From William Shakespeare to King Henry VIII, this history of the UK is brimming with colourful characters and incredible stories. Inevitably, then, we’ve had our fair share of historical figures, both heroic and infamous, that have found themselves on the wrong side of the law.
These famous outlaws have captured the imagination of people around the world for generations. Their deeds have been retold time after time, each time offering a new perspective on the story. Whether they were fighting for freedom or simply to line their own pockets, their history will likely be known for generations to come.
Let’s explore some of Britain’s most famous outlaws.
This world-famous character is unique on this list for a particular reason – nobody is quite sure whether he was real or not! There’s certainly a lot of speculation about the existence of this legendary outlaw who robbed from the rich to give to the poor.
Historians have disproven many theories, yet many more persist, including the argument that Robin Hood was actually a general term for bandits in the 13th century. Whatever the truth is, the legend of Robin Hood is bound to persist for a long time to come.
This Scottish hero was brought into the international spotlight by Mel Gibson’s iconic movie Braveheart. The reality of Wallace’s life is no less heroic and tragic, however. He fought for Scottish independence against the British and won a dramatic military victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 against a vastly superior English force.
Eventually, however, he was turned over to the English by a Scottish knight loyal to the English crown and was hung, drawn and quartered in London.
Throughout history, the stories of famous outlaws have been altered to fit the political climate of the era. According to criminal ‘historians’ at the time, Thomas Dun was a thug that murdered a farmer and his horses before moving to York to accost travellers along the river Ouse.
The reality of his life, however, may be far more interesting. Modern historians believe he may have fought alongside Robert the Bruce in the Scottish war for independence and later became a state-backed pirate plundering French and Spanish ships.
Known around the world simply as ‘Blackbeard’, Teach was an English pirate that operated around the coast of England’s North American colonies. He was one of the most fearsome and renowned pirates ever to sail under the black flag and at one point had a small fleet of three pirate ships at his disposal.
Unlike the popular depictions of pirates as barbarians, these outlaws actually had an ambivalent relationship with authorities. They often skirted the line between pirate and privateer, with the Crown regularly offering pardons for their more devious crimes in times of war.
Richard ‘Dick’ Turpin
Otherwise known as Dick Turpin, this famous highwayman actually made most of his fortune from poaching and stealing horses. Whilst much of his life has been romanticized by Victorian novelists, Turpin was very much a real historical figure who snubbed the law to live life on the edge. He was a member of the famous Essex Gang who terrorised highways from London to York. However, we don’t know how dashing he was in real life; you’ll just have to use your imagination.
To discover more of the UK’s fascinating history, make sure you check out our great range of London tours. You’ll discover the secret stories behind the cities most famous locations, with narration from our expert guides.