Edward Boswell, "King of the Gypsies" (d.1689)

Edward Boswell in Winslow church

A man named Edward Boswell or Baswell was buried in the chancel of Winslow church on 1 September 1689. There was a local tradition that he was "King of the Gypsies", and his marble monument in the chancel floor was evidently something of a curiosity. It was somewhere beyond the gate in the photo below. It disappeared without much comment when the church was restored in 1884. The sources below show how the tradition developed. It is first recorded 100 years after the burial.

Interior of church looking towards chancel

Winslow parish register
Buried on 1 Sep 1689: Edward Boswell.

Winslow churchwardens' accounts, 1689 (read more)
Sept(ember) 2th 1689. A forfiture of 50s distributed to ye Poor of ye P[arish of] Winslow in Com. Bucks by ye Min(ister) Ch(urch) Wardens & Ove[rseers] of ye Poor being ye penalty of ye Act for burying in Woo[l] at ye Funrall of Edw. Boswell, &c.
[This was a payment made by the families of better-off people who preferred to be buried in linen.]

Browne Willis, description of Winslow church c.1735 (read more)
On an ordinary Stone in the Chancel, set at Top with a small marble in Lozenge is this Inscription: Here lyeth the Body of Mr. Edward Baswell: Gent, who departed this Life Aug: 30 1689.  

The Topographer for the year 1789 (London), vol.1, pp.452-3
In the chancel, under a flat stone. "Here lieth the body of Edward Baswell, Gentleman, who died August 30, 1689." N.B. The Sexton of the parish, told us that it is a tradition in the parish that he was king of the beggars.

George Lipscomb, description of Winslow church, 1840s (read more)
On the North side of the Chancel on a slap [sic] in the pavement: “Here lieth the body of Edw. Baswell Gent who departed this life Aug(us)t ye 30 1689.
There is a popular tradition that he was King of the Gipsies.

James Joseph Sheahan, History and Topography of Buckinghamshire (1862) (read more)
In the floor of the chancel on a diamond-shaped stone, inserted in a large flag is this inscription :- "Here lyeth the bodye of Edward Baswell, gent., who departed this life August ye 30th,. 1689." There is a local tradition that this Mr. Baswell was the King of the Gipsies.

Arthur Clear, A Thousand Years of Winslow Life (1888) (read more)
In the floor of the Chancel was a massive flag stone, in which was inserted a diamond shaped piece of black marble, bearing this inscription "Here lyeth the body of Edward Baswell, Gent, who departed this life August ye 30th 1689." (There is a very prevalent local tradition that he was king of the gipsies.) This is now missing.

There are two questions: who was Edward Boswell, and how did he come to be identified as "King of the Gypsies"? He does not occur in any other Winslow records. Someone with his name is found in lists of jurors for the Bucks Quarter Sessions at Easter 1680, Easter 1681, Christmas 1684 and Easter 1688, but no place of residence is given. The surname was common at Olney and Lavendon, and an Edmund Boswell of Olney, yeoman, had his will proved in 1688, but there is no mention of Winslow in it (CBS, D-A/Wf/54/165).

Burial in the chancel was a privilege normally reserved for the clergy and the connections of the lord of the manor. In 1689 the lord of the manor of Winslow was Nicholas Goodwin of Hammersmith, who had acquired it from the Duke of Buckingham's estate in lieu of money due to him for work done for the Duke at Cliveden. The most likely explanation, until more information comes to light, is that Edward Boswell had a link to Nicholas Goodwin, through whom he was allowed to be buried in the chancel even though he had no other connection to Winslow. It seems unlikely that he was a Gypsy, but it's possible: it was a widespread Gypsy surname, his friends could have paid Goodwin's local representative for use of the chancel, and there's a comparable case. At Wroot in Yorkshire, the Diary of Abraham de la Pryme for May 1698 (Surtees Society 50, pp.182-83) records "a famous king of the gipsys, that's call'd Mr [Charles] Bosvill, a mad spark, that, haveing an estate about two hundred per annum, yet runs about"; he was buried in the chancel at Rossington near Doncaster in 1709. This grave became a place of Gypsy pilgrimage, which is not known to have been the case for the Winslow burial.

Another explanation for why this Edward Boswell came to be remembered as "King of the Gypsies" has been suggested by Richard Edmunds, The Early Romany Boswells, A Family History 1650-1810, p.15: he was confused with another Edward Boswell who really was known as King of the Gypsies.

Edward Boswell, executed 1741

Aylesbury parish register, March 1740/41:
Edward Bozwell a stroling gypsy, and calld the King of the Gypsey's, was executed on Fryday the 20 of March for Horse stealing.
Tynnimore [or Fynnimore] Smyth a Gipsey was executed the 20 of March for horse stealing
Edward Smyth was executed the 20 of March for robbing on the highway

Stone partly hidden by grassThis is cited correctly on the Capital Punishment UK website (read more). It is slightly misquoted by Robert Gibbs, A History of Aylesbury, p.358, who gives the year as 1739/40 (this is the ultimate source for the 1740 date in David Cressy, Gypsies: An English History (OUP, 2018), p.123). Elsewhere the date of Edward Boswell's execution has been given as 1641, and various additional details have accrued, because this Edward Boswell has come to be associated with a stone in Carter's Lane, Quainton (on the parish boundary with Pitchcott and North Marston) bearing the date 1641 (the photo on the right was taken by Sue Lasner in June 2023). However, written evidence for the association doesn't go back very far. The only claims for there being anything legible on the stone apart from the year appear to be relatively recent, although the "Gypsy King" tradition is a long-standing one.

The Gypsy Stone in Carter's Lane

C. Lamborn in Records of Bucks 2.7 (1862) p.289
Another [gypsy grave] is in Carter-lane, near Quainton, by the road-side, and marked by an upright stone with the date 1641 rudely cut, and underneath some letters much defaced, which tradition affirms is the spot where the remains of a gipsy king has been interred.

Bucks Herald,
27 Sep 1890: Topical Notes by "Sigma"
... In Carter-lane, near Quainton, there was - and I daresay it is still there - a stone lying in the ditch, marking the burial place of a gipsy king, and having upon one side the date 1641, and on the other some letters rudely carved. ...
Buckingham Advertiser, 21 Sep 1907: report on army manoeuvres around Pitchcott
A short distance in the rear is deep-set, bosky Carter Lane, where [Dick Turpin] stole alone to get upon the Great North Road, which leads to Birmingham, and it is in that same lane lies the tomb of the noted gipsy king who was buried in 1641.
Bucks Herald, 10 Oct 1925: Topical Notes by "Vale of Aylesbury"
And in the middle of this [Carter's] lane, on the western side, beneath an elm, is the stone which is always called the grave of the Gipsy King. It is 36 inches high, 21 inches wide, and about 9½ inches thick, made of a very fossiliferous oolite which has weathered badly, and made illegible the inscription which it once bore. Ignoring some recently scratched figures in the upper part there seem to be some figures about two-thirds of the way down which look like 1616; beneath them are letters, but they hardly admit of a guess as to their identity. I have found no mention of this stone anywhere; Lipscomb, himself a native of Quainton, gives a very full account of the parish, but does not mention the stone. More surprising still the excellent little pamphlet by the late T.J. Parker in 1915 ("Quainton Fifty Years Ago,") does not mention it.
Bucks Advertiser, 9 Aug 1935
... the Broadcast talk on Gypsy Customs when Gypsy Petalingro mentioned the burial place of a gypsy in the open country, which he said was marked by a stone in Carter's-lane, Denham, Bucks ... [after some confusion this was identified as Denham in Quainton not Denham in South Bucks] ... if one leaves the Waddesdon Manor station and walks towards Oving, instead of turning down the road on the left to Quainton, continue to the next turning, which is Carter's-lane, and the gravestone is in the hedge some distance along on the left ...
Bucks Herald, 18 Sep 1936 quotes Rev. P.F.L. Cautley, rector of Quainton, writing in Quainton Parish Magazine about Carter's Lane
Everybody knows the gipsy's tombstone, which our contemporaries, as boys, used to visit with a certain amount of awe. Not long since, lane and tombstone were referred to by a speaker on the wireless. A reputed king of the gipsies was buried here, and within living memory it was a place of pilgrimage, scores of gipsies putting in an appearance. The date on the stone is clear-cut - 1641...

Mr Cautley is also quoted in Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society ser.3 vol.3 (1924), p.73
'The stone,' says Mr. Cautley, 'has recently been raised from the ditch, and placed in a more conspicuous position. It bears on the top the date 1641, the 4 being reversed as is often the case in old figuring; but I could discover no letters on the back, and never remember seeing any during the thirty-three years I have known the stone. On the front, however, I should say there have been some, though I cannot be sure.'
Alison Uttley, Buckinghamshire (1950)
... In the ditch among the wild flowers and nettles there stands a large, rough-hewn block of stone, fashioned like a monument, which is said to be the gravestone of the King of the Gipsies who was buried here centuries ago. Scratched deeply in its face is the date 1641. The figure 4 is reversed, in the way a child or illiterate person writes it. This stone lay in the ditch for many years, known to the country people who always called it the Gipsy's Grave. Recently it has been set upright by the road. ...

Records of Bucks 32 (1990): Archaeological Notes: Quainton, SP 7838 2067
Attention was drawn by the Rev. M. Eyden to the 'King of the Gypsies' stone still visible in Carters Lane, and locally thought to mark a burial of c.1851.
Gordon Rodwell of Quainton, quoted in The North Marston Story (2014), p.393
... At the side of Carters Lane, formerly Gypsy Lane, on the eastern boundary of Quainton parish, is a stone reputed to be that of a gypsy king. It bore a carved crown and an inscription which is now illegible but on old photographs clearly shows the date of burial to be 25 March 1641. ...
Extract from Bucks Herald (1992) on p.394:
... when Mr Rodwell recently went through some old parish papers [not so far identified] he discovered a mention of [the stone] in 1705 ...
Mr Rodwell and Michael Finnemore put the stone into its present position after it had fallen into the ditch. The old photographs haven't yet been located.
Buckinghamshire Heritage Portal (click on the link to see photos, where "1641" is clearly legible)
Seventeenth century gravestone, possibly moved from its original position where it marked the grave of the King of the Gypsies.

The "1641" on the stone can have nothing to do with the Edward Boswell who was executed in 1741. The stone itself appears to be of local origin. Perhaps it previously had a completely different use, which the apparent reference to it found by Mr Rodwell would suggest. It could have been re-purposed (and moved) in 1741 to mark Edward Boswell's grave, or the association between the stone and Boswell (rather than an unspecified Gypsy King) could be a modern one.

With thanks to Andrew Kemp, Sue Lasner, John Spargo and Dianne Sutton.

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Copyright 27 August, 2023