Tom King (highwayman)

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For other people named Tom King, see Tom King (disambiguation).

Tom King (died May 1737) was an English highwayman who operated in the Essex and London areas. His real name is thought to have been Matthew King; whether "Tom" was a nickname or an error in reporting his crimes[1] is uncertain,[2] but it is the name by which he has become popularly known. Some sources claim that he was nicknamed "The Gentleman Highwayman".[3] A contemporary account of his last robbery also mentions a brother, Robert King, who was captured by the authorities on that occasion.

King's fame rests mainly on his association [4] with highwayman Dick Turpin. According to The Newgate Calendar (published nearly forty years after the deaths of Turpin and King), their first encounter occurred when "Turpin, seeing him well mounted and appearing like a gentleman, thought that was the time to recruit his pockets", and tried to rob him.

The Newgate Calendar goes on to say that King was "very well known about the country". According to legend, the two joined forces and hid out in a cave in Epping Forest and pursued a successful partnership.[5] Their first crime together was to steal a race horse called White Stockings or Whitestocking, but it was under King's influence that Turpin turned from his life of petty crime to a career as a highwayman. On 2 May 1737, during a robbery that went wrong, King was shot, possibly by Turpin himself.[4] Turpin rode off, and King later died of his wounds

In popular culture[edit]

  • King appears in Harrison Ainsworth's romantic novel Rookwood, published in 1834. This has been the source of much pseudo-historical information about both King and Turpin.
  • A play entitled Dick Turpin & Tom King was written by Victorian playwright W. E. Suter in 1861.
  • During the 1840s, the Staffordshire Potteries produced a popular pair of, "Matthew" King.


  1. ^ Barlow, Derek (2004), Turpin, Richard (Dick) (bap. 1705, d. 1739), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/27892, retrieved 2009-11-06 
  2. ^ The Newgate Calendar refers to him simply as "King"
  3. ^ Richard Jones & John Mason, Myths and Legends of Britain (New Holland, 2006), p. 54.
  4. ^ a b Urban, Sylvanus (June 1737), The Gentleman's Magazine: For JANUARY, 1737, E. Cave at St. John's Gate, p. 313 
  5. ^ Stand and Deliver

Further reading[edit]

  • Blakeborough, Richard. The Hand of Glory and Further Grandfather's Tales and Legends of Highwaymen and Others Collected by the late R. Blakeborough. London: Grant Richards Ltd., 1924.
  • Thomas, Paul. Outlaws. Hong Kong: Thameside Press, 2002. ISBN 1-931983-39-9

External links[edit]