Cruel John Coppinger | A Cornish smuggler who kidnapped his wife and blackmailed his mother in law.

Sound familiar?

I thought I would write a short entry about this infamous smuggler that washed up on the Cornish shores. And if history is correct, then this Dane was a nasty piece of work indeed. In addition to the story, I have added my artwork – an illustration depicting his character and his wife.

Cruel John Coppinger art | pencil
Cruel John Coppinger Artwork

There is a myth and a legend about a pirate and villain called John Coppinger, or as he would come to be known – Cruel John Coppinger.

Coppinger, allegedly washed up on the shores of Cornwall and lived a life crime and brutal violence with his evil deeds being passed down through centuries to come. Whether he was as cruel as reputation owed or actually worse… only the ghosts of his victims will ever know.

Cruel John Coppinger had a fierce and bloody reputation that would keep both the locals and revenue men in fear. As what was then and what can be related to now – was protected by his own terrifying reputation and silence.

So, where did this alleged villain come from?

He arrived by storm and sea

In a violent storm, a ship was wrecked on the Cornish coast, as was often the case, the locals spotted the wreck – and went about claiming its spoils. But they were not alone with the wreckage.

From the broken timbers, a lone figure appeared leapt down from the ruined vessel and waded to our shores.

This man, a tall handsome Dane who spoke the language of the Vikings, snatched a cloak from a frail woman and sat himself upon another local’s horse – this local, would eventually become his wife.

The infamous legend of Cruel John Coppinger began.

The misdeeds of Cruel John Coppinger

The stranger that arrived by sea would quickly earn himself a fearsome and terrible reputation. Coppinger was not averse to using extreme violence and even murder to get what he wanted.

Cat-O-Nine tails

Arguably, morally – one of the worst of his deeds is how he went about extorting money from his recently widowed mother in law.

To get his mother in law to succumb to his demands, he threatened the use of the cat o’ nine tails (a multi-tailed whip) on his own wife unless he was paid a sum from the inheritance money. Yes, he extorted money from his own mother in law by threatening to whip his own wife.


There is little more gruesome and frightening than coming across a severed head on your walk around the coast. It is alleged, that Coppinger and his gang decapitated a Customs Officer and made a show of the gruesome act to keep the revenue men at bay.

A pirate captain?

If folklore and history are anything to go by, this man wasn’t a lovable rogue that would whisk you off your feet and take to someplace far far away – he would be more likely to throw you overboard for the sharks.

Cruel John Coppinger was a leader of a gang of pirates and smugglers that attacked ships in and around the English Channel. He was a notorious pirate and very much not a lovable rogue that lead a band of cutthroats and smugglers but some may have been forced into his dark services through fear of death.

Artwork of Cruel John Coppinger

With all of the above in mind, I wanted to create a piece of artwork that was part of local folklore that was themed around smugglers. It was only as looked closer into the topic that some of these smugglers may have in fact been real, according to historians and knowledge which has been passed down.

The story of this man (or two men, according to history) was both fascinated and awful. I wanted to capture a rendition of a wife that was sadly fearful of the man ( I doubt she was thankful) and was essentially pushed and coerced into marriage.

None will ever know how much or whether this was two-way marriage – but it is said that the local’s horse that he climbed upon once he arrived by sea was this woman.

no one will ever know for certain.

Whether all of the facts are accurate about this smugger I couldn’t say. I can’t see any loving husband or partner willing to flog their partner in order to extort money from their mother in law.

If this was true, he wouldn’t just harm his enemies, but those he apparently loved. If he was capable of love. And even when you are trying to look for the good in character. From the stories I have seen I cannot see anything.

This is the legend of a cruel, brutal tyrant that invaded our shores and abused the locals.

Based on this, I wanted these to profiles pictures to capture the emotion, character, and feelings of the people concerned with the legend or story. | Cruel John Coppinger artwork

The Art

The wife with her cloak pulled tightly around her shoulders for security, not just to shield from the wind. And John himself, a handsome, tall and ruthless character carried to Cornwall by sea.

Cruel John Coppinger Art
Pencil Drawing of John Coppinger

Artwork of Cruel John Coppinger

Thank you for reading this post about Cruel John Coppinger art, if you would like to look at other articles please follow the links below. I would also like to add that if you require a freelance illustrator for your next project feel free to get in touch.

Have a good day – and if you have time one day, why not pay a visit to Cornwall.

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