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18 June 2014
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Myths and Legends
Bampfylde Moore Carew
King of the Beggars

Although little-known now, the name of Bampfylde Moore Carew was once famous throughout Devon, and indeed Britain - Bampfylde was a national figure, not just a local hero.

Born in 1693, he was the third child of Reverend Theodore Carew, rector of Bickleigh. The Carew family were well-established in Devon, having moved to the area at the end of the 12th Century, when Richard I granted them the manor of Brauton. The Carews had always shown an inclination for adventure and recklessness, but in Bampfylde Moore Carew the tendencies towards wildness and defiant independence were more pronounced, especially living as he did at a time of growing social conformity.

Run-away

Bickleigh Castle
Bampfylde is thought to be buried in an unmarked grave at Bickleigh Castle
© David Wilcox, Altcom Ltd
It seems that Bampfylde embarked on his life of adventure during his teens, when he ran away from Blundell’s school in Tiverton after an unfortunate hunting incident. Together with friends he had chased a deer for several hours through fields of ripening corn, causing much damage to the crop. The farmers affected complained to the headmaster, and, being reprimanded and threatened, the boys absented themselves from the school.

Making his way to a brick ale-house near Tiverton, Bampfylde then fell in with a band of "gipsies". Historian C Wilkinson, who studied many accounts of Bampfylde’s life, doubts whether the men he joined with really were “gipsies” – more likely they were simply a group of mendicants with no real organisation. But whatever the real nature of his companions, they certainly sent Bampfylde’s life in a new direction.

Bampfylde began travelling widely, first around Devon and then further a-field, supporting himself by playing confidence tricks on the wealthy. His first trick, the pamphlets agree, involved a “Madam Musgrove” of Monkton, who asked for his help in discovering some treasure she believed was hidden on her land. Bampfylde, consulting “the secrets of his arts”, informed her that it was under a laurel tree, but that she should not seek it until a particular day and hour, otherwise she would lose it, and for this he earned 20 guineas!


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