This cun­ning lady can’t sweet-talk the hang­man!


Mary Young didn’t just in­spire the char­ac­ter of pick­pocket

Jenny Diver in John Gay’s The Beg­gar’s Opera (1728), she gave Diver her mem­o­rable nick­name too.

Born in poverty, Mary left her na­tive Ire­land to come to Eng­land and make her for­tune. In­tel­li­gent, cun­ning and beau­ti­ful, she joined a pick­pock­et­ing gang as Jenny Diver.

Jenny’s method was sim­ple. She used her smarts, beauty and el­e­gant wardrobe to mix with the wealthy and then feign a swoon. As peo­ple rushed to help, she dipped into their pock­ets and cleaned them out. She even used fake hands to leave her own free to steal!

When the law caught up with her and she was trans­ported to Vir­ginia, Jenny bribed the gov­er­nor to send her home, but her charms failed her when she was ar­rested in 1741. Though she claimed to be preg­nant, she was sen­tenced to death. She went to the gal­lows in a pri­vate car­riage, dressed in a rich gown of mourn­ing black.

A per­for­mance of The Beg­gar’s Opera, which fea­tured a char­ac­ter in­spired by Jenny Diver

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