Romantic Circles Gallery
The Trwe Effigies of James Whitney, the Notorious Highwayman.
A man, imprisoned, sits in the corner of a cell next to a barred window through which two figures stare. The captive wears a large brimmed hat, long curled wig, and cravat, which date the sitter to the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. He wears a loose, patterned gown, which is lifted to reveal a stockinged leg with a shackle and chain at the booted ankle. The man looks at the viewer and points with his left hand to his exposed and shackled leg.
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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Printing ContextThis 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).
Associated EventsReign of William III
James Whitney lived during the reign of William III (1689-1702). He was executed on the 19th of December, 1694.
Associated PlacesStevenage, Herfordshire
Stevenage was the birthplace of James Whitney.
Whitney was imprisoned here on December 31, 1692, and tried and convicted at the Old Bailey (Faller). Though initially pardoned on the basis that he had more information to supply regarding a plot to kill the king, Whitney was ultimately executed.
Whitney was hung near Smithfield, an area in London used as a livestock and meat market, in order to discourage other ambitious or treasonous commoners of the butcher's trade (Faller).
Associated TextsIn the accompanying text, James Caulfield relates the following anecdote:
Coming once to Doncaster, he [Whitney] put up at the Red Lion Inn, and made a great figure, having a pretty round sum in his possession. While he resided here, he was informed that the landlord of the house was reputed rich, but withal so covetous, that he would nothing to help a poor relation or neighbour in distress. On this Whitney set his wits to work, and gives out that he had a good estate, and travelled [sic] about the country merely for his pleasure, and so artfully insinuated himself into the good opinion of his host, that he ran most plentifully into his debt, both for his own accommodation, and the keep of his horse.It happened that while he remained here, there was an annual fair held; upon the fair-day, in the morning, a small box, carefully sealed, and very weighty, came directed to him. He opened it, took out a letter, which he read, and locked it up, and gave it to his landlady, desiring her to keep it in her custody for the present, because it would be safer than in his own hands, and ordered the landlord, at the same time, to write out his bill, that he might pay him the next morning: as soon as he had done this, he went out, as though to see the fair. In the afternoon he comes home again, in a great hurry, and desired his horse might be dressed and saddled, he having a mind to shew [sic] him in the fair, and, if he could, to exchange him for one he had seen, and which he thought was the finest that ever he fixed his eyes on.—I will have him, says he, if possible, whether the owner will buy mine or no, and though he cost me forty guineas; he then asked for his landlady to help him to his box, but she was gone to the fair; whereupon he fell a swearing like a madman, that he supposed she had locked up what he gave her, and taken the keys with her: If she has, quoth he, I had rather have given ten guineas, for I have no money at all, but what is in your possession. Enquiry was made, and it was found to be as he said, which put him into a still greater passion, though it was what he wished for, and even expected, the whole having been invented for the sake of this single scene.The landlord quickly had notice of our gentleman’s anger, and the occasion of it; upon which he comes to him, and begs of him to be easy, offering to lend him the sum he wanted, till his wife came home. Whitney seemed to resent it highly, that he must be obliged to borrow money when he had so much of his own; however, as there was no other way, he condescended, with abundance of reluctance, to accept the proposal; adding, that he desired an account of all he was indebted as soon as possible, as it was not his custom to run hand over head.Having received forty guineas, the sum he pretended to want, he mounts his horse, and rides towards the fair, but instead of dealing there for another horse, he spurred his own through the crowd, as fast as he could conveniently, and made the best of his way towards London. At night the people of the inn sat up very late for his coming home, nor did they suspect any thing the first, or even the second night, but at the end of two or three days the landlord was a little uneasy; and, after he had waited a week to n purpose, it came into his head to break open the box, in order to examine it. With this view he goes to the magistrate of the place, procures his warrant, and in presence of witnesses, broke open the casket, and was ready to hang himself when he found the contents to be nothing but sand and stones. (Caulfield 68-71)
SubjectDespite his status as a vagabond and criminal, Whitney (following the conventions of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century portraiture) is shown in the dressing gown of an artist-gentleman. This unusual citation speaks to the conflation of artistic and wandering types in the Romantic period.
ThemeVagabond. Highwayman. Criminal. Imprisonment.
SignificanceWhitney is shown is clothing appropriate to the period in which he was captured (1694). His long periwig, crimped linen cravat, and flamboyant hat make him immediately recognizable as a historic figure, and signal his status as a “gentleman thief” (Caulfield 64). The bared window and prominent shackle, to which Whitney draws our attention by pulling back his gown and pointing with his left hand, emphasize his captive status, though his elaborate dress and the retention of his hat suggest that he is newly caught. The long, patterned dressing gown, in addition to marking Whitney as a historic figure, also constructs him as gentleman-artist. The gown was a well-established convention for portraits of artists, men of letters, and musicians in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, employed for its “timelessness” and desirable affinity to classical drapery (Ribeiro 90, 102). More specifically, the dressing gown signified the gentlemen scholar or artist who worked at home, and who was thus able to don an informal robe, which could be easily replaced with a waistcoat and coat if visitors called (Cummings 130).
The dressing gown is a strikingly odd choice for the portrait of a roaming criminal who was emphatically disassociated from the domesticity such an article connotes. The tension between the interior leisure of the gentleman-artist and exterior roving of the gentleman-thief is made more pronounced by Whitney’s retention of his hat, which would be necessary for his wandering criminal lifestyle, but unnecessary for the man of letters depicted in his study. In fact, gentlemen are almost never painted wearing a hat in formal portraiture of the period, though they often hold a chapeau under the arm or in hand. The decision to dress Whitney as a gentleman-artist type could thus be seen as one way in which the Romantic artistic persona was conflated with that of the vagabond. In support of this reading, we find that in the accompanying narrative it is not his villainy but his wit, creativity, and the ingenuity of his artifice that receives the greatest attention.
FunctionEncyclopedic volumes of eccentric or notable characters, such as Caulfield's, were produced to entertain and educate, but also worked to establish visual and behavioral categories of normalcy and deviance.
BibliographyCaulfield, James. Portraits, Memories and Character of Remarkable Persons. London: H.R. Young and T.H. Whitely, 1819. Print.
Cummings, Valerie. A Visual History of Costume: The Seventeenth Century. London: Batsford, 1984. Print.
Faller, Lincoln B. “Whitney, James (d. 1693), Highwayman.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Web. 19 June 2013.
McCalman, Iain, et al., eds. The Oxford Companion to The Romantic Age: British Culture 1776-1832. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.
Ribeiro, Aileen. The Gallery of Fashion. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000. Print.
Long Title"The Trwe Effigies of James Whitney, the Notorious Highwayman" 1819
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, 1819).