Dick Turpin: Is the Reddlehag Inspired by a Real Witch?

The fourth episode of Apple TV+’s historical comedy series ‘The Completely Made-Up Adventures of Dick Turpin’ introduces the Reddlehag, a feared witch freed by Dick Turpin without being aware of her viciousness. The Reddlehag then unleashes her powers in front of Turpin’s fellow villagers and even turns the highwayman into a chicken. When a group of villagers, led by the thief’s father John Turpin, sets out to burn her, the witch encourages them since the burning will make her more powerful. Like Turpin is based on a real highwayman, the character of the Reddlehag is also connected to reality!

The Inspiration Behind the Reddlehag

According to Noel Fielding, the lead actor and one of the writers and executive producers of the series, the Reddlehag is based on a real individual who was seemingly alleged to be a witch. “We mined the actual history of Dick Turpin and [changed] just the storylines, really. There was a character called the Reddlehag, which is [the focus of] episode 4, about this witch that terrorizes the village. Sometimes we sort of found these jewels and thought, ‘Oh, we can make a story out of that,’” Fielding told The Daily Beast.

The characters in ‘The Completely Made-Up Adventures of Dick Turpin’ are highly fictionalized, including the protagonist Dick Turpin. It is obvious that no witch turned the highwayman into a chicken and tried to suck the souls of the residents of an English village. The creators Claire Downes, Ian Jarvis, and Stuart Lane, along with writers such as Fielding, tried to find real-life figures or events connected to Turpin or England of the 18th century, in general, to make use of them for comedy. That was how a notorious highwayman became a laughingstock in the show.

Similarly, the Reddlehag can be seen as a fictionalized character based on the women accused of being witches in the 17th or 18th  century. Even though witchcraft accusations and trials waned by the end of the 17th century in the region, similar occurrences did happen during the lifetime of Turpin. In July 1716, over ten years after the birth of the highwayman, Mary Hicks was condemned to death for allegedly making an “impious and wicked” pact with the Devil to cause “torment” and “illness” in her neighbors. The allegation is similar to the Reddlehag’s agreement with the Devil in the series.

The Reddlehag’s narrative was seemingly created with the foundation of these happenings and individuals. To make the narrative more fantastical, Jon Brittain, who penned the episode, integrated elements of magic and witchcraft into the character’s storyline. These additions are undoubtedly intentional. “I just forgot that I’d missed that kind of comedy. I love comedy and I love weird comedy, and I’m sort of interested in these magical, fantastical realms, really,” Fielding told The Independent.

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