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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

And call by the exalted Sclavonian title of Waywode


Besides those in Europe, it is stated by Grellmann that the Gipsies are also scattered over Asia, and are to be found in the centre of Africa. In Europe alone, he supposes (in 1782), their number will amount to between seven and eight hundred thousand. So numerous did they become in France, that the king, in 1545, sixteen years before they were expelled from that kingdom, entertained an idea of embodying four thousand of them, to act as pioneers in taking Boulogne, then in possession of England. It is impossible to ascertain, at the present day, how many Gipsies might be even in a parish; but, taking in the whole world, there must be an immense number in existence.

About the time the Gipsies first appeared in Europe, their chiefs, under the titles of dukes, earls, lords, counts, and knights of Little Egypt, rode up and down the country on horseback, dressed in gay apparel, and attended by a train of ragged and miserable inferiors, having, also, hawks and hounds in their retinue. It appears to me, that the excessive vanity of these chiefs had induced them, in imitation of the customs of civilized society, to assume these high-sounding European titles of honour. I have not observed, on record, any form of government, laws or customs, by which the internal affairs of the tribe, on the Continent, were regulated. On these important points, if I am not mistaken, all the authors, with the exception of Grellmann, who have written on the Gipsies, are silent. Grellmann says of the Hungarian Gipsies: "They still continue the custom among themselves of dignifying certain persons, whom they make heads over them, and call by the exalted Sclavonian title of Waywode. To choose their Waywode, the Gipsies take the opportunity, when a great number of them are assembled in one place, commonly in the open field. The elected person is lifted up three times, amidst the loudest acclamation, and confirmed in his dignity by presents. His wife undergoes the same ceremony. When this solemnity is performed, they separate with great conceit, imagining themselves people of more consequence than electors returning from the choice of an emperor. Every one who is of a family descended from a former Waywode is eligible; but those who are best clothed, not very poor, of large stature, and about the middle age, have generally the preference. The particular distinguishing mark of dignity is a large whip, hanging over the shoulder. His outward deportment, his walk and air, also plainly show his head to be filled with notions of authority." According to the same authority, the Waywode of the Gipsies in Courland is distinguished from the principals of the hordes in other countries, being not only much respected by his own people, but even by the Courland nobility. He is esteemed a man of high rank, and is frequently to be met with at entertainments, and card parties, in the first families, where he is always a welcome guest. His dress is uncommonly rich, in comparison with others of his tribe; generally silk in summer, and constantly velvet in winter.

As a specimen of the manners and ferocious disposition of the German Gipsies, so late as the year 1726, I shall here transcribe a few extracts from an article published in Blackwood's Magazine, for January, 1818. This interesting article is partly an abridged translation, or rather the substance, of a German work on the Gipsies, entitled "A Circumstantial Account of the Famous Egyptian Band of Thieves, and Robbers, and Murderers, whose Leaders were executed at Giessen, by Cord, and Sword, and Wheel, on the 14th and 15th November, 1726, &c." It is edited by Dr. John Benjamin Wiessenburch, an assessor of the criminal tribunal by which these malefactors were condemned, and published at Frankfort and Leipsic, in the year 1727. The translator of this work is Sir Walter Scott, who obligingly offered me the use of his "scraps" on this subject. The following are the details in his own words.


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