An age of rebellion
Regency Britain was not as tranquil as Jane Austen’s novels suggest…
Luddites cause havoc
Between 1811 and 1816, there were numerous outbreaks of Luddism across the Midlands and the North. Gangs of weavers thrown out of work or fearing the loss of wages following the introduction of weaving frames wrecked machinery at mills and factories under the leadership of the mythical Ned Ludd.
Government hijacking plot
In November and December 1816, meetings at London’s Spa Fields – held to present a petition demanding parliamentary reform to the Prince Regent – were hijacked by radicals trying to incite an uprising to overthrow the government. There was arson and violence as a group marched towards the Bank of England, before being dispersed.
The march of the blanketeers
In March 1817, around 5,000 unemployed weavers, known as the Blanketeers because they carried blankets, attempted to march from Manchester to
London to petition the Prince Regent for food. Most got no further than Stockport before they were dispersed by troops. The march alarmed ministers, leading to the arrests of several suspected radicals.
Bloodletting at Peterloo
In August 1819, a peaceful crowd attending a Manchester rally to call for political reform was broken up by Yeomanry and Army cavalry. At least 18 people lost their lives, and hundreds more were injured, in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre.
Cabinet in the firing line
In February 1820, a radical named Arthur Thistlewood and his small band of followers plotted to assassinate the
cabinet. The London-based gang were exposed by an undercover agent and later seized as they gathered above a stable at Cato Street, near Edgware Road. Five were hanged and then beheaded, while five were transported.
The Great Reform Act
In June 1832, in the face of a rising tide of disaffection at the absence of parliamentary reforms, the Whig government passed the Great Reform Act. This marginally extended the franchise, abolished rotten boroughs and gave parliamentary representation to new industrial cities.