Captain of the Ragged Regiment of the Black Guards, which Commission he threw up to take to the Highway. Executed 22nd of December, 1697
WILLIAM HOLLYDAY was born of very poor parents, in the parish of St Giles-in-the-Fields, who dying when he was very young, he was forced to shift for himself. Entering himself upon this in the ragged regiment of the Black Guards, which in the reign of King Charles II. was in as great estimation as the janizaries in the Ottoman Court, his acute genius and prompt wit, without the advantage of any education, soon made him be taken notice of by the superiors of his tattered fraternity.
But that which gained Hollyday most reputation was his being chosen Lord High Steward in a mock trial of the Viscount Stafford, held in the Mews at Charing Cross; in which, though he had not consulted Fortescue, Fleta, Plowden, Coke upon Littleton, or any other ancient law author, his natural parts most floridly set forth the heinousness of that peer's crime, whose person was represented by one of their tatterdermalions. But instead of executing the poor boy in jest, he was hanged in earnest, and in that pendent posture left till next morning; when one of the king's grooms, finding his lordship hanging in the stable, cut him down and delivered his dead body to his friends to be decently interred.
A little after this piece of mock justice was over, Will's credit increasing more and more, by reason his ingenuity was attended with a great deal of courage, he was, by the unanimous consent of the whole regiment of the Black Guards, chosen their captain; in which post he behaved himself with a great deal of prudence and circumspection, and by virtue of the great authority he bore among them he brought them, nemine contradicente, to be conformable to the following orders: —-
I. That none of the Black Guards should presume to wear a shirt upon pain of being cashiered out of the regiment for ever.
II. That none of them should reside, either by day or night, in any other places than stables, empty houses or under bulks.
III. That they should eat no victuals but what was given them; therefore what money they got by cleaning Life Guardsmen's boots or shoes, and rubbing down horses, should either be lost or increased by gaming among their own fraternity.
IV. That if any of them could read or write they should, by not practising either, forget both, like the Czar of Muscovy, for their captain would not have any under his command more learned than himself.
V. That they should daily appear every morning by nine of the clock on the parade in St James's Park, provided they were not letted by sickness, or upon any extraordinary duty, to receive the necessary orders which the present exigency of affairs then required.
VI. That none shall presume to follow the King and Court to Windsor, or upon any Royal progress whatever, but such as were commanded to go on that party.
VII. That if any charitable person bestowed a pair of old shoes or stockings upon any one of their ragged society, he should presently convert the same into money to play.
VIII. That they should not steal anything which lay out of their reach, for fear of bringing a scandal on their regiment.
IX. That they should not endeavour to clear themselves of vermin, by killing or eating them; nor for profit dispose of them to any apothecary that might now and then want a quillful or two to cure some lady's gentlewoman or chambermaid of the yellow jaundice.
X. That they should cant better than the best proficients of that language in Newgate; pick pockets without bungling; outlie a Quaker; outswear a losing lord at the Groom Porter's; and brazen out all their villainies with the unparalleled impudence of an Irishman.
In this employment Will Hollyday remained till he was near twenty years of age, when looking upon himself as too old to continue longer in that station, wherein he had behaved himself with a great deal of bravery, candour and justice, he surrendered his commission and turned highwayman; which profession he followed till the hangman provided for him, on Wednesday, the 22nd of December, 1697.