Wednesday 30 September 2015

Sweating with the Mohocks

To celebrate the release of Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, Volume 2, it is my pleasure to look at a most unusual custom which seems to have come and gone with very little fanfare at all.

My colonial gentleman believes himself to a be a most talented purveyor of pranks, usually at my expense, so today I must keep my wits about me! Whilst leafing through the must-read Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue I came across mention of a custom that my gent doesn't practice or at least, I hope not, or we shall have the watch to our door!

The passage that caught my eye went as follows:

Sweating:  [...] a diversion practised by the bloods of the last century, who styled themselves Mohocks: these gentlemen lay in wait to surprise some person late in the night, when surrounding him, they with their swords pricked him in the posteriors, which obliged him to be constantly turning round; this they continued till they thought him sufficiently sweated.
The rich young men who practised the pastime would in Edinburgh even formed the Sweating Club, its members great fans of this cruel pastime.  Upon seeing a lone pedestrian who looked a likely victim they would give a cry of "a sweat!" and, with the unfortunate innocent surrounded, pricked at his bottom with their swords until they were sufficiently entertained. On occasion the sweating was part of a wider ceremony involving members of the club and it even made it into print in 1712, with Jack Lightfoot, a correspondent to The Spectator, reporting a friend's run in with sweaters in London's Fleet Street.

Well aware of what their cry of, "a sweat!" meant, Lightfoot's friend stood his ground in a corner, refusing to be intimidated by the gang that pursued him. For half an hour he defended his honour until the gang lost interest and he was able to escape, losing only some luggage and a single shoe heel in the process.

I shall let Mr Lightfoot tell the tale himself:

"[...] a couple of fellows advanced towards us, drew their swords and cried out to each other - "A sweat! A sweat!" Whereupon suspecting they were some of the ringleaders of the bagnio, I also drew my sword, and demanded a parley; but finding none would be granted me, and perceiving others behind them filing off with great diligence to take me in flank, I began to sweat for fear of being forced to it, but very luckily betaking myself to a pair of heels, which I had reason to believe would do me justice, I instantly got possession of a very snug corner in a neighbouring alley that lay in my rear; which post I maintained for above half an hour with great firmness and resolution, though not letting this success so far overcome me, as to make me unmindful of the circumspection that was necessary to be observed upon my advancing again towards the street; by which prudence and good management I mad a handsome and orderly retreat, having suffered no other damage in this action than the loss of my baggage, and the dislocation of one of my shoe-heels which last I am just now informed is in a fair way of recovery. These sweaters, by what I can learn from my friend, and by as near a view as I was able to take of them myself, seem to me to have at present but a rude kind of discipline amongst them. It is probable, if you would take a little pains with them, they might be brought into better order."
It is a rare account (albeit second hand) of what has often been dismissed as an early urban myth. Certainly the Mohocks enjoyed a fearsome reputation for violence, sweating, and rolling women downhill wedged into barrels, but how much of this is true we can never really know. 

So next time you are out and about keep an eye open for these cheeky young sorts and their loose-sheathed swords, lest you find yourself the butt of their humour!


New Release!

Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, Volume 2 
Edited by Debra Brown and Sue Millard

An anthology of essays from the second year of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, this book transports the reader across the centuries from prehistoric to twentieth century Britain. Nearly fifty different authors share the stories, incidents, and insights discovered while doing research for their own historical novels.

From medieval law and literature to Tudor queens and courtiers, from Stuart royals and rebels to Regency soldiers and social calls, experience the panorama of Britain’s yesteryear. Explore the history behind the fiction, and discover the true tales surrounding Britain’s castles, customs, and kings.

Purchase links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK


H_cat said...

Oh what fun...the equivalent of the Bullingdon Club riding ca change!!

Sarah said...

They couldn't do it if you just sat down.

Susan Appleyard said...

Fun post.

Catherine Curzon said...

I thought you'd appreciate it!

Catherine Curzon said...

A smart scheme!

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you!

Historical Reminiscing with Marilyn said...

Fascinating stuff...tweeted...
Marilyn Watson

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you!