In January 1786, in a small rural Lincolnshire village, an elderly gypsy died. Cornelius Blewitt was no ordinary gypsy though, he was a King of the Gypsies, and he was still remembered at the dawn of the 19th century. We think it is fitting that he is remembered once again now.
Cornelius was possibly born at Rochdale in Lancashire, baptized shortly afterwards at Davenham in Cheshire on the 26th February 1721, the son of Eliza Bluet, ‘a travailer‘ although at a baptism of one of his children he and his wife Phillis Boswell were described as being of Woolstone near Newport Pagnell in Buckinghamshire. Wherever he started his days he ended them at Thurlby-by-Bourne in southern Lincolnshire, where he was buried on the 7th January 1786, the burial register stating his age as 66 years.
St Firmin’s Church, Thurlby-by-Bourne
Another gypsy also lies in the churchyard at Thurlby-by-Bourne, a girl named Lucia, daughter of Parcenos and Mary Bluet from Kentford in Suffolk who was buried there in 1754.
On December 19th, 1799, the Oracle and Daily Advertiser newspaper published the following article.
THE COUNTRY CHURCH YARD
“Ha! ha! My Friend!” said EUGENIO, interrupting me, “the wings of thy fancy have borne thee again into the Regions of Delusion – as far from the point as Morality from a canting Face. CORNELIUS BLEWITT was a Gypsy.
“And yet, perhaps, you have rather undervalued, than exalted, his importance; for with the alteration of no single circumstance, except the change of scene, from fertile England to the Desert of Arabia, the dust we now despise might, during Life, have been entitled to its seraglio of Beauties, and its guard of Eunuchs; and have ordered the Heads of a hundred Captives to be struck off, to appease his capricious spleen, whenever a tempestuous wind prevented an excursion of Plunder, or a cruel Fair one had neglected the mandate of his love.
Take Physic, Pomp! Ambition check thy rashness. PULTOWA’S loss sunk SWEDEN’S Madman nearly to this level, though BENDER trembled at his shattered greatness; and an unfortunate day on the Banks of the Ganges might have rendered the mighty Son of PHILIP (like him whose mouldering bones we are moralizing upon) the Monarch only of a wandering Tribe of Robbers, as much despised, though I fear, not so little detested, as CORNELIUS BLEWITT.
In short, CORNELIUS, was King of the Gypsies: and was used, every year, attended by his Royal Family, and Officers of State, to visit this Village. He kept his Court at the House of that same honest, grey-headed Farmer, or Publican, where we have left our Horses; and in that very parlour where we enjoyed our tankard of excellent Home brewed, was erected his rustic Throne.
I met the Wanderers there in one of my former excursions: nor ever beheld I a set of merrier, or, apparently, more harmless Beings. And, believe me, the venerable Majesty of CORNELIUS, the despotic Ruler of the mysterious Counsellors of Fate, was regarded with no little reverence by the Country Maidens. Nay, and what will surprise you, his arrival was hailed with no small degree of pleasure by the whole Village; for CORNELIUS and his Subjects spent their money liberally, and paid with punctuality; and it is an invariable rule with these people never to rob in the neighbourhood of their settled Haunts.
But the Majestic Nod and Imperial Frown Death values not. KING CORNELIUS sleeps in the humble Grave, and the Five Bells at Thurlby is no longer a Royal Residence. The Palace and the Empire have shared one common Revolution; though the latter, it seems, has been considerably the greater loser by the change, for not only the Family, but the Nation of our Hero is reported considerably to have declined from its splendour, since it has been deprived of his wise Administration.
A solemn deputation is, however, annually, sent to visit the venerated Tomb, to pay it, as is supposed, some mysterious honours, and to keep it in constant repair, a practice which would do honour to more regular Societies; and the neglect of which is a disgrace to the surviving relatives of departed Grandeur; for what can be more ridiculous or irreverent, than, after immense sums have been expended on Sepulchral Monuments to let them moulder away in neglect, and mingle with that dust they were designed to immortalize!
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