A miscreant is literally one who does not believe in God. but by the end of the sixteenth century the word had already taken on the more general sense of ‘wretch, villain’. When Vernon and Basset quarrel, in Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth Part One (3:iv), Basset calls Vernon ‘Villairi and says: ‘I’ll unto his Majesty and crave I may have liberty to avenge this wrong.’ Vernon replies: ‘Well, miscreant, I’ll be there as soon as you.’ Later in the same play (5:iii) the Duke of York tells Joan of Arc: ‘Curse, miscreant, when thou comest to the stake.’ In King Lear (l:i) the king calls the Earl of Kent ‘Vassal! Miscreant!’ By the nineteenth century the word was becoming rare, and was perhaps no longer taken seriously. The Newcomes, by William Thackeray, has one military man say to another: ‘So will you, too, Butts, you old miscreant, repent of your sins, pay your debts, and do something handsome for that poor deluded milliner in Albany Street’

A dictionary of epithets and terms of address . . 2015.

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