Thomas Dun (also spelled Dunne, Dunning and Dunna) was one bad crook.

In the time of Henry I (1068-1135; pictured below), Dun was born in the country of Bedfordshire, England, some 40 miles Northwest of London. From what little is known of his past, it appears Thomas Dun chose a career of crime early.

At first, he took to disguising himself, usually as a cripple or as a beggar, in order to approach a traveller. Then, he callously killed the traveller and took all their belongings.

Occasionally, a witness survived and Dun responded by disguising himself in some fashion until the furor subsided.

One of his more daring crimes, before he took to the woods, was to fall upon a farmer bringing his load of corn to market. He killed the farmer and then drove the horses to Bedford where they were sold.

With his notoriety growing, Dun sought safety in numbers and fled to the local forests joining forces with other robbers. He was soon their leader and no-one was safe to travel.

His favourite "hunting grounds" were the River Ouse in Yorkshire (North England) and the road between St. Albans and Towcester, both of which Dun randomly caroused with his posse of 50 men on horseback.

Henry IThe St. Albans-Towcester road passed through dense forest and was a major commerce route through England. In an attempt to protect these trade routes, Henry I ordered Dun captured and had a way-station built at an approximate midway point, which became known as Dunstable, in acknowledgement of it’s raison d’être. Henry I also encouraged the clearing of the forest, allowing a wide berth on both sides of the road.

There is a legend of Henry I stapling a gold ring to a long pole and placing it under constant guard at a busy intersection of the road, all to bait Dun out into the open. According to the legend, Dun got the ring and thus the town was named Dunstable. Poet John Willis wrote:

"And for that Dunne, before the woods was downe, Had there his haunte, and thence did steale away, The staple and the ringe, thereof the towne, Is called Dunstable until this daye."

Bringing Dun to justice began as a group led by the sheriff closed in on him in the forest. Dun scouted out the party and realizing that they were less in number, and on his turf. He surprised tand routed them, leaving eleven hanging from trees as a warning to others.

Then, in a show of astounding daring, he brought his gang to the closed doors of a nearby castle and asked to be let in in the name of Henry I, in order to search for ... the villain Dun! Once in, he promptly robbed the castle.

Finally, Dun’s daring got the better of him. When he was told of a man in Dunstable who was organizing another search-and-apprehend party, Dun rode right into Dunstable to confront the man. This brought out the sheriff and his force. Surprised, Dun and his men not only had to race away, but in the chaos, they were separated into small groups.

Dun, alone, came upon a small village and took lodging for the night but he was discovered and the house surrounded was quietly surrounded.

Twenty years of crime brought everyone within riding distance to the fight, against which Dun stood alone. He rode and fought his way through the crowd and jumped into the nearby river, swimming to exhaustion all the while harassed by the crowds of some 300 men in hot pursuit on both banks of the river.

Dun was only subdued when he was knocked cold by blows to the head. Next, a trip to the local doctor where he was patched up and sent to prison to recover.

But Dun’s comeuppance did not beget a trial. Everybody knew him and all had suffered at his hand. Two weeks after his arrest, he was brought to a quickly constructed platform in Bedford, with two executioners in wait. Dun barked at them to stay away but he was tackled and after a long struggle, with the population cheering on, Dun was restrained and the barbaric punishment of death by piecemeal administered.

Medieval England was not known for humane punishment but death by piecemeal ranks as the most barbaric. It is no wonder that criminals such as Dun would issue from within a society capable of such state-sanctioned cruelty. The Newgate Calendar describes Dun’s last moments:

"(Dun) finds his strength diminish and that he cannot, in spite of himself, defend himself any longer. He yields and the executioners chop off his hands at the wrists, then cut off his arms at the elbows, and all above next within an inch or two of his shoulders. Next his feet were cut off beneath the ankles, his legs chopped off at the knees and his thighs cut off five inches from his trunk which, after severing his head from it, was burnt to ashes."

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