15. Moll Cutpurse: The Cross-Dressing Thief, Madame, and Highwaywoman of seventeenth-century London.
Mary Frith or Moll Cutpurse was a career criminal who picked pockets, fenced stolen goods and pimped out both men and women. If we are to believe her legend, she was also an ardent royalist who took to the road in her fifties during the English Civil war, robbing “Roundheads, or rebels, that fomented the Civil War against King Charles I.” Moll, however, was also notable for living her life very much on her terms as a cross-dresser. According to the Newgate Calendar, Moll had possessed a “boisterous and masculine spirit, ” since childhood. She was a “tomrig” who “delighted only in boys play, ” and avoided all feminine pursuits.
As an adult, Moll became notorious in the London underworld for drinking in taverns, smoking a pipe, carrying a sword- and for dressing and behaving like a man. The Newgate calendar records how Moll took to wearing britches and hose “from her first entrance into a competency of age, and to her dying day.” This habit led to a court summons which led to Moll being sentenced to do penance on a white sheet outside St Pauls to atone for her ‘sins’. It did not, however, cause Moll to change her ways. Because of her dress and behavior, many of Moll’s neighbors believed her to be hermaphrodite. Her death disproved this. However, Moll Cutpurse’s habits and way of life suggest that in her mind, she was no conventional woman.