• The Defence of Conny-Catching

    A treatise on con artists and tricksters

    Author: Cuthbert Conny-Catcher
    Modern English (post-1500)
    Published in 1592
    Renaissance Clothing and Textile Terms
    1500 AD - 1599 AD


Bow like you of this conn-catching M. R. G? But because now we haue entred talke of Taylors, let mee haue a bout with them, for they bee mightie Conny-catchers in sundry kindes. I pray you what Poet hath so many fictions, what Painter so many fancies, as a Taylor hath fashions, to show the varietie of his art? changing euery week the shape of his apparrel into new forms, or els he is counted a meere botcher. The venetian and the gallogascaine is stale, and trunke slop out of use, the rounde hose bumbasted close to the breech, and ruft aboue the necke with a curle, is now common to euery cullion in the country, & dublets be neuer so quaintly quilted, yet forsooth the swaine at plough must haue his belly as side as the courtier, that hee may pisse out at a button hole at the least. And al these strange deuises doth the Taylor inuent to make poore gentlemen connies: for if they were tyed to one fashion, then stil might they know how much veluet to send to the Taylor, and then would his filching abate. But to preuent them, if he haue a french belly, he wil haue a Spanish skirt, and an Italian wing, seamed and quartered at the elbowes, as if he were a souldado readye to put on an armour of proofe to fighte in Mile-ende under the bloudy ensigne of the Duke of Shorditch. Thus will the fantasticke Taylor make poore gentlemen Conies, & euer aske more veluet by a yarde and a halfe then the doublet in conscience requires.

But herein lies the least part of their cony-catching: for those graund Taylors that haue al the right properties of the mysterie, which is to be knauish, theeuish, and proude, take this course with courtiers and courtly gentlemen, they finde outside, inside, lace, drawing out, and making, and then set downe their parcels in a bil, which they so ouerprise, that some of them with very pricking up of dublets, haue fleest yong gentlemen of whole Lordships, & cal yo not this cony-catching M. R. G? To use the figure Pleonasmas, Hisce oculis, with these eies I haue seene Taylors prentises sel as much vales in a weeke in cloth of golde, veluet, satten, taffata, and lace, as hath been woorth thirtie shillings, and these eares hath heard them scorne when their vales came but to ten shillinges, and yet there were foure prentises in the shop. If the prentises could lurch so mightily, then what did the maister?
But you must imagine this was a womans taylor, that could in a gowne put seuenteene yards of ell broad taffata, blest be the French sleeues & breech verdingales, that grants them liberty to conny-catch so mightily. But this I talke of our London and courtly Taylors: but euen the poore pricklouse the country taylor, that hath scarse any more wealth then his thimble, his needle, his pressing yron, and his sheers, wil filtch as well the proudest of that trade in England, they wil to snip and snap, that al the reuersion goes into hel.

Now Sir, this hel is a place that the tailors haue under their shopboord, wher all their stolne shreds is thrust, and I pray you cal you not this pilling & polling, and flat Conny-catching Maister R. G.? but because you may see whether I speake truth or no, Ile tel you a merry iest of a Taylor in Yorke not farre from Petergate, done about fourteen yeare ago, and thus it fel out.

IN Yorkeshire there dwelt a womans Taylor famous for his Art, but noted for his filching, which although hee was light fingerd, yet for the excellency of his workmanship, hee was much sought too, and kept more Iournymen, then any fiue in that citie did: and albeit hee would haue his share of veluet, satten, or cloth of golde, yet they must find no fault with him, least he half spoyld their garment in the making. Besides, he was passing proud, and had as haughtie a looke, as if his father had with the diuel lookte ouer Lyncolne: his ordinary dublets were Taffata cut in the sommer vpon a wrought shirt, and his cloake faced with veluet, his stockinges of the purest granado silke, with a French painde hoase of the richest billiment lace, a beauer hatte turft with veluet, so quaintly as if he had been some Espagnolo trickt vp to goe court some quaint curtesine, insomuch that a plaine seruingman once meeting him in this attire, going through Waingat to take aire in the field, thought him at the least some Esquire, and of with his Hat and gaue his worship the time of the day, this clawed this Glorioso by the elbow, so that if a Tauerne had been by, a pottle of wine should haue been the least reward for a largesse to the simple seruing man: but this bowical huffe snuffe, not content to passe away with one worship, began to hold the fellow in prate, and to question whose man hee was. The felow curteously making a low cringe saide, may it please your woorship, I serue such a Gentleman dwelling in such a place, as thus he answered him, he spied in the gentlemans bosome a needle and a threed, whereupon the felow simply sayd to him, fie your woorships man in looking this morning to your doublet, hath left a needle and a threede on your worships brest, you had best take it off, least some thinke your worship to bee a Taylour.

The Taylour not thinkyng the felow had spoken simply, but frumpt him, made this reply : what sawcy knaue doest thou mocke mee? What if I bee a taylour, whats that to thee, wert not for shame I would lende thee a boxe on the eare or two, the felow being plaine, but peeuish and an olde knaue, gathering by his owne words that he was a taylour, sayd, fye so God helpe me I mocke you not, but are you a taylour, I marry am I quoth he, why then sayes the seruyng man, all my cappes, knees, and worships, I did to thy apparrel, and therefore maister thanke mee, for it twas agaynst my wil, but now I knowe thee farewel good honest prickelouce, and looke not behynde you, for if you doo, Ile swindge you in my scabberd of my sword til I can stand ouer thee, away went Monster Magnified frowning, and the seruyng man went into the Citie laughing: but all this is but to describe the nature of the man, now to the secretes of his Art.

All the Gentlewomen of the Countrey cryde out vpon him, yet could they not part from him, because he so quaintly fitted their humors. At last it so fel out, that a Gentle- woman not farre from Feroy Brigges, had a taffata gowne to make, and hee would haue no lesse at those dayes then eleuen els of elbroad taffata, so shee bought so much and readie to send it, shee sayd to her husband in hearing of al her seruing-men, what a spight is this, seeing that I must send alwayes to yonder knaue taylor two yards more then is necessary, but how can we amend vs, all the rest are but botchers in respect of him, and yet nothing grieues mee but we can neuer take him with it, & yet I and mine haue stood by while hee hath cut my gowne out.

A pleasant fellowe that was new come to serue her husband, one that was his Clarke and a prety scholer, answered good mistris giue me leaue to carry your taffata and see it cut out, and if I spy not out his knauery laugh at me when I come home. Marry I prithy do q. his M. and mistris, but whatsoeuer thou seest say nothing least he be angry and spoile my gown. Let me alone mistris q. he, and so away he goes to York, & coming to this taylor found him in his shop, & deliuered him the taffata with this message, that his mistris had charged him to see it cut out, not that she suspected him, but that els he wold let it ly log by him and take other worke in hand.

The taylor scornfully sayd he should, & asked him if he had any spectacles about him, no q. the felow my sight is yoong inough I need no glasses. if you do put them quoth he, and see if you can see me steale a yard of taffata out of your mistresse gowne, and so taking his sheeres in hand, he cut it out so nimbly that hee cut three foreparts to the gown, and four side pieces, that by computation the fellow gest he had stolne two els & a half, but say nothing he durst. Assoone as he had done, there came in more gentlemens men with worke, that the taylor was very busie & regarded not. the seruingman who seeing the taylors cloke lying lose, lifted it away & caried it home with him to his mistris house, where he discourst to his maister & his mistris what he had seen, & how he had stole the tailors cloake, not to that intent to filtch, but to try an experiment vpon him, for maister q. he, when he brings home my mistris gown, he wil complain of the losse of his cloake, & then see, doe you but tel him that I am experienced in Magike, & can cast a figure, and wil tel him where his cloke is without faile, say but this sir, and let me alone.

They al agreed, & resolued to try the wit of their yong man. But leauing him, againe to our taylor: who when he had dispatcht his customers, was ready to walke with one of them to the tauern, & then mist his cloke, searcht al about, but find it he could not, neither knew he who to suspect: so with much griefe he past it ouer, & when he had ended the gentlewomans gown (because she was a good customer of his) he himself tooke his nag & rid home withal : welcome he was to the gentlewoman and hir husband, and the gown was passing fit, so that it could not be amended, insomuch that the gentlewoman praisd it, and highly thankt him.

Oh mistris (quoth he) though it is a good gown to you, tis an infortunate gowne to me, for that day your man brought the taffata, I had a cloke stoln that stood me but one fortnight before in foure pound, and neuer since could I heare any word of it. Truly said the Gentleman, I am passing sorry for your losse, but that same man that was at your house is passing skilful in Negromancy, and if any man in England can tel you where your cloke is, my man can.

Marry q. he, and I wil giue him a brace of angels for his labour : so the fellow was cald and talkt with all, and at his mistris request was content to do it, but he would haue his twenty shillings in hand, and promised if he told him not where it was, who had it, and caused it to be deliuered to him again, for his two angels he would giue him ten pounds : vpon this the taylor willingly gaue him the money, and vp went he into a closet like a learned dark, and there was three or foure houres laughing at the taylor, he thinking he had bin al this while at Caurake.

At last downe comes the fellow with a figure drawn in a paper in his hand, & smiling cald for a bible, and told the taylor he would tel him who had his cloke, where it was, & helpe him to it againe, so that he would be sworne on a bible to answer to all questions that he demanded of him faithfully: the taylor granted and swore on a bible, then hee comanded al should go out but his maister, his mistres, the taylor and himself. Then he began thus : wel, you haue taken your oth on the holy bible, tel me q. he, did you not cut three foreparts for my mistris gowne?

At this the taylor blusht, & began to be in a chafe, and would haue flung out of the doore, but the seruingman said, nay neuer start man, for before thou goest out of this parlour, if thou deniest it, I wil bring the taffata thou stolest into this place, wrapt in thine own doake: & therfore answere directly to my question, least to your discredit I shew you the trick of a scholler : the taylor halfe afraid, said he did so indeed : and q he, did you not cut foure side peeces wher you haue cut but two ? yes al is true q. the taylor, why then as true it is, that to deceiue the deceiuer is no deceit: for as truly as you stole my mistris taffata, so truly did I steale your cloake, and here it is. At this the taylor was amazed, the gentleman and his wife laught hartily, & so al was turned to a merryment, the taylor had his cloake again, the gentlewoman hir taffata, and the seruing man twenty shillings, was not this prety and witty Conny-catching M. R. G.