Richard Head

?1637-?1686; b. Carrickfergus, son of clergyman killed in Rebellion; grad. from Oxford, then worked as a bookseller; said to have been ruined by gambling; wrote Humours of Dublin (1663); Life and Death of Mother Shipton (1686); Nugae Venalis, or a Complaisant Companion (1686 and num. edns);
he was the author of the first part of The English Rogue (1665), a robustly indecent story of a professional after Mateo Alemán’s picaresque novel Guzmán de Alfarache (1599-1604), formerly trans. by James Mabbe’s as The Rogue (1622) and later expanded by Francis Kirkan;
he is also the author of The Miss Displayed (1675) and Mother Shipton (1684) - on prostitutes, the latter consigned to the Register of Preservation Surrogates at the British Library (i.e., censored); he died by drowning in an accident when crossing to the Isle of Wight. ODNB GBI DIW DUB

[ top ]

Irish works
  • Hic et ubique; or, The humors of Dublin : A comedy acted privately, with general applause. Written by Richard Head, Gent. (London: printed by R.D. for the author 1663)< [6], 64pp., 4°.
  • Western Wonder, or O’Brazeel, an inchanted island discovered: with a relation of two ship-wracks in a dreadful sea-storm in that discovery. To which is added, a description of a place, called, Montecapernia, relating the nature of the people, their qualities, humours, fashions, religion, &c.
    London : printed for N.C., M.DC.LXXIV. [1674]) [a different work from O’Brazile, or the Inchanted Island, 1675 - as seq.];
  • [as William Hamilton,] O’Brazile, or the Inchanted Island; being a perfect relation of the late discovery, and wonderful dis-inchantement of an island on the north of Ireland: with an account of the riches and commodities thereof. Communicated by a letter from London-derry to a friend in London (London: printed for William Crook, at the Green Dragon without Temple-Barr 1675), 11, [1]pp., 4°. [dated and pseudonymously signed ‘Londonderry, March 14. 1674. William Hamilton.’].
Other works
  • The Red-Sea: or the description of a most horrid, bloody, and never yet paralel’d sea-fight between the English & Dutch: With an elegy on that truly valiant and renowned commander, Sir Christopher Minnes, who died in the bed of honour, in defence of his king and countrey. By R.H (London: printed by Peter Lillicrap, and are to be sold at the Princes Arms on Chancery Lane 1666);
  • [as Franck Careless], The Floating Island: or, a New discovery relating the strange adventure on a late voyage from Lambethana to Villa Franca, alias Ramallia, to the Eastward of Terra del Templo: by three ships, viz. the Pay-naught, Excuse, Least-in-Sight, under the conduct of Captain Robert Owe-much ... (published by Franck Careless 1673), 39pp., 4°.
  • [anon,] The Complaisant Companion, or New Jests; Witty Reparties; Bulls; Rhodomontado’s; and Pleasant Novels; Forreign jests; witty reparties, &c. (London: printed by H.B. and sold by most book-sellers 1674), [8], 96, 136pp.
  • Jackson’s Recantation, or, The Life & Death of the Notorious High-way-man, now hanging in chains at Hampstead: Delivered to a friend, a little before execution; wherein is truly discovered the whole mystery of that wicked and fatal profession of padding on the road (London: printed for T.B., in the year, 1674), [40]pp., 4° [not actually by Francis Jackson; postscript signed Samuel Swiftnicks, i.e, Richard Head];
  • The Canting Academy; or Villanies discovered: Wherein is shewn the mysterious and villanous practices of that wicked crew, commonly known by the names of hectors, trapanners, gilts, &c. With several new catches and songs: also a compleat canting-dictionary, both of old words, and such as are now most in use. A book very useful and necessary (to be known but not practis’d) for all people. [2nd edn.] (London: Printed by F. Leach for Mat. Drew, and are to be sold by the booksellers 1674), [12], 192pp., ill.; 12° [printers Francis Leach & Matthew Drew] - see infra.
  • Proteus redivivus : or the art of wheedling, or insinuation: obtain’d by general conversation, and extracted from the several humours, inclinations, and passions of both sexes, respecting their several ages, and suiting each profession or occupation / Collected and methodized by the author of the First part of the English Rogue. (London: Printed by W. D. 1675), [16], 352pp. [18cm.; ‘The autho[’]s epistle and apology to his ingenious friend N. W. Esq.’ signed ‘R. H.’.
  • The Miss Display’d: with all her wheedling arts and circumventions. In which historical narration are detected, her selfish contrivances, modest pretences, and subtil stratagems / By the author of the first part of the English Rogue. (London: Printed and are to be sold by the several booksellers 1675), [6], 133, [1]pp., ill. [1 lf. of pls., 8° [‘The Epistle to the Reader’ signed ‘R. H.’
  • Nugae Venalis, or The Complaisant Companion: being new jests, domestick and forreign, bulls, rhodomontados, pleasant novels and miscellanies [2nd. edn., with num. additions] (London: Printed by W.D. 1675), [4], 327pp.; and Do. [3rd edn. corrected / with many additions] (London: Printed for Edward Poole [...] 1686), [10], 310pp., ill. [2 lvs. of pls.].
Query: Venus’ Cabinet Unlocked (n.d.)
The English Rogue (1655)
  • [with Francis Kirkman,] The English Rogue: described in the life of Meriton Latroon p.. Being a compleat history of the most eminent cheats, &c. [by Richard Head and Francis Kirkman], 4 pts. [i.e., successive additions] (London: 1665, 1666, 1672, 1680), 8° [Pt. 1 by Richard Head; Preface signed F. Kirkman. Imper.];
  • The English Rogue, or Witty Extravagant; described in the life of M. Latroon. [Altered from a work with a similar title, by R. Head and F. Kirkman. Preceded by the ‘Birth, parentage and education, life and conversation of Mrs. Dorothy.’] ... Fourth edition, with large additions, 5 pts. (London 1723, 1759), 12°., and Do. [another edn.] (Gosport [1700]) [BL].
  • The English Rogue; or, Life of Jeremy Sharp: [altered from a work by R. Head and F. Kirkman, entitled: “The English Rogue, described in the life of Meriton Latroon”:] to which is added, a narrative of an extraordinary delivery of Mary Toft, of eighteen rabbits; performed by Mr. J. Howard, surgeon, ... in ... 1726, Published by Mr. St. Andre ... Likewise, an exact diary of what was observed, during a close attendance upon Mary Toft, by Sir R. Manningham ... Eighth edition, 3 vols. (London: R. Hopwood 1776), 12°.
  • The Original English Rogue: described in the life of M. Latroon, &c. [abridged from the work by R. Head and F. K.], 2 pts. (Manchester 1786), 4°.
  • Do. [rep. with a facsimile of the titlepage of the edition of 1665.], 4 vols. (S.l. 1874), 8°; Do. as The English rogue: or, Witty extravagant [abridged from the work by Richard Head and Francis Kirkman] [t]o which is added a 5th part. (London 1688);
  • The English Rogue: containing a brief discovery of the most eminent cheats, robberies, and other extravagancies, by him committed, &t. To which is added a canting dictionary [of] words now in use with beggars and gypsies. Read, but take heed that you such attians shun for honesty is best when all is done. Licensed according to order ([London]: printed for J. Blare, at the Looking-Glass, on London-Bridge, 1688), [2], 22pp., 8° [prob. much abridged and altered version of Head’s Pt. 1 of The English Rogue - see further notes at COPAC online];
  • The English rogue : or, witty extravagant: described in the life of Meriton Latroon. Containing the description of his birth and parentage: ...with the eminent cheats and artifices of either sex laid open, as a warning to all persons to shun the mischiefs that attend an evil course of life, &c. In five parts (London: printed for J. Bach, 1702), 8, [195, [1]pp., 12°.
The Life and Death of Mother Shipton (1677)
  • The life and death of Mother Shipton : Being not only a true account of her strange birth; and most important passages of her life; but also all her prophesies, now newly collected, and historically experienced, from the time of her birth, in the reign of King Henry the Seventh, until this present year 1667 Containing the most important passages of state during the reign of these kings and queens of England following, viz. Henry the Eighth. Edward the Sixth Queen Mary Queen Elizabeth. King James. King Charles the First. King Charles the Second. Strangely preserve amongst other writings belonging to an old monastary in York-shire, and now published for the information of posterity (London: printed for B. Harris, at the Stationers Arms in Sweethings-Ally near the Royal Exchange in Cornhill, 1677), [6], 50pp., ill. [woodcuts], 4°;
  • Do. as The Life and Death of Mother Shipton ...: strangely preserved amongst other writings belonging to an old Monastery in York-shire, and now published for the information of posterity, &c. [By R.H.] (London 1684), 4° [copy in BL - Reg. of Preservation Surrogate].
Note: Latroon = Rom. latron, ‘thief’ [vide L. latrones]

Bibliographical Notes

See t.p. of Canting, or the Devils Cabinet Opened [ ... &c.] (1673)

THE CANTING Academy, OR, THE Devils Cabinet Opened: WHEREIN IS SHEWN / The Mysterious and Villanous Practices of that wicked Crew, commonly known by the Names of Hectors, Trapanners, Gilts, &c. / TO WHICH IS ADDED A Compleat Canting-Dictionary, both of old Words, and such as are now most in use. / With several New Catches AND SONGS, Compos'd by the choisest Wits of the Age. / A Book very useful and necessary to be read by all sorts of People. / London, Printed by F. Leach for Mat. Drew, and are to be sold by the Booksellers. 1673.

Canting, or the Devil's Cabinet (1673)
Source: Image supplied by Barry Montgomery (Ulster U.) via Facebook [05.03.2018] - with a listing of a term employed in William Maher’s “The Night Before Larry was Stretched”.

Nub: The Neck
Nubbing Ken: The Sessions House 
Nubbing: Hanging
Nubbing Cove: The Hangman
Nubbing cheat: Gallows

See also the ballad:

Marry fogh, Pox on you, you son of a bich,
You shall have it by and by.
Then every man with his s Mob in his hand,
And so we kiss and part,
From hence we are divorced
To the Nubbing-cheat in a Cart.

Note: There is a full-text copy of the contents at Michigan University Library - online; for copy here, see attached.

[ top ]

  • Esther K. Sheldon, Thomas Sheridan (NJ: Princeton UP 1967), p.312;
  • Deana Rankin, ‘Kinds of Irishness: Henry Burnell and Richard Head’, in A Companion to Irish Literature, ed. Julia M. Wright, 2 vols. (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell 2010), Chap. 7.

See sundry others under Commentary, infra.

General reading: See also Christopher Wheatley, Beneath Ierne’s Banners: Irish Protestant Drama of the Restoration and Eighteenth century (Notre Dame UP 1999); Christopher Morash, A History of Irish Theatre 1601-2000 (Cambridge UP 2002).

[ top ]

G. C. Duggan, The Stage Irishman (Dublin: Talbot 1937), cites Richard Head’s Hic et ubique (publ. London 1663), with biographical information: b. N. Ireland, son of clergman who was killed in the 1641 Rebellion; educ. Oxford; bookseller’s apprentice; wrote the play for private performance in Dublin; called ‘a man addicted to pleasures, with a strange rambling head’ (Denis Florence McCarthy, Poets of Ireland, 1846). Characters are the new arrivals, Hopewell, Contriver, Bankrupt, Trustall; the old arrival Peregrine; the hosteller Thrivewell and his daughter Cassandra; high-spirited Phantastic, and Col Kil-tory, ‘not sparing the very spawn of Rebellion’, and courting Cassandra; and a his servant, Patrick; The speculators regard Dublin as a Hesperides to recover their English fortunes, and there are projects in the air, Contriver, ‘the bogs lie near the mountains which will afford me earth enough to dam them up, but first I’ll lay a foundation of hurdles such as Dublin is built on to support that masse of earth … A vast quantity of unprofitable acres made arable, next a discovery it may be of gold and silver mines … and lastly the metamorphosing of a mountainous into a champain country. The King will confer on me little less than the title of Duke of Mountain, Earl of Moras, and Lord Drein-Bog.’ Head must have been familiar with Dublin’s underworld, as well as its middle-classes. (p.113.)

[ top ]

Peter Kavanagh, The Irish Theatre (Tralee: The Kerryman 1946), writes: ‘Born Ireland, the son of a English clergyman killed in the 1641 Rebellion, he went to Oxford, trained as a Latin bookseller; married, set up for himself; turned to poetry, and to gaming; moved to Ireland and there wrote Hic Et Ubique ‘which gained him general esteem for the worth thereof [1661-62]. Further: ‘[C]oming over into England had it printed, dedicating it to the Duke of Monmouth’ (from Winstanley, who knew him.) Winstanley further says he was drowned in 1686 crossing to the Isle of Wight. Biographies in William Winstanley, Lives of the Most Famous English Poets; Aubrey’s Brief Lives (with d. at 1676); Dram. Poets, and Baker’s Biographia Dramatica. Of Hic et Ubique: performed in private owing to its gross vulgarity, the grossest passages being excluded from the printed ed. of 1663. A party of London adventurers arrives in Dublin, Hope-well, Bankrupt, Contriver, and Trust-all (Jonsonian personifications). At Holyhead, they meet Phantastic and [others]. The plot concerns largely the misfortune of Col Kil-tory, a miles gloriosus, signing his property to a betrothed who turns out to be Mrs Hope-well. Sue Pouch, the land-lady, a ‘reformed’ puritan turned bawd … documents social life in the 17th c. when Ireland was the Mecca for English adventurers. Prose, with Latin tags, and some heroic verse. The stage-Irishman is called Patrick, and speaks the maximum of obscenity. (Chap. 9.)

[ top ]

James Calahan, The Irish Novel: A Critical History (Boston: Twayne Publishers 1988), describes The English Rogue (1665) as ‘the first novel with an Irish protagonist … [it predicably] played up the stage-Irish stereotype for obviously commercial reasons. The fictional hero invented by the Northern Irish Carrickfergus[-born] Head (c.1637-86) tells us that he was born in Ireland but is unwilling to consider himself Irish; he lives his life of crime in England except for a brief Irish foray when he shakes his creditors by running to Dublin, which is referred to as Divlin, quasi Divels Inn (Lubbers 1985a 33 n. 1; Cahalan, p.9.)

[ top ]

Geraldo Cantarino, ‘An Island Called Brasil’, in History Ireland (July 2008), pp.32-36, cites O’Brazile, or the Inchanted Island; being a perfect relation of the late discovery, and wonderful disinchantement of an island on the north of Ireland (1675) - a letter reporting the final discover of the island; and Western Wonder, or O’Brazeel, an inchanted island discovered (1674), containing different accounts of the appearing and disappearing island] - both attrib. to Head. Also cites Voyage to O’Brazeel, or the submarine island - giving a brief description of the country and a short account of the customs, manners, government, law and religion of the inhabitants, an MS dated between 1558 and 1603. A further 15th-century text, The Book of the O’Lees [or] the Book of the Island of O’Brasil, was used by Morogh O’Ley to substantiate his claim that he was taken to the mysterious island in 1668 and received the book there with the charge not to open it for seven years, purporting to heal illnesses on finally opening it. The book is held in the Royal Irish Academy. Bibl. cites B. Cunliffe, Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and its Peoples (2001); D. S. Johnson, Phantom Island of the Atlantic: The Legends of Seven Lands that Never Were (1997), D. Ó hÓgáin, ‘The Mystical Island in Irihs Folklore’, in Islanders and Water-dwellers [Proc. of the Celtic-Nordic-Baltic Folklore Symp., UCD June 1996] (Dublin 1999); T. J. Westropp, ‘Brasil and the legenary Islands of the North Atlantic: A Contributin to the Atlantis Problem’ [in RIA Proc ., 30] (Dublin 1912-13).

[ top ]

The English Rogue Described (1666): Head wrote of a condemned man who begged him to ‘quote not from scripture for my conviction is less since they are full of contradictions and contain many things incredible. Neither do I know (since we are forbidden to murder) why Abraham should kill his son Isaac and the same person commit adultery with his maid Haggar (which is largely described) yet we are commanded to do the contrary. … In this manner I could cavil ad infinitum and yet this book is the basis of Christianity.’ ( p.81; cited in Raymond Gillespie, ‘Reading the Bible in Seventeenth Century Ireland’, Bernadette Cunningham and Máire Kennedy, eds., The Experience of Reading: Irish Historical Perspectives, Dublin: Rare Books Group 1999, pp.10-38; p.19.)

Sunday pastimes in 1674: ‘in every field a fiddle and the lasses footing it till they are all of a foam.’ John Dunton, whose letters Head published for the first time, described a wedding where ‘we had a bagpiper and a blind harper that dinned us constantly with their music, to which there was perpetual dancing’ He also mentions that the custom of planting a special tree as a gathering place, ‘hither all the people resort with a piper on Sundays and Holydays in the afternoon, where the young folks dance till the cows come home.’ (Quoted in Edward McLysaght’s Irish Life in the Seventeenth Century ; cited in Allen Feldman with Eamonn O’Doherty, The Northern Fiddler, Blackstaff Press 1979; Preface.)

[ top ]

Dictionary of National Biography calls Head author of the first part of The English Rogue (1665); published Proteus Redivivus, or the Art of Wheedling (1675); The Canting Academy (1673); … Mother Shipton (1677), and other works; drowned at sea. [ODNB XXV 326.]

D. J. O’Donoghue, Poets of Ireland (Dublin: Hodges Figgis 1912), gives bio-dates: b. 1637, d. 1686; lists Life and Death of Mother Shipton (1684); Nugae Venalis, or The Complaisant Companion, misc. (1686), many editions; Venus’ Cabinet Unlocked, poem (n.d.) The English Rogue, romance; Also Western Wonder, or Ó Brazile, An Enchanted Island (1674).

Stephen Brown, S.J., Guide to Books on Ireland (Dublin: Talbot 1912), lists Hic et Ubique, or The Humours of Dublin, 1663 (printed copy at Bodleian).

Peter Kavanagh, The Irish Theatre (Tralee: The Kerryman 1946), remarks: The next performance after Pompey [Catherine Phillips] took place on 9 May 1663. It is not stated what was the name of the play produced, but it is possible that it may have been Richard Head’s Hic et Ubique or The Humours of Dublin […] printed in 1663 “as it was acted privatel”.’ (p.61)

Frank O’Connor, ed., Book of Ireland ( 1979 Edn., quotes a passage on 17th c. Dublin [‘quaesi Devils Inn, and very properly so termed ..’], and dates Head c.1600. The passage is familiar from other sources and studies. (p.164.)

Kate Newmann, Dictionary of Ulster Biography (Belfast: QUB/IIS 1993), calls him author of The English Rogue; The Canting Academy; Life of Mother Shipton; and The Humours of Dublin.

[ top ]