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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Devon

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Myths and Legends
King of the Beggars

Master of disguise

Bampfylde in various disguises
Popular representations of Bampfylde showed him in many cunning disguises!
By all accounts Bampfylde was a master of disguise, masquerading as everything from a shipwrecked sailor to a fervent clergyman. One pamphlet describes how he managed to extort money from the same man, “Squire Portman”, twice in one day, first pretending to be a rat-catcher and then a grandmother whose daughter had been killed in a fire.

Not surprisingly, it is hard to disentangle fact from fiction in the published accounts of Bampfylde’s life, and some of these stories must be exaggerated. Goadby and Owen, the publishers of the second edition, certainly changed the story somewhat, adding in superfluous information and political opinions which perhaps distort our image of Bampfylde. But we have little else to go on, and the pamphlets were certainly accurate in some respects, like the circumstances of Bampfylde’s death, which they reported correctly.

Man falling from horse
Bampfylde became embroiled in many adventures!
The pamphlets vary as to which aspects of Bampfylde’s life they give prominence. Some focus on his relationship with the “gipsies”, of whom he was allegedly elected king, whilst others spend more time on his travels. He is said to have travelled in Europe, and at one point was transported to America.

Eventually, however, it seems Bampfylde settled down, returning to Bickleigh at the end of his life after an offer of support from his family. Some accounts suggest that he then reflected with sadness on how “idly” he had spent his life, but this sounds out of character, and is probably just a moral ending tagged on to the end of the story. Bampfylde died in 1759 leaving behind a daughter, and is said to be buried in an unmarked grave at Bickleigh.

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