Margaret Finch (Queen of the Gypsies at Norwood)
In a small, dark, cave-like dwelling, a woman with a creased brow and elongated nose sits crouched with her knees to her chest. She wears a white bonnet and large cloak, and she smokes a slender clay pipe. A dog, standing on its hind legs, licks her chin, and a second canine companion lies in the foreground beside a scroll-handled mug.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Portraits, memories, and characters, of remarkable persons, from the revolution in 1688 to the end of the reign of George II, by James Caulfield (London, 1819)
Thordarson T 510 v. III
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This image was printed in James Caulfield's Portraits, memories, and characters, of remarkable persons, from the revolution in 1688 to the end of the reign of George II: collected from the most remarkable accounts extant (London, 1819).
Reign of George II (1727-1760)
Margaret Finch is said to have lived during the reign of George II, the period in which vagrancy laws directed at gypsies began to proliferate.
1744 Vagrancy Act
The 1744 Vagrancy Act mandated that gypsies, beggars, strolling actors, peddlers and gamblers refusing to work for usual or common wages could be whipped or imprisoned by local magistrates (Mayall 258). In this way, any person refusing to participate in a wage-based system of labor was deemed criminal.
1810 Licensing Act
The 1810 Licensing Act required the licensing of vagabonds, gypsies, hawkers and peddlers (Hawkes 13). This system of identification contributed to the surveillance of wandering persons and helped to enforce local ordinances specifying the maximum stay of non-residents in a town or its outskirts.
1817 Norfolk Resolution
Illustrative of local laws that upheld the 1744 Vagrancy Act, this resolution stated that “all persons pretending to be gipsies, or wandering in the habit or form of Eqyptians, are by law deemed to be rogues and vagabonds, punishable by imprisonment and whipping” (Mayall 258).
1822 Turnpike Roads Act
This act imposed “a fine of 40s on any Gypsy encamping on the side of a turnpike” (Hawkes 13)
1822 and 1824 Vagrancy Acts
Under George IV, vagrancy measures were aimed more specifically at “anyone pretending to tell fortunes by palmistry” and more generally at anyone “wandering abroad and lodging under any tent or cart, not having any visible means of subsistence, and not having a good account of himself” (Hawkes 14)
Throughout this period legal settlement remained a prerequisite for poor relief, meaning that the illegally settled, unsettled or wandering poor were routinely excluded from community or church-based assistance (Lloyd 117). Through the so-called “Speenhamland system,” parishes subsidized wages according to the parishioner’s need, determined by the cost of bread and number of dependents (Lloyd 115). In this way, most discussions of poverty revolved around the adequacy or inadequacy of earnings, and thus excluded those who did not participate in a wage-based economy.
Sutton and Beckingham, Kent. Norwood, Surrey.
James Caulfield's Portraits, memories, and characters, of remarkable persons, from the revolution in 1688 to the end of the reign of George II: collected from the most remarkable accounts extant (London, 1819)
The above image was printed in this text. James Caulfield writes:
The environs of London, and parts adjacent, have been pestered with gipsies for upwards of a century past; but Surry and Kent have been more unconvinced and plundered than any other counties throughout the kingdom. The neighborhood of Norwood and Shooter’s-hill appear, with this class of society, to have been privileged places; where unmolested they presumed to abide, with no laws to regulate their conduct, but such as they made for themselves, or approved of. Until within these few years Norwood was their court and headquarters; and here they assembled from all parts, to render obeisance and homage to their reigning sovereign. Like the Egyptians of old, they are not governed by the law Salique, and still continue faithfully to observe the mandates of their modern Cleopatras. The most remarkable was Margaret Finch, born at Sutton, in Kent; who, after traversing the whole of England, in the double capacity of gipsy and thief, finally fixed her place of residence at Norwood. About eleven years prior to her decease, she adopted a habit, and afterwards a constant custom, of sitting on the ground with her chin resting on her knees, which caused her sinews to become so contracted, that she could not extend herself or change her position; so that when she died it was necessary to force her body into a box, made sizeable to her usual posture: she was thus conveyed in a hearse, accompanied by two coaches, to Beckingham, in Kent, and there decently interred, in the year 1740, a funeral sermon being preached on the occasion; the expense of which was defrayed by the neighboring publicans about Norwood and Beckingham. The singularity of her figure, and the fame of her fortune-telling, drew vast concourse of persons from the highest rank and quality to that of the lowest class in life. Norwood, and the roads leading to it, on a fine Sunday, resembled the scene of a fair; and, with the greatest difficulty only, could a seat or a mug of beer be obtained, at the place generally called the Gipsy-house. This trade was of too profitable a description easily to be given up; and a new queen was speedily introduced, no way behind her predecessor in fraud and cunning. Again did the fortune-telling and thieving profession proceed successfully hand in hand; the publicans encouraged the callings of both, from the grist it brought to their own mills; and the neighbours [sic] were fearful of making complaints, in dread of the consequence. About thirty years since, the gipsy tribe visibly decreased near Norwood; and, since the murder of Matthews, the Dulwich hermit, it is a rarity to meet with a single straggler of that description. (Caulfield, 247-249).Eccentric Biography; or, Memoirs of Remarkable Female Characters, Ancient and Modern (London: Printed by J. Cundee, 1803)
One of the stories in this anonymous collection relates the life of Anne Day, an old Gypsy woman who dies at 108 in a similarly doubled-over position.
A Times article printed in 1795 sets out specific guidelines for the rich and poor:
Rules for the Poor1) Keep steadily to your work, and never change masters, if you can help it.2) Go to no gin-shops, or alehouse: but lay out all your earnings in food, and clothes, for yourself, and your family, and try to lay up a little for rent and rainey days.3) Avoid bad company.4) Keep no dogs: for they rob your children, and your neighbours.5) Go constantly to church, and carry your wives, and children with you, and God will bless you.6) Be civil to your superiors, and they will be kind to you.7) Learn to make broth, milk pottage, rice-pudding, etc. One pound of meat, in broth, will go further than two pounds boiled or roasted.8) Be quiet, and contented, and never steal, or swear, or you will never thrive.Rules for the Rich1) Abolish gravy soups, and second courses.2) Buy no starch when wheat is dear.3) Destroy all useless dogs.4) Give no dog, or other animal, the smallest bit of bread or meat.5) Save all your skim-milk carefully, and give it all to the poor, or sell it at a cheap rate.6) Make broth, rice-puddings, etc., for the poor, and teach them to make such things.7) Go to church yourselves, and take care your servants go constantly.8) Look into the management of your own families, and visit your poor neighbours.9) Prefer those poor who keep steadily to their work, and go constantly to church, and give nothing to those who are idle, are riotous, or keep useless dogs.10) Buy no weighing meat, or gravy beef: if the rich would buy only the prime pieces, the poor could get the others cheap. (qtd. in Olsen 21-22)
Margaret Finch’s status as “Queen of the Gypsies” contributes to a common construction of Romanie culture as organized along a separate, but parallel hierarchy that mimics and perverts the authority of the English crown.
Smoking. Gypsy. Dwellings. Dogs. Caves.
Margaret Finch’s status as “Queen of the Gypsies” contributes to a common construction of Romanie culture as organized along a separate, but parallel hierarchy, which mimics and perverts the authority of the English crown. This parallel aristocracy is thought to be laughably squalid, thus solidifying their status as “domestic others” who shadow but misinterpret the structures of English society (Nord 5). The insistence on this alternative social structure also underscored the belief that gypsies did not qualify for any assistance from the crown, as they existed entirely outside of its purview. Of course, they were not likewise excused from the courts or laws established by the crown.
Aside from the predictable advice regarding work, religious devotion and frugality in The Times article (see "Associated Texts") we find a curious preoccupation with dogs as signifiers of excess. Dogs are presented as luxuries that may be afforded by the rich, but are so impractical for the poor that their retention disqualifies their owners from charitable assistance. A character like Margaret, Queen of the Gypsies, would have been understood as violating almost all of the stipulations set out by The Times, yet, her violation of more abstract obligations, such as civility toward superiors, are comparatively difficult to image. The presence of not just one, but two dogs (neither of which seem engaged in a “useful” activity) solidifies Margaret’s status as undeserving of, and even defiant toward, charitable aid. The scroll-handled mug, which suggests the possibility of Margaret receiving alms, is thus undermined by the presence of her superfluous canines.
In the early years of the nineteenth century, Michael Kramp argues that the “English conception of the gypsy as a threat to heterosexual and labor (re)production” is reconceptualized through the figure of the deformed and repulsive gypsy hag (Kramp 1339). The old fortune-teller, the “antithesis of sexual allure,” neither endangers heteronormativity nor poses the threat of miscegenation. Whereas late-eighteenth-century depictions of gypsy femininity emphasized their aggressive sexuality, Margaret Finch, in her decrepit and static state, becomes an attraction rather than an attractor.
Ethnographic images such as these strove to classify gypsies as an identifiable racial group and to differentiate between particular types of gypsies (such as the rugged, Amazonian gypsy woman and the decrepit and elderly gypsy hag). Such images were included in both encyclopedic volumes of novel persons, which attempted to archive eccentric types, and more focused scholarly treatises on the supposed cultural and biological differences of England’s domestic other.
Caulfield, James. Portraits, Memories and Characters of Remarkable Persons. London: H.R. Young and T.H. Whitely, 1820. Print.
Gregory, James. “Eccentric Biography and the Victorians.” Biography (2007): 342-376. Print.
Hawkes, Derek and Barbara Perez. The Gypsy and the State: The Ethnic Cleansing of British Society. Oxford: Alden P, 1995. Print.
Kramp, Michael. “The Romantic Reconceptualization of the Gypsy: From Menace to Malleability.” Literature Compass (2006): 1334-50. Print.
Lloyd, Sarah. “Poverty.” An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age: British Culture 1776-1832. Ed. Iain McCalman, et al. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. 114-125. Print.
Mayall, David. Gypsy Identities 1500-2000: From Egipcyans and Moon-men to the Ethnic Romany. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Nord, Deborah Epstein. Gypsies & the British Imagination, 1807-1930. New York: Columbia UP, 2006. Print.
Olsen, Kirstin. Daily Life in 18th-century England. Westport: Greenwood P, 1999. Print.
"Margaret Finch (Queen of the Gypsies at Norwood)" 1820
Cook (dates unknown)
In Portraits, memories, and characters, of remarkable persons, from the revolution in 1688 to the end of the reign of George II: collected from the most remarkable accounts extant. James Caulfield (London, 1820).