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The Merry Pranks and Curious Adventures of Bampfylde-Moore Carew

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Aristocrat, seaman, rat catcher, lunatic, old woman, clergyman--Bampfylde-Moore Carew became King of the Gypsies in 1738 and famed throughout Britain. His memoir survives, but is it actually true? What son of an aristocratic family would throw it away to pretend to be an impoverished vagabond instead? Bampfylde-Moore Carew, most notorious and beloved mumper of the Georgian era who was also called King of the Gypsies. His wit and good humor gave him outrageous personas and disguises that helped him to amass a fortune from simply begging door to door. After wandering for ten years, Carew became famous for pretending to be a different person almost every day. Sometimes he was a clergyman, or a seaman, a rat catcher, a lunatic, or even an old woman. He took his characters from disasters he read about in newspapers. He delighted in using his disguises to beg for money from other aristocrats near his birthplace and later revealing his deceit. Even being caught and sent to America as a prisoner twice didn’t faze him—he simply escaped right back to England. Near the end of his life, Carew joined the Jacobite army of Bonnie Prince Charles, then abandoned the rebels as their cause fell apart. In 1745, he published a popular autobiography, the basis of this intimate and personal tale told by his daughter. Is it true? Maybe he was really a salt salesman. But that would be no fun.

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Get some tea and biscuits, children, then come close to the fire and settle yourselves for an amazing tale. I will start at the beginning, and tell it all. This is a story Grandma wants you to understand and remember. Many tales have been told about Bampfylde Moore Carew, but most people know only part of the story. I will tell you the true story. I know, for I was there. The king of the gypsies was my father.

Papa was a man of many talents who could have chosen any profession and made a success at it, but his head was screwed on another way. He chose instead to become the most famous mumper and scamp in the English speaking world. You know what a mumper is? It means beggar and vagabond. My father was one of the greatest scalawags of all time, and he led a fascinating life full of adventures. Can you believe it? Your sweet grandma’s papa was a trickster and scamp.

Snuggle in here close, and share those blankets. Tonight I will tell you his story. It has ghosts, Indians, costumes, true love, and sailing ships. It even has a secret language! What more could any of us want to talk about on a cold, dark night like this one?

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