ceremonial Gypsy Coronation was held in 1898. By this stage the role was largely an attempt to boost tourism. Charles died in 1902 and the title has not been re-established. An Edinburgh housewife is now thought to be the present 'Queen'.   
Billy Marshall (1672–1792?) was born in Ayrshire in 1672 of Romany stock and claimed to be King of the Gypsies in south-east Scotland for most of the 18th century. He was a boxer, and served in the services, allegedly deserting from the Army seven times and from the Navy three times. He was supposed to have married 17 times and he had a huge crowd of illegitimate children (four of whom he is said to have fathered after his 100th birthday). He is also said to have been involved in murder and robbery, running a gang of gypsies in Galloway. He was the so-called 'King of the Randies', and having served as a soldier he was able to organise the country people who lost land when landowners built stone dykes and walls – his men went round knocking them down. Was a smuggler in Kirkcudbright. He was also reputed to be a gypsy and robber, and Caird (gypsy) of Burullion, the area he controlled. He was alleged to have lived to the age of 120, dying in 1792 and was buried in St Cuthbert's Churchyard where his grave can be visited and a coin left for the next gypsy who passes. 
Leaders identified in Martin Markall
The short book Martin Markall, Beadle of the Bridewell was published in London in 1610. The author is given as "S.R.", who is usually identified as Samuel Rid the author of The Art of Jugling or Legerdemaine, a later book of rogue literature promised in Martin Markall. The book is of dubious veracity, and large sections are taken from the works of Thomas Dekker, although Frank Aydelotte, who dates the book to 1608, calls it mostly original. It includes what purports to be a list of the leaders of "the regiment of rogues", which echoed the genealogies of prominent families. It will be seen that in reality few had anything to do with Gypsies, but they are indicative of the context in which some of the Kings of the Gypsies were identified.
aka Jack Cade, aka John Mortimer, who led a rebellion of men from Kent who camped at Blackheath outside London in 1450. After his rebellion a reward was offered for him, and he was captured and killed in Kent.
Bluebeard and Hugh Roberts
Both soldiers who had served in France. Bluebeard was captured and executed shortly after being made "their captain". Roberts then gathered about 100 "rakehells and vagabonds" in Kent who were joined by 400 "masterless men". Together they joined Jack Cade and entered Southwark. After the end of Cade's rebellion Roberts took to the woods with a small group living by theft, according to set rules of their own. After a year living like this these "Roberdsmen" dispersed throughout England, vowing to meet every three years, and joining other "commotions and rebellions". Roberts also went "roving" and "kept his court" until he was killed in 1461.
Was chosen by the remaining "Roberdsmen" at "their wonted place of meeting" "by general assent". He was "a wandering rogue", "much given to swearing, drunkenness and lechery . . . stout of stomach, audacious and fierce". He claimed a right of droit du seigneur, and ordained that all beggars spent their weekly earnings in full every Saturday night. Rid says that he fought with "300 tattered knaves" in the rebellion in the South West of England against Edward IV and was killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury (1471). Unlike Roberts, who may have been a real character, this Cowdiddle seems to have been a complete fiction.
Not deterred, the remaining "Roberdsmen" "hie them to their rendezvous . . . and there, with the full consent of the whole company, they chose one Spising to be his successor". Spising is given no first name. He is credited with ordering that all begging wanderers be "stalled as a rogue" by "the Chief Commander then being", paying a fee in beer, though this was excused if his father and grandfather had been rogues. Spising joined the larger rebellion by Thomas Neville, the Bastard of Fauconberg. He led a band attacking Aldgate, and was nearly successful, until parts of his group were trapped by the fall of the portcullis. Spising is reputed to have ruled 11 years before being hanged for a murder in Wombourn, Staffordshire, having escaped the same fate earlier by seeking sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. There is a historical record of a Spising as leader of an Essex contingent of Neville's uprising, but he was executed after it, and his head exhibited on Aldgate.
was the next elected, an expert at cheating with loaded dice, and excelled in "all manner of vice". He repeated Cowdiddle's requirement for thieves and beggars to spend their ill-gotten gains and not save them. Rid says he ruled for 8 years before dying of "the pox and Neapolitan scurf". Like Cowdiddle Dick seems to have been wholly fictional.
Laurence Crossbiter (aka Long Laurence)
Laurence Crossbiter was the next elected leader, a serving man aged 50–60. His art was "crossbiting"; theft from the customers of whores. He is also reported to have died "his bowels . . . eaten out with the pox while he was yet alive". Rid described him as cowardly and slavish for failing to come to the aid of the rebel Perkin Warbeck.
Was one of Warbeck's counsellors, "a noted knave". He was next "led to the wonted place of meeting, and there solemnly stalled a rogue and made their general". He is described as formerly having been a tailor in Taunton, Somerset "of proud and haughty disposition", and have "lived in this new government" until 1501. A Skelton was recorded by Sir Francis Bacon as a counsellor to Warbeck, but he says nothing of his activities after the rebellion.
Was elected his successor "by the General Council". Cock Lorel was "the most notorious knave that ever lived" who ruled until 1533. He professed the trade of a tinker to cover his thefts. Rid says that his knaveries are recorded in an old manuscript kept as "Maunders’ Hall", giving the rogue community a similar structure of that of the trade guilds. Cock Lorel was the great mythical leader of Tudor rogues. His name means just that, "cock" being leader, and "lorel" or losel" meaning rascal. He first appears about 1500 in "Cock Lorel's Boat", and is mentioned in Robert Copland's The Highway to the Spitalhouse (1535). He is credited with approving John Awdesley's The Fraternity of Vagabonds, (1561), in which he is given as the creator of the Twenty Five Orders of Knaves, reproduced in Thomas Harman's Warning for Common Cursitors and many other works of rogue literature. There is no record of any real individual on whom he was based. Cock Lorel is credited with having held a meeting with the leader of the Egyptians, Giles Hather, at their base at The Devils Arse Apeak in Derbyshire. Rid claims that at this meeting they devised a new and secret language Thieves' Cant, "to the end that their cozenings, knaveries, and villainies might not so easily be perceived and known".
Became head of the regiment or fellowship of Egyptians in the north about 1528. These, Rid says, travelled in groups of more than a hundred men and women, with horses, their faces blacked, and practised legerdemain and fortune telling by palmistry, delighting the common people with their clothes.
"the Queen of the Egypties" accompanied Giles Hather, according to Rid. These names were traditional; Hather is mentioned by Thomas Awdesley (1561). "Kit" and "Callot" as names can be traced back to Piers Plowman. Although Tudor government, both local and national, took a close interest in the Egyptians there is no record of the names in their records.
The Boswells were for centuries one of England's largest and most important Gypsy families. The Boswell clan were a large extended family of Travellers, and in old Nottinghamshire dialect the word bos'll was used as a term for Travellers and Romanies in general.
Was the son of Francis Boswell. He baptised in London in 1583 and titled "King of the Gypsies". His descendants are reputed to include such colourful characters as "Black Jack Boswell", "The Flaming Tinman" and "Hairy Tom".
"Alias king of the Gypsies", from the St Margaret's Westminster, was tried at the Old Bailey on 28 August 1700 for theft with violence and highway robbery. It was alleged he had robbed "one Rebecca Sellers, near the High way, . . . taking from her 3 Gold-rings, and 9 s. in Money" in January of that year. The Jury found him Guilty of theft, but not Robbery, as "It appeared that he juggled tricked her out of it." He was sentenced to Penal transportation.
Is buried in Rossington, near Doncaster in Yorkshire. Langdale's "Topographical Dictionary of Yorkshire" (1822), says: "In the church yard, was a stone, the two ends of which are now remaining, where was interred the body of James Bosvill the King of the Gypsies, who died January 30, 1708. For a number of years, it was a custom of Gypsies from the south, to visit his tomb annually, and there perform some of their accustomed rites; one of which was to pour a flagon of ale upon the grave." This is similar to the ritual of "stalling the rogue" mentioned by Thomas Harman and in The Beggars Bush and by Bampfylde Moore Carew. A legend says that Boswell lived in Sherwood Forest helping travellers and Gypsies. Also that his grave was opened some months after his burial so that his black cat could be buried with him, and that a ghostly cat still appears on the churchyard wall. A tradition was reported of annual visits to the grave of Charles Boswell near Doncaster for more than 100 years into the 1820s, including a rite of pouring a flagon of hot ale into the tomb. This may be same person. the grave is situated by the main door leading to the church, shaded by a dark oak tree. It is now covered in moss, but is still readable. The words "King Of The Gypsies" will lie there for ever more, whereas the mystery of the black cat is still unsolved. – information on the grave by A. Needham – P. Needham, of St. Michaels church.
"King of the Gypsies" died in 1760 at the age of 90 and was buried at Ickleford near Hitchin, Hertfordshire at the church of St. Catherine, as were his wife and grand-daughter. Royal National and Commercial Directory and Topography of Herts, Pigot & Co., London, 1839
aka "Old Honey", died in Bolton, Lancashire in 1811 aged 90. He was reported to have been "justly entitled the King of Beggars", having been on the road for 70 years. He was reported to have been the son of a schoolmaster, and well educated, but to have taken to the road by choice, and maintained a wandering life until he became bedridden.
- The Gentleman's Magazine, 1 March 1811.
John Nicholl Thom
Considered himself to be Lord Courtenay and "The King of the Gypsies". The House of Commons appointed a Select Committee in 1838 "To inquire into all the circumstances connected with the discharge of John Nicholl Thom, alias Courtenay, from the Kent Lunatic Asylum". The Committee heard evidence over 3 days covering the process of his state of mind and character, and the possible political influence on a local election.
Louis Boswell was buried at Eastwood church, Southend-on-Sea in 1835. In the Burial Register he is described as a "Traveller aged 42" – "This man known as the King of the Gypsies was interred in the presence of a vast concourse of spectators".
Buried at Calne
Taught the Romany language in the 1870s to Charles Godfrey Leland (1824–1903), the American folklorist and founder of the Gypsy Lore Society. Leland claimed Cooper was the King of the Gypsies in England
Was described as the King of the Gypsies, in an account of a Romany wedding at Baildon in Yorkshire in 1937 between his son Leon Petulengro and Illeana Smith both of Colchester Essex. According to the caption of a photograph Xavier Petulengro cut the hands of the couple to mingle their blood during the ceremony. After their wedding the couple went north to Blackpool. During the war Leon was in the RAF and Ileana (Eileen) was a staff car driver for ICI. The marriage was dissolved in 1947 in Nottingham. Baildon was a famous fair and meeting place for Gypsies. Petulengro was well known as a broadcaster on Gypsy subjects. His son Leon wrote for the "Woman's Own" magazine.
- Gilderoy Scamp – King of the Gypsies, Linda Hayward, Romany Routes Volume 4 No 7 June 2000
Louis Welch of Yarm was described by British media as the "King of the Gypsies", a title given to the best bare-knuckled boxer in the Romanichal community, following an alleged attack by six knife-wielding men, possibly from a rival band of travellers, in Cumbria. He refused to give evidence against his attackers, saying it was "against the travellers' code of honour", and a retrial was ordered after the jury failed to reach a verdict.
Was a reputed King of the Gypsies born before the close of the 17th century. His descendants include musicians who helped to keep alive many musical traditions that were forced underground during the Methodist Revival. One was chief harpist to Queen Victoria and another taught the famous traditional Welsh harpist, Nansi Richards. He is credited with keeping the Romani language intact "in the fastnesses of Cambria." The Wood family was reputed to be fluent in three mutually unintelligible languages: Romani, English and Welsh. Children in North Wales were warned to beware "teulu Abram Wood", the family of Abram Wood (who would like all Gypsies, steal naughty little children). An untidy house was referred to as being like the "house of Abram Wood", (though Gypsy caravans have a reputation for being immaculately tidy and spotlessly clean).
In the 1980s, Polykarp Karoli began styling himself "King of all Gypsies in Norway".
In 1990, while most of the family was serving prison time, Polykarp's grandson Martin Erik Karoli proclaimed himself "King of One Million Gypsies", claiming to be slated for a hundreds of years old crowning ceremony in Central Europe. After Polykarp's death in 2001, his two sons publicly rivalled for the title "King of All Gypsies in The World", estimating 47,8 million subjects throughout the world and citing various ancient ceremonies and royal registries.
This "King of the Gypsies" is suggested as a possible model for "A Grotesque Head" of the sketches of human physiognomy by Leonardo da Vinci, dated to (c.1503-07). Giorgio Vasari reported that Leonardo had done a drawing of "the Gypsy Captain Scaramuccia" which Vasari possessed, but it is not known what happened to it.
In 1993, Iulian Rădulescu proclaimed himself "Emperor of Roma Everywhere".
Florin Cioabă acquired the title "King of Roma Everywhere" in 1997 from his father Ioan Cioabă who had claimed the title in 1992. Reports in 2003 that Cioabă, a Pentecostal Minister, had married off his own daughter at the age of 12 (or 14) caused uproar in the western media. The UN Economic and Social Council visited him in 1999 when preparing a report on Racism and Intolerance and described him as devoting himself to economic activity to support community projects, and exerting "moral authority" and having "some influence" as a councillor. He died on August 18, 2013 after suffering a heart attack while on holiday in Antalya, Turkey.
In 2003, according to a decree issued by Emperor Iulian, John Kyle was proclaimed "International King of Roma".
He was named as voivode of the "Pharaoh's People" in 1496. He seems to have led a group of metalworkers, as he was supplying the Bishop of Pécs with cannonballs. He was almost certainly the same person granted privileges by the King of Poland and Lithuania in 1501, who also recognised the privileges of Wasili as leader of the "Cyhany"
Was conferred the title "King of the Gypsies" by the Polish Royal Chancery in 1652, after the death of Janczy who had previously served as the head of the Roma. Later Kings of the Gypsies seem to have been appointed from the aristocracy.
The Gypsy King is associated with mythical powers of being able to part water with his sword, a spade, and his head, after it had been cut off, according to tales collected in 1981.
United States of America
M. H. Frank
Described as king of the gypsies at the time of the massive search for Elsie Paroubek. Mr. George was contacted in Argyle, Wisconsin, and taken to Joliet, Illinois for questioning; but he knew nothing and was released.
In 1953, Anaïs Nin underwent surgery for ovarian cancer in a Los Angeles hospital. In her diary, she mentions that "the king of the gypsies was having surgery at the same time" and that approximately six hundred members of his tribe were camped in or near the hospital in accordance with their law: "no amount of hospital discipline would drive them away". She spoke with several members of the band, and identified them as Romany people.
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