LIFE AND DEATH
Where Meg was Born, her coming up to London, and
her Usage to the Honest Carrier.
In the reign of Henry VIII. was born in Lancashire a maid
called Long Meg. At eighteen years old she came to London
to get her a service—Father Willis, the carrier, being the
waggoner—and her neighbour brought her up with some
other lasses. After a tedious journey, being in sight of the
desired city, she demanded why they looked sad. "We
have no money," said one, "to pay our fare." So Meg
replies, "If that be all, I shall answer your demands," and
this put them in some comfort. But as soon as they came to
St. John's Street, Willis demanded their money. "Say what
you will have," quoth she. "Ten shillings a piece," said he.
"But we have not so much about us," said she. "Nay,
then, I will have it out of your bones." "Marry, content,"
replied Meg, and, taking a staff in her hand, so belaboured
him and his man that he desired her for God's sake to hold
her hand. "Not I," said she, "unless you bestow an angel
on us for good luck, and swear e'er we depart to get us good
The carrier, having felt the strength of her arm, thought it
best to give her the money and promised not to go till he had
got them good places.
Of her being placed in Westminster, and what she did at
The carrier, having set up his horses, went with the lasses to
the Eagle in Westminster, and told the landlady he had
brought her three fine Lancashire lasses; and seeing she
often asked him to get her a maid, she might now take her
choice. "Marry," said she, "I want one at present, and here
are three gentlemen who shall give their opinions." As soon
as Meg came in they blessed themselves, crying,
"Domine, Domine, viee Originem."
So her mistress demanded what was her name. "Margaret,
forsooth," said she briskly. "And what work can you do?"
She answered she had not been bred unto her needle, but to
hard labour, as washing, brewing, and baking, and could
make a house clean. "Thou art," quoth the hostess, "a
lusty wench, and I like thee well, for I have often persons
that will not pay." "Mistress," said she, "if any such come
let me know, and I'll make them pay I'll engage." "Nay,
this is true," said the carrier, "for my carcase felt it;" and
then he told them how she served him. On this Sir John
de Castile, in a bravado, would needs make an experiment
of her vast strength; and asked her "if she durst exchange
a box o' the ear with him." "Yes," quoth she, "if my mistress
will give me leave." This granted, she stood to receive
Sir John's blow, who gave her a box with all his might, but
it stirred her not at all; but Meg gave him such a memorandum
on his ear that Sir John fell down at her feet. "By my
faith," said another, "she strikes a blow like an ox, for she
hath knocked down an ass." So Meg was taken into service.
The method Meg took to make one of the Vicars pay his
Meg so bestirred herself that she pleased her mistress, and
for her tallness was called Long Meg of Westminster.
One of the lubbers of the Abbey had a mind to try her
strength, so, coming with six of his associates one frosty
morning, calls for a pot of ale, which, being drank, he asked
what he owed. To which Meg answers, "Five shillings and
"O thou foul scullion, I owe thee but three shillings and
one penny, and no more will I pay thee." And, turning to
his landlady, complained how Meg had charged him too
much. "The foul ill take me," quoth Meg, "if I misreckon
him one penny, and therefore, vicar, before thou goest out
of these doors I shall make thee pay every penny;" and
then she immediately lent him such a box on the ears as
made him reel again. The vicar then steps up to her, and
together both of them went by the ears. The vicar's head
was broke, and Meg's clothes torn off her back. So the
vicar laid hold of her hair, but, he being shaved, she could
not have that advantage; so, laying hold of his ears and
keeping his pate to the post, asked him how much he owed
her. "As much as you please," said he. "So you knave,"
quoth she, "I must knock out of your bald pate my reckoning."
And with that she began to beat a plain song between
the post and his pate. But when he felt such pain he roared
out he would pay the whole. But she would not let him
go until he laid it down, which he did, being jeered by his
Of her fighting and conquering Sir James of Castile, a
All this time Sir James continued his suit to Meg's mistress,
but to no purpose. So, coming in one day and seeing her
melancholy, asked what ailed her, for if anyone has wronged
you I will requite you. "Marry," quoth she, "a base knave
in a white satin doublet has abused me, and if you revenge
my quarrel I shall think you love me." "Where is he?"
quoth Sir James. "Marry," said she, "he said he would be
in St. George's Fields." "Well," quoth he, "do you and the
doctor go along with me, and you shall see how I'll pummel
Unto this they agreed, and sent Meg into St. George's
Fields beforehand. "Yonder," said she, "walks the fellow
by the windmill." "Follow me, hostess," said Sir James;
"I will go to him." But Meg passed as if she would have
gone by. "Nay, stay," said Sir James; "you and I part not
so. I am this gentlewoman's champion, and fairly for her
sake will have you by the ears." With that Meg drew her
sword, and to it they went.
At the first blow she hit him on the head, and often
endangered him. At last she struck his weapon out of his
hands, and, stepping up to him, swore all the world should
not save him. "O save me, sir," said he; "I am a knight,
and it is but a woman's matter; do not spill my blood."
"Wert thou twenty knights," said Meg, "and was the king
here himself, I would not spare thy life unless you grant me
one thing." "Let it be what it will, you shall be obeyed."
"Marry," said she, "that this night you wait on my
plate at this woman's house and confess me to be your
This being yielded to and a supper provided, Thomas
Usher and others were invited to make up the feast, and unto
whom Sir James told what had happened. "Pho!" said
Usher jeeringly, "it is no such great dishonour for to be
foiled by an English gentleman since Cæsar the Great was
himself driven back by their extraordinary courage." At
this juncture Meg came in, having got on her man's attire.
"Then," said Sir James, "this is that valiant gentleman
whose courage I shall ever esteem." Hereupon, she pulling
off her hat, her hair fell about her ears, and she said "I am
no other than Long Meg of Westminster, and so you are
At this they all fell a-laughing. Nevertheless, at supper
time, according to agreement, Sir James was a proper page;
and she, having leave of her mistress, sat in state like her
majesty. Thus Sir James was disgraced for his love, and
Meg was counted a proper woman.
Her Usage to the Bailiff of Westminster, who came into
her Mistress's and arrested her Friend.
A bailiff, having for the purpose took forty shillings,
arrested a gentleman in Meg's mistress's house, and desired
the company to keep peace. She, coming in, asked what
was the matter. "O," said he, "I'm arrested." "Arrested!
and in our house? Why this unkind act to arrest one in
our house; but, however, take an angel and let him go."
"No," said the bailiff, "I cannot, for the creditor is at the
door." "Bid him come in," said she, "and I'll make up the
matter." So the creditor came in; but, being found obstinate,
she rapped him on the head with a quart pot and bid
him go out of doors like a knave. "He can but go to
prison," quoth she, "where he shall not stay long if all the
friends I have can fetch him out."
The creditor went away with a good knock, and the bailiff
was going with his prisoner. "Nay," said she, "I'll bring a
fresh pot to drink with him." She came into the parlour
with a rope, and, knitting her brows, "Sir Knave," said she,
"I'll learn thee to arrest a man in our house. I'll make thee
a spectacle for all catchpoles;" and, tossing the rope round
his middle, said to the gentleman, "Sir, away, shift for yourself;
I'll pay the bailiff his fees before he and I part."
Then she dragged the bailiff unto the back side of the house,
making him go up to his chin in a pond, and then paid him
his fees with a cudgel, after which he went away with the
amends in his hands, for she was so well beloved that no
person would meddle with her.
Of her meeting with a Nobleman, and her Usage to
him and to the Watch.
Now it happened she once put on a suit of man's apparel.
The same night it fell out that a young nobleman, being disposed
for mirth, would go abroad to see the fashions, and,
coming down the Strand, espies her; and, seeing such a tall
fellow, asked him whither he was going. "Marry," said
she, "to St. Nicholas's to buy a calve's head." "How much
money hast thou?" "In faith," said she, "little enough;
will you lend me any?" "Aye," said he; and, putting his
thumb into her mouth, said, "There's a tester." She gave
him a good box on the ear, and said, "There's a groat; now
I owe you twopence." Whereupon the nobleman drew, and
his man too; and she was as active as they, so together
they go. But she drove them before her into a little
chandler's shop, insomuch that the constable came in to part
the fray, and, having asked what they were, the nobleman
told his name, at which they all pulled off their caps.
"And what is your name?" said the constable. "Mine,"
said she, "is Cuthbert Curry Knave." Upon this the constable
commanded some to lay hold on her and carry her to
the compter. She out with her sword and set upon the
watch, and behaved very resolutely; but the constable calling
for clubs, Meg was forced to cry out, "Masters, hold
your hands, I am your friend; hurt not Long Meg of Westminster."
So they all stayed their hands, and the nobleman
took them all to the tavern; and thus ended the fray.
Meg goes a shroving, fights the Thieves of St. James's
Corner, and makes them restore Father Willis,
the Carrier, his hundred marks.
Not only the cities of London and Westminster, but Lancashire
also, rung of Meg's fame, so they desired old Willis, the
carrier, to call upon her, which he did, taking with him the
other lasses. Meg was joyful to see them, and it being
Shrove Tuesday, Meg went with them to Knightsbridge, and
spent most of the day with repeating tales of their friends
in Lancashire; and so tarried the carrier, who again and
again inquired how all did there, and made the time seem
shorter than it was. The night growing on, the carrier and
the two other lasses were importunate to be gone, but Meg
was loath to set out, and so stayed behind to discharge the
reckoning, and promised to overtake them.
It was their misfortune at St. James's Corner to meet
with two thieves who were waiting there for them, and took
a hundred marks from Willis, the carrier, and from the
two wenches their gowns and purses. Meg came up immediately
after, and then the thieves, seeing her also in a female
habit, thought to take her purse also; but she behaved herself
so well that they began to give ground. Then said
Meg, "Our gowns and purses against your hundred marks;
win all and wear all." "Content," quoth they. "Now,
lasses, pray for me," said Meg. With that she buckled with
these two knaves, beat one and so hurt the other that they
entreated her to spare their lives. "I will," said she, "upon
conditions." "Upon any condition," said they. "Then,"
said she, "it shall be thus—
1. That you never hurt a woman nor any company she
2. That you never hurt lame or impotent men.
3. That you never hurt any children or innocents.
4. That you rob no carrier of his money.
5. That you rob no manner of poor or distressed.
"Are you content with these conditions?" "We are," said
they. "I have no book about me," said she, "but will you
swear on my smock tail?" which they accordingly did, and
then she returned the wenches their gowns and purses, and
old Father Willis, the carrier, a hundred marks.
The men desiring to know who it was had so lustily
beswinged them, said—"To alleviate our sorrow, pray tell
us your name." She smiling replied—"If anyone asks you
who banged your bones, say Long Meg of Westminster once
met with you."
Meg's Fellow Servant pressed; her Usage of the Constable;
and of her taking Press Money to go to Boulogne.
In those days were wars between England and France, and
a hot press about London. The constables of Westminster
pressed Meg's fellow servant, and she told them if they took
him her mistress was undone.
All this could not persuade the constable, but Harry must
go, on which she lent the constable a knock. Notice being
given to the captain, he asked who struck him. "Marry,"
quoth Meg, "I did, and if I did not love soldiers I'd serve
you so too." So, taking a cavalier from a man's hand, she
performed the exercise with such dexterity that they
wondered, whereupon she said—"Press no man, but give
me press money and I will go myself." At this they all
laughed, and the captain gave her an angel, whereupon she
went with him to Boulogne.
Of her Beating the Frenchman off the Walls of Boulogne, for
which gallant behaviour she is rewarded by the King
with Eightpence per Day for Life.
King Henry, passing the seas, took Boulogne. Hereupon
the Dauphin with a great number of men surprised and retook
it. Meg, being a laundress in the town, raised the best
of the women; and, with a halberd in her hand, came to the
walls, on which some of the French had entered, and threw
scalding water and stones at them that she often obliged
them to quit the town before the soldiers were up in arms.
And at the sally she came out the foremost with her halberd
in her hand to pursue the chase.
The report of this deed being come to the ears of the king,
he allowed her for life eightpence a day.
Of her fighting and beating a Frenchman before Boulogne.
During this she observed one who in a bravado tossed his
pike. She, seeing his pride, desired a drum to signify that
a young soldier would have a push at pike with him. It
was agreed on, and the place appointed life against life.
On the day the Frenchman came, and Meg met him, and
without any salute fell to blows; and, after a long combat,
she overcame him, and cut off his head. Then, pulling off
her hat, her hair fell about her ears.
By this the Frenchman knew it was a woman, and the
English giving a shout, she, by a drummer, sent the Dauphin
his soldier's head, and said, "An English woman sent it."
The Dauphin much commended her, sending her a
hundred crowns for her valour.
Of her coming to England and being Married.
The wars in France being over, Meg came to Westminster
and married a soldier, who, hearing of her exploits, took her
into a room, and, making her strip to her petticoat, took one
staff and gave her another, saying, "As he had heard of her
manhood, he was determined to try her." But Meg held
down her head, whereupon he gave her three or four blows,
and she in submission fell down upon her knees desiring him
to pardon her. "For," said she, "whatever I do to others,
it behoves me to be obedient to you; and it shall never be
said, if I cudgel a knave that injures me, Long Meg is her
husband's master; and therefore use me as you please." So
they grew friends, and never quarrelled after.
Long Meg's Usage to an angry Miller.
Meg going one day with her neighbours to make merry, a
miller near Epping looking out, the boy they had with them,
about fourteen years old, said—"Put out, miller, put out."
"What must I put out?" said he. "A thief's head and
ears," said the other.
At this the miller came down and well licked him, which
Meg endeavoured to prevent, whereupon he beat her. But
she wrung the stick from him, and then cudgelled him
severely; and having done, sent the boy to the mill for an
empty sack, and put the miller in all but his head; and
then, fastening him to a rope, she hauled him up half way,
and there left him hanging. The poor miller cried out for
help, and if his wife had not come he had surely been killed,
and the mill, for want of corn, set on fire.
Of her keeping House at Islington, and her Laws.
After marriage she kept a house at Islington. The constable
coming one night, he would needs search Meg's house,
whereupon she came down in her shift with a cudgel, and
said—"Mr. Constable, take care you go not beyond your
commission, for if you do I'll so cudgel you as you never was
since Islington has been." The constable, seeing her frown,
told her he would take her word, and so departed.
Meg, because in her house there should be a good decorum,
hung up a table containing these principles:—
First. If a gentleman or yeoman had a charge about him,
and told her of it, she would repay him if he lost it; but if
he did not reveal it, and said he was robbed, he should have
ten bastinadoes, and afterwards be turned out of doors.
Secondly. Whoever called for meat and had no money to
pay should have a box on the ear and a cross on the back
that he might be marked and trusted no more.
Thirdly. If any good fellow came in and said he wanted
money, he should have his belly full of meat and two pots of
Fourthly. If any raffler came in and made a quarrel, and
would not pay his reckoning, to turn into the fields and take
a bout or two with Meg, the maids of the house should dry
beat him, and so thrust him out of doors.
These and many such principles she established in her
house, which kept it still and quiet.