An age of re­bel­lion

Re­gency Bri­tain was not as tran­quil as Jane Austen’s nov­els sug­gest…

BBC History Magazine - - Working-Class Revolt -

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.

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