Today is the anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. On August 16, 1819, a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Field near Manchester to demand parliamentary reform. The period after Waterloo was rife with unrest. Unemployment was high, the Corn Laws created hardship and famine, and the people were demanding parliamentary reform.
A demonstration was planned for August 16 and the great radical orator, Henry Hunt, had agreed to speak. Before the event, a letter to Hunt was intercepted and was misinterpreted by the magistrates that an insurrection was planned.
On the day a crowd of 30,000 to 60,000 had gathered. The members of the crowd represented many radical positions, but they were a peaceful, organized crowd. Even so, when the crowd cheered Hunt’s arrival, the alarmed magistrates ordered sixty cavalrymen of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry (some reports said they were drunk) to arrest the leaders.
The yeomanry charged into the crowd and panicked. They started using their sabres against the demonstators. The 15th Hussars also charged into the crowd and the 88th Regiment of Foot stood with bayonets fixed, blocking the crowd’s main exit route.
Within ten minutes the crowd had dispersed, but eleven people were dead and anywhere from 300 to 600 injured.
The leaders were arrested and jailed; the yeomanry were acquitted, and the event led to the passing of The Six Acts, imposing even more repressive measures on the citizens to stamp out any further threats of unrest. But Peterloo, along with other protests, including the Cato Street Conspiracy (which intended to blow up the Cabinet), galvanized public outrage and a dozen years later led to the desired reforms.
My September book, Chivalrous Captain, Rebel Mistress, deals with the issue of social unrest after Waterloo. Marian, the heroine, is the secret force behind a demonstration of unemployed former soldiers, and the politically ambitious Allan Landon, is employed by Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, to arrest the protest leader for what potentially could be a hanging offense. My demonstration was fictitious, but the unrest of that period led to the Peterloo Massacre.
My hero and heroine are direct opposites: protest leader vs the protest “police”. Can you think of other hero/heroine combinations that are perfect opposites? The classic example is arsonist vs arson investigator.
Don’t forget to visit Diane’s Blog on Thursday. I think I’ll start a new contest there….
And next Sunday Michelle Willingham and I are going to be talking about our new September releases! (and giving away signed copies)