This is a beast that was often talked about in the 16th and 17th century – a faceless, formless mass of the underclass of humanity, threatening but never individually named. It seems it was made up of ‘masterless men’ in a world where everyone was supposed to be settled somewhere, so was either a master or subject to one. Some of these were unfortunates who had lost their businesses, or who lived beyond the parish boundaries, scraping a living or travelling for work. Many of them were in London, where there was the most casual work, most access to charity, and also the means of becoming criminals. Post Reformation chaos meant that such creatures thrived, and long before police forces, there was little anyone could do about them.
Because they had their uses. They were apolitical, so could be hired to cause trouble. The London mob was used by Presbyterians against the army in 1647, by Royalists in 1660 and by church and king under Queen Anne. It was, in the prescient words [scribbled in the margin of] the Geneva Bible, ‘to be hired for every man’s money to do any mischief.’