Green’s Dictionary of Slang

ruffler n.

also ruffeler, rufflar, rufler
[SE ruffle it, to swagger; it is linked to the idea of a bird ruffling up its feathers; cits. 1818, 1834 are conscious archaisms]

(UK Und.) a villain, of the ‘first rank of canters’, who posed as a discharged soldier (and might indeed have been one, though equally likely might have been a former servant), but actually worked as an itinerant; thus ruffling adj.

[UK]R. Copland Hye way to the Spyttel House Di: Rufflers and masterles men that cannot werke / And slepeth by day, and walketh in the derke [...] Swerynge and crakynge an easy lyfe to lede.
[UK]Awdeley Fraternitye of Vacabondes in Viles & Furnivall (1907) 3: A Ruffeler goeth wyth a weapon to seeke seruice, saying he hath bene a Seruitor in the wars, and beggeth for his reliefe. But his chiefest trade is to robbe poore wayfaring men and market women.
[UK]Harman Caveat for Common Cursetours in Viles & Furnivall (1907) 29: The Rufflar [...] is first in degree of thos odious order [...] eyther he hath serued in the warres, or els he hath bene a seruinge man; and, weary of well doing, shakinge.
[UK]J. Whetstone Promos and Cassandra I I ii: Yong Ruflers maintaines thee, defends thee and thine.
[UK]Cobbler of Canterbury (1976) 4: Epistle: A Cobler become a corrector! ho, ho, ho: it was not so when Robin-Goodfellow was a Ruffler, and helpt the country wenches to grinde their malte.
[UK]Dekker Belman of London (3rd edn) C4: A Ruffler after a yeare or two, takes state vpon, and becomes an Vpright-man (but not an honest man).
[UK]Middleton & Dekker Roaring Girle V i: Ruffling Tearcat is my name, and a ruffler is my style, my title, my profession.
[UK]Long Meg of Westminster 41: If any Ruffler came in, and made an alehouse brawl. [Ibid.] 45: You have been counted a lewd woman, a swearer, a ruffler, a fighter, and a brawler.
[UK]Tom Nash his Ghost [title page] To the three scurvy Fellowes of the upstart Family of the Snufflers, Rufflers and Shufflers.
[UK]R. Brathwait Honest Ghost 94: Look to your Brain-pans, Boyes – here comes a Traine of Roysting Rufflers that are knaves in the graine.
[UK]W. Winstanley New Help To Discourse 131: Rufflers are such as go under the pretence of maimed soldiers, robbing country people that come late from Markets, exacting also tribute of the other inferior sort of Rogues.
[Ire]Head Canting Academy (2nd edn) 41: A Ruffler ever goes under the pretence of a maimed Soldier; if he stroles the Country, he lets not a Gentlemans house escape.
[UK]R. Holme Academy of Armory Ch. iii item 68b: Give me leave to give you the names (as in their Canting Language they call themselves) of all (or most of such) as follow the Vagabond Trade, according to their Regiments or Divisions, as [...] Ruffelers, Rogues in the highest degree. [...] Ruffler, a brave strong Rogue.
[UK]R. L’Estrange Erasmus Colloquies 139: A Ruffling Hector that lives upon the High way.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Rufflers c. the first Rank of Canters; also notorious Rogues.
[UK] in D’Urfey Pills to Purge Melancholy IV 196: In our Country, and in your Country, / Where Rufflers they were a raking.
[UK]New Canting Dict. n.p.: rufflers the Second Rank of Canters; Notorious Rogues, who, under Pretence of being maimed Soldiers or Seamen, implore the Charity of well-disposed Persons, and fail not to watch Opportunities either to steal, break open Houses, or even commit Murder; as their own Safety, or the Security of their Plunder, requires.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. 1725].
[UK]Canting Academy, or the Pedlar’s-French Dict. 114: A stout Rogue A Ruffler.
[UK]B.M. Carew ‘The Oath of the Canting Crew’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 50: No strange Abram, ruffler crack, / Hooker of another pack.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Rufflers, The first rank of canters; also notorious rogues pretending to be maimed soldiers or sailors.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum [as cit. 1785].
[Scot]W. Scott Heart of Mid-Lothian (1883) 260: Deil a gude fellow that has been but twelvemonth on the lay, be he ruffler or padder, but he knows my gybe as well as the jark of e’er a queer cuffin in England – and there’s rogue’s Latin for you.
[UK]Lytton Pelham III 283: In less than three months he would engage to make me as complete a ruffler as ever nailed a swell.
[UK](con. 1737–9) W.H. Ainsworth Rookwood (1857) 168: ‘I believe ye,’ said the ruffler, stroking his chin.
[Aus]G.C. Mundy Our Antipodes I 375: The officer must be a dicer, a drinker, and a ruffler.
[UK](con. 15C) C. Reade Cloister and Hearth (1864) II 33: Come with me to the ‘rotboss’ there, and I’ll show thee all our folk and their lays [...] ‘Rufflers,’ ‘whipjalks,’ [sic] ‘dommerars,’ ‘glymmerars,’ ‘jarkmen,’ ‘patricos,’ swadders,’ ‘autem morts,’ and ‘walking morts.’.
[Aus]Referee (Sydney) 17 Dec. 2/5: He was not a lushington like his brother Jim, and ruffled it with care and moderation.