Sunday, 27 October 2013

Brigand - Outlaws of the Land

Highwaymen, Robbery, Robbers
Image courtesy of Boston Public Library


Noun & verb. Late Middle English.
[French, from Italian brigante, originally = foot-soldier, use as noun of present participle of brigare: see BRIGADE.]

A1 noun. obsolete. A lightly armed irregular foot-soldier. LME-L18

A2 noun. A bandit or robber, especially one of a band living by pillage and ransom. LME

B verb trans. In passive. Be attacked by brigands. rare. L19

brigandage noun the practice of brigands, banditry, pillage; brigands collectively. E17
brigandish adjective. L19
brigandism noun the life of brigands, brigandage. M19
brigandry noun = brigandism. E20

Like many young boys, while growing up I was fascinated by stories of outlaws, rebels and criminals. Notable favourites included Robin Hood, The Artful Dodger and Long John Silver. There's an undeniable romance in the duality of such outlaws - those that have been wronged by society, or unwillingly forced into their criminal ways, or have otherwise admirable and noble qualities. The word brigand, however, specifically entered my vocabulary from a story in which an adventurer encountered a band of them while travelling through a forest. When held up, the lone hero refused to yield and so the leader, admiring the man's courage and eager to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, challenged him to a dual by sword. The first to draw blood would be the winner: should it be the brigand, then the traveller would hand over his money without further fight, and be it the traveller, the brigands would allow him to continue on his journey unmolested. The book's illustration of a lean, dashing brigand, confidently flourishing his sword is forever etched into my memory, as is the traveller's victory who, after brief but thrilling swordplay, nicked the brigand's shoulder and drew blood. True to his word, the brigand immediately returned his sword to its sheath and stepped forward with a smile to congratulate the daring traveller before inviting him to stay with their camp for the night and eat with them. Such honour! Such derring-do! From that day, the word brigand would always be associated with robbers, yes, but adventurous, daring and noble robbers.

Do you have any favourite brigands, thieves or outlaws?

Do please pilfer a few comments below.


  1. I used to love The Artful Dodger, especially 'Movin too Fast'.
    Just youtubed it. Great song. Rubbish video.

    1. That's *exactly* the Artful Dodger I was thinking of.

    2. I thought so. No one can question your musical taste Ed.

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