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Today, August 16, is the anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre of 1816 when a peaceful meeting of people seeking reform of the Parliamentary system were attacked by the military, leaving eleven dead and over five hundred wounded.

Organized by the Manchester Patriotic Union Society, a large crowd of millworkers from all over Lancashire gathered in St. Peters Field, Manchester that day–anywhere between 30,000 and 153,00, depending on which source you believe–to hear Henry “Orator” Hunt and others speak. It was apparently a glorious summer day and there was a holiday atmosphere, with people wearing their Sunday best.

Local magistrates, however, were convinced the meeting would become a riot, and had arranged for troop to stand by. They sent in the local militia, the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, who attacked the cart that formed the speakers’ platform. The 15th Hussars were then sent in to “rescue” the Yeomanry and although at first people tried to stand their ground by linking hands, they were cut down and forced to flee–many were hurt by being trampled in the panic. The speakers and newspaper reporters were arrested and imprisoned.

The woman in the white dress on the platform is thought to be Mary Hildes, a passionate radical who formed the Manchester Female Reform Group, and was one of the main speakers at Peterloo. She was also an early proponent of birth control and when she attempted to distribute books on the subject she was accused in the local press of selling pornography. The women radicals didn’t campaign, though, for female suffrage, but supported the male radical cause. They weren’t taken seriously by the press (of course. Note the dirty implications in the drawin, the kneejerk reaction of a Georgian cartoonists). They weren’t even taken seriously by other women. As The Times reported that day:

A group of women of Manchester, attracted by the crowd, came to the corner of the street where we had taken our post. They viewed the Oldham Female Reformers for some time with a look in which compassion and disgust was equally blended, and at last burst out into an indignant exclamation–“Go home to your families, and leave sike-like as these to your husbands and sons, who better understand them.”

Many were outraged by the massacre, including local mill owners who witnessed it. James Wroe of the Manchester Observer was probably the first to call the massacre “Peterloo,” in ironic reference to Waterloo. The government supported the action of the troops, and by the end of the year had passed the infamous Six Acts that suppressed freedom of speech and of the press and made radical gatherings illegal. There wasn’t a public enquiry into Peterloo until 1820. It wasn’t until 1832 that the Reform Bill corrected some of the worst injustices of the electoral system and in 1918 all men, and women over 30, were given the vote.

This is based on a post I did five–aargh, five years ago. There’s now a campaign  to get an official memorial to the Peterloo Massacre since it was such a significant part of Manchester’s history. Here’s a picture from their Facebook page taken today of a demonstrator on the site–you can see how it’s changed–holding aloft a liberty cap.

So what was the situation before 1832? About one in ten men could vote, because the right to vote was tied in to income and property and the areas represented ignored population shifts. Over sixty “Rotten Boroughs,” scarcely populated areas, or “Pocket Boroughs,” shoo-ins for local landowners were represented, but the huge industrial towns like Manchester were barely represented at all. Also voting was not done by ballot, so the few who could vote could easily be coerced or bribed. Middlemarch by George Eliot is set in this period.

I commented in 2007 that we don’t see too many books about the “real” history of the Regency but I think that’s changed. On the other hand we also seem to have more dukes to balance things out. How do you think things have changed in romance and in the fictional depiction of the Regency?

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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)

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It’s the eve of the Battle of Waterloo and we Riskies have been discussing offlist whether we should the battle again or not. The topic is both finite and infinite; there is so much material but for me it comes down to one fact that I wrote about here a couple of years ago here

Today I’m talking about the ordinary soldiers, the kids who signed up for the king’s shilling out of patriotism, were fooled by unscrupulous recruiters, or because they had so few options … One in four soldiers died that June day in 1815. Read more

Forget the ball and the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon and the dashing uniforms. One in four.

And that got me thinking about how we distill and sort historical information as writers and readers. What does the Regency represent to us?

For instance it’s a period of fashion and elegance, fabulous clothes, gorgeous architecture and interior design. Yet the simplicity and gorgeous drape we associate with gowns of the period really belongs to an earlier era, well before the Regency proper (1811-1820), as does most of the classic Georgian architecture. Consider the evolution of fashion from this 1795 gown (right) to the fussiness of the 1822 one (left).

We also associate the period with a certain amount of freedom and glamor and the Romantics–except by the 18-teens it wasn’t a great time to be a poet, particularly a poet of radical leanings. Shelley and Byron fled the country, but more because of their scandalous personal lives than their writing (except their lives and writing and political beliefs were bound together).

Their friend Leigh Hunt, journalist and co-founder of the Examiner, a periodical that mixed radical politics and the arts, was imprisoned for two years in 1813 for saying rude, if true, things about Prinny.

In addition, Lord Liverpool’s government passed some extraordinarily repressive legislation cutting down on civil liberties as a result of the uproar that followed the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, when local militia cut down a peaceful demonstration in Manchester. As a sidenote, the city is seeking a more permanent tribute on the site, as reported by the Guardian:

One of the lasting memorials of Peterloo crosses the former site of St Peter’s Fields daily, tucked under the arms of passers-by or downloaded to their computers and iPods.

It is the Guardian itself, which was founded by a group of moderate Manchester reformers as a direct result of the massacre, when it became clear that demonstrations and direct action were not going to change the government’s mind on widening the vote.

The government’s reaction was to pass legislation in addition to the suspension of Habeas Corpus, the Six Acts of 1819:

  • Training Prevention Act or Unlawful Drilling limited any sort of military training to local jurisdictions, punishable by transportation.
  • Seizure of Arms Act gave local magistrates the authority to search any private property for weapons and to arrest the owners.
  • Misdemeanors Act reduced opportunities for bail and allowed for speedier court processing.
  • Seditious Meetings Prevention Act made meetings of fifty or more people illegal unless authorized by a sheriff or magistrate.
  • Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act. If Hunt had libeled Prinny in 1819 he could have been sentenced to fourteen years transportation.
  • Newspaper and Stamp Duties Act imposed taxes on publications that published opinion in addition to those that published news, and publishers were required to post a bond for their behavior.

Yikes. Not exactly the land of the free.

How do you reconcile the historical truth with the fantasy when you’re reading or writing?

I’m blogging today at Supernatural Underground and giving away ARCs of Jane and the Damned as prizes, and there’s a Damned Good Contest on my site, plus various excerpts etc. Check it out!

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August 16 was the anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. On that date in 1819, 60,000 people gathered at St. Peter’s Field to listen to radical orator Henry Hunt and to protest against the Corn Laws and to seek Parliamentary reform. The local magistrates, frightened by the sheer numbers of protesters, ordered the yeomanry to disperse the crowds and arrest the demonstation’s leaders. The yeomanry (who were well-to-do tradesmen opposed to reforms) did a poor job of it and the 15th Hussars were ordered to charge the crowd and rescue the yeomanry. Eleven people were killed and 500 injured and the resulting outrage of the government’s support of the incident helped fuel the reform movement.

There are conflicting accounts as to what happened at “Peterloo,” the name, taken from Waterloo. Certainly the most famous of the protests of the time, it was not the first. The book I just turned in (Yay, it is done!) in part takes place after the Spa Fields riots (believed to be incited by provacateurs in the government’s employ) and the March of the Blanketeers, which was dispersed before reaching London. Before these events there were the Luddites, who did become violent, smashing the machinery of the mill owners.

The Tory government cracked down with harsh laws, the Gag Acts after the Blanketeers march and the Six Acts after Peterloo. These basically made it illegal to protest against the government.

It is easy to see these as extreme and unfair measures depriving citizenry of free speech, but one also must remember that the men passing the laws were doing so in the shadow of the French Revolution. The Reign of Terror, during which 17,000 were executed, must have made a deep impression upon the aristocracy. I think this made a deeper impression than the fact that a whole country was lost to the American Revolution, which, of course, was founded on the right to free speech!

I realize this blog leaves nothing for you to comment on! So my challenge is, post the question I should have asked at the end of this blog!

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Huge Announcement: Pomroy’s Story (What I affectionately call the book, because my editor and I –and my best title supplier, Julie Halperson–have been unable to come up with a title) is done!

Some Titles that have been in consideration:

The Scandal Season
An Illicit Liaison (guaranteed to be misspelled)
A Proper Scandal
One Notorious Night
An Innocent Scandal
The Notorious Lady W (akin to The Mysterious Miss M!!)
A Wanton Woman

So far I like Pomroy’s Story the best.

I’m not going to say too much about this story yet. Too much of it is tied to the next book, The Vanishing Viscountess (Hmmm. New title idea: The Licentious Lady….) , but I know my title examples will have you guessing!

I finished the book at about 6:00 am this morning, which is why my blog is coming in a little late and why my title ideas are deteriorating. It was due July 31 and I hate to be late.

The harder I chased the deadline, the worse it got. With about one week to go to my deadline, I discovered that I had set the end of the book to take place during the Season of 1820 (Hence the title idea The Scandal Season). One problem. Not only did Prince Edward Augustus, the father of Queen Victoria, die that January, but a few days later, the mad king himself, George III, died, and the Prince Regent was very ill. My characters were supposed to enter a lively social season that spring? I didn’t think so. I went back to the beginning of the book and rearranged things to fit a new time frame.

Luckily (although not lucky for the poor victims), the Peterloo Massacre happened the previous August, making that autumn an important time for Parliament. The Peterloo Massacre was an event that took place in Manchester, August 1819. A crowd of people gathered in St. Peter’s Field to listen to the great orator, Henry Hunt, speak against the Corn Laws and other social issues. The city officials became worried about the huge numbers and called in the Cavalry, who (drunk, they say) rode through the crowd swinging their sabres. Eleven were killed and hundreds wounded. That autumn, in fear that there would be other such protest demonstrations, Parliament passed laws restricting public gatherings and suppressing radical newspapers.

I figured London that autumn would be pretty busy, making it what Heyer called “The Little Season.” It would be credible that my characters interacted socially in this Little Season.

It was now September, 1819, in the book. I decided to send my characters to the theatre, although I did not know if the London theatres were dark or not in September. An internet search found a citation that a Mr. Webb performed at King’s Theatre within days of the day I needed. That was all I needed. I wrote the scene, pulling out the research books I’d purchased when I wrote Innocence and Impropriety, which featured King’s Theatre and gave more authentic detail.

Something nagged at me, though. King’s Theatre did opera and Mr. Webb was an Irish humorist and vocalist. I did more digging and discovered that Mr. Webb had performed in the King’s Theatre in Richmond, a few miles outside London.

I had to rewrite the scene. I’d spent a whole day researching and writing the original scene. Sigh!

These are just a few examples of the bumps in the road that made writing this book more…ah…turbulent than I would have desired. From now on, I vow I will manage my time more efficiently and meet my deadlines with enough time to spare for reading over the book and polishing it to a fine shine.

I’ll let you all hold me to my vow.

What research roadblocks have you discovered in trying to finish your books? Surely I am not the only one….

I realize you have no idea what the book is about, but do you have any title ideas?

Next Monday! A report of my Williamsburg, VA/Jamestown vacation with Amanda, with special appearances by fellow Harlequin Historical authors, Deb Marlowe and Michelle Willingham.

One of the set-backs during the writing of this book was all the work that went into my new website. Please take a look and tell me it was worth it!

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