Being A Robber Baron

If you want to pursue a career as a robber baron, the very first step you need to take is to establish your baronetcy. You need to ensure that it has at least a patina of legitimacy, for you do not want nay-sayers and busybodies calling it into question. Youngsters who seek my advice are often surprised that wearing a burnished golden helmet while sitting astride a mighty steed is not, in itself, sufficient claim to be a baron. Of course, it is essential to have such a helmet and such a horse, no self-respecting robber baron could expect to go about his baronial robberies without them, but I’m afraid the drudgery of paperwork has to take precedence.

You can pluck the name of your baronetcy out of the air, much as you might invent the name of a monster in a bedtime story for tinies, but if possible it is best to take on the appellation of a genuine baronetcy, one that has fallen into desuetude where the last baron died hundreds of years ago without issue. Many barons fell in battle in far distant lands, so a good start would be to check up on the manifests of ruinous military expeditions. Obviously, whenever a baron fell on the open battlefield, he was almost certainly unhorsed, so that serves as a reminder to you to choose your steed well, when we come to the prickly topic of steed choosing.

Once you have picked an extinct baronetcy to revive, you will need a coat of arms. Don’t fuddle your head too much with all those heraldry words like azure and gules and rampant and argent and couchant, just make sure you have something that pleases you and that will look good emblazoned on the shields carried proudly by your masked outriders. You might be able simply to appropriate the actual coat of arms of the dead baron you have supplanted, but to do so risks alerting the busybodies and you might be faced with hard questions you will be in no position to answer. In any case, nothing could be easier than designing a coat of arms, it really is child’s play. You can even hire an orphan from Pang Hill to do the job for you.

With your baronetcy secure(ish) and a spindly orphan beavering away at your coat of arms, the time has come to obtain a mighty steed. I cannot emphasise enough just how important this is. Without a suitable horse, all else is as naught. At this point, up goes the cry “But where do I find a horse?” Well, in my bailiwick, horses are usually to be found standing in fields or, if the weather is inclement, in what are known as paddocks. What you need to do is to wait until nightfall, when their human guards will all be tucked up in bed, and creep stealthily to a field or paddock armed with a torch and a bag of buns. You will use the torch to examine, in the engulfing darkness, such features of your prospective horse as its mane, fetlocks, and withers. Look closely at its musculature. Remember that the horse you choose will be galloping across the land with you astride its back for many years to come. When you have picked a suitable steed, lay a trail of buns from the field or paddock to the gates of your castle. Nearly all horses find buns irresistible and, depending on how far the field or paddock is from your castle, your mighty steed should be safe in its new home by break of dawn. It is good practice at this point to pop down to the cellar to check up on the orphan.

You are now nearly ready to go marauding and to strike terror into the countryfolk for miles around. But remember that earlier I mentioned your masked outriders. You will need these accomplices, partly for emotional and psychological support, but mainly to help you carry back to your baronial castle the booty from your robberies. Opinions differ on how many masked outriders a robber baron needs, but as a rule of thumb two would be an absolute minimum, and four or five are preferable. The more masked outriders you have, the more saddlebags can be filled with clinking glistening baubles and coinage. When you have decided on the number, you can get the orphan to make the masks, once the coat of arms is finished. Very occasionally, masked outriders will work on a freelance basis, but it is far more common for them to “live in” at your castle, and they will expect a share of the booty. Just be on your guard that none among their number gets uppity and plots to usurp you from your baronetcy. Such things have happened, of course, so always be prepared to offer small bribes (leftover buns from the bag used to abduct your horse, for example) or, in an extremity, chop the would-be usurper to bits with a broadsword. You should have a collection of these lethal blades displayed upon the wall of the main hall of your baronial castle. Get the orphan to polish and buff them regularly.

With the bulk of your preparatory work done, all that remains is for you to set out on your first robbery. It is at this stage that many a neophyte has moral qualms. If, until now, you have been a law-abiding sort, conscientious when it comes to paying your bus fare and never dropping litter, you may get a bit jittery at the prospect of robbing people. That is why you should begin by robbing another baron. Later on, with some experience under your belt, you will be able to waylay little bands of peasants and take away all their potatoes as you cackle with evil glee, but to get you started there is nothing like another baron, preferably a robber baron like you are setting out to be. So how do you go about it?

First, gather your masked outriders around the table in your baronial hall. They do not need to be wearing their masks just yet, and you will be able to judge their readiness for the task ahead by studying their faces in the light of the flames roaring from the magnificent fireplace. Have the orphan posted there, regularly feeding more logs on to the blaze. Each outrider should have been provided with a goblet brimming with a frothy alcoholic potion, gigantic flagons of which are arrayed on a sideboard for whenever a refill is needed. Let them carouse and wassail for a little while to pep them up. Then spread out a big map on the table. This map should show nearby baronial halls with tracks and pathways leading to and from them. You will have made a careful study of the comings and goings of other barons, and thus be in a position to know when one of them will be cantering gently along a woodland path astride his own mighty steed, possibly on his way to an assignation with a comely damsel. Use a crayon to mark the likely spot for an ambuscade on the map, and ensure that each of your masked outriders knows how to get there. Clash your goblets together as a mark of camaraderie, stamp out of the hall with great determined strides, and make a final check that everyone has empty saddlebags ready to be filled with booty. Now is the time to set your horses a-galloping and to crash through the trees towards the unsuspecting baron.

Do bear in mind that your victim may have his own masked outriders, and indeed that the gentle cantering of his steed can be deceptive. If he is not just a plain baron but a robber baron, he may be setting out to rob someone himself. That is why you and your masked outriders are armed to the teeth with the various polished and buffed swords from your baronial hall. In order to fill your saddlebags with booty, you may have to slash and thrust at the baron and his masked outriders until they are reduced to a pile of corpses on the woodland path, their blood and gore gleaming in the dappled sunlight shining through the trees. If this is the case, it is worthwhile stripping them of their armour and adding that to your booty. You can take their horses, too, either by pulling them along on a length of string, or by laying a trail of buns back to your castle.

However, it is a perturbing fact that, this being your first baronial robbery, you and your masked outriders may well come off worse in any slashing and thrusting of lethal blades. If you are worried that it will be your blood and gore gleaming in the dappling sunlight, and your mighty steed which follows a trail of buns back to another robber baron’s castle, you may want to reconsider whether you are making the right career choice. You may decide you are better suited to being a postie, or a scrivener, or the Member of Parliament for Sheffield Brightside.

3 thoughts on “Being A Robber Baron

  1. The Trefflyggon baronetcy was dormant for 150 years then extinct for another 50 before my late uncle found the title deed at a car boot sale in Altrincham, Minnesota, USA.
    He applied for the Warrant of Rejoinder attached to the bottom of the parchment, it was a simple matter to fill out the appropriate fields, tear along the perforated line and mail it to The Standing Council of the Baronetage.
    By return of post he became the 9th Baronet. He died without issue and the Baronetcy came to me. We now have both a coat of arms and trousers of legs.
    Trefflyggon of Castle Trefflyggon

  2. Dear Mr. Key.
    Ever since I was a small tot, crawling around gleefully in a muddy patch, stuffing my mouth with flies and other invertebrate animals, I have had a dream of becoming a successful robber baron. One who strike fear in peasants and royalty alike. A sort of egocentric, megalomaniac and unscrupulous version of that fictional character who go about stealing baubles and trinkets from the rich, only to foolishly hand it over to the poor, who no doubt spend it all on gambling and fermented vegetable juice. Happy I was then to find your short, but comprehensive step-by-step guide to being a robber baron. Until now I have been at a loss as to how I should go about to become one such robber baron. I did try, but needless to say I belonged among those whippersnappers who imagine it is sufficient to prance around wearing a burnished golden helmet while speaking in a booming voice onto those who would happen to pass by. That did me no good, and I feared an imminent return to the muddy patch of my youth, but now merely as a low-spirited husk of a man, with the dream of my life shattered into minuscule particles.

    Luckily I read your career advice section here at the Hooting Yard, and boy, oh boy, did I find answers. Now I have my masked marauders, an extinct baronetsy stolen from oblivion and a castle. Why, yes, I have even used buns to lure a steed back to my castle, so to further aid my not-so honest, but highly self-realising work. It is an abominably mighty steed, with six legs and flaring nostrils. I obtained it from the nearby research facility of a shady international organisation, whose name I will do good to omit for the sake of my own future, should I want it to continue being bottomless pit-free. The one thing that now stands between me and a highly promising career as a robber baron, is the hassle of obtaining the mentioned spindly orphan. I say hassle, because there seems to be some sort of orphan-draught in my local community. I can not for the life of me seem to be able to acquire one. And now I am on the brink of utter despair and defeat. For soon I shall be forced to go back to my muddy patch and to the eating of fat flies et alia. All due to the lack of a steady income of booty. Not to mention what the masked marauders will do once they get wind of my career development, or rather the lack thereof. My question then, is this: Is it absolutely necessary with the orphan? Can I hope to become a proper robber baron without it? From the lack of success I have had so far, I am almost positive that it will not do without. So then, what is the best way to go about procuring one, if there are no such thing as orphans in the neighbouring villages and towns?

    Yours Sincerely Desperately

    PS. Thanks for an excellent radio programme and an immense amount of enjoyable written material. I am really looking forward to letting my eyes stare intensely at those tiny squiggly things on the pages of your newest literary publication.

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