Almanac – May 24

1725 – Jonathan Wild died.  He was perhaps the most infamous criminal of London — and possibly Great Britain — during the 18th century, both because of his own actions and the uses novelists, playwrights, and political satirists made of them.

 He invented a scheme which allowed him to run one of the most successful gangs of thieves of the era, all the while appearing to be the nation’s leading policeman. He manipulated the press and the nation’s fears to become the most loved public figure of the 1720s; this love turned to hatred when his villainy was exposed. After his death, he became a symbol of corruption and hypocrisy.

When Wild was taken for execution to the gallows at Tyburn , Daniel Defoe said that the crowd was far larger than any they had seen before and that, instead of any celebration or commiseration with the condemned,

    “wherever he came, there was nothing but hollowing and huzzas,
    as if it had been upon a triumph.”

Wild’s hanging was a great event, and tickets were sold in advance for the best vantage points. Even in a year with a great many macabre spectacles, Wild drew an especially large and boisterous crowd. The hangman, Richard Arnet, had been a guest at Wild’s wedding.

In the dead of night, Wild’s body was buried in secret at the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church next to Elizabeth Mann, his third wife.  His burial was only temporary.

In the 18th century, autopsies and dissections were performed on the most notorious criminals, and consequently Wild’s body was exhumed and sold to the Royal College of Surgeons for dissection. His skeleton remains on public display in the Royal College’s Hunterian Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.



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