To chants of “Liberty or Death” on the 28th January 1817, the London Mob throws a hail of stones and horse-shit at the coach of the Prince Regent as he is on his way to open a new session of Parliament – the smashing of shop windows and mass-looting ensues on a grand scale. At a time when thousands of ordinary people were on the verge of starvation, the bloated, self-indulgent Prince was universally despised and laughed at in the streets and became the target of ‘Seditious Propaganda’. The British Ruling Class lived in constant fear of revolution, having witnessed what had happened to their counterparts in France over the preceding two decades – that fear led to brutal suppression of radical ideas.
Determined to suppress revolutionary politics, Parliament moved quickly to protect their royal figurehead and introduced what became known as the Gag Acts. On 4 March 1817, Habeas Corpus was suspended and the Seditious Meetings Act was passed – it was designed to ensure that all reforming ‘Societies and Clubs should be utterly suppressed and prohibited as unlawful combinations and confederacies’. No meeting of more than fifty persons could be held without the permission of a Magistrate and powers to arrest persons suspected of disseminating seditious libel were issued – in addition, all printers of ‘seditious and blasphemous materials and all writers of the same’, came under state surveillance. The Prince Regent further cemented his eternal unpopularity after sending his ‘hearty congratulations’ to the magistrates for suppressing radicalism in Manchester following The Peterloo Massacre.
Peterloo. 2018. 155mins. Director, Mike Leigh.
The Peterloo Massacre. 73mins. RDF Productions. Drama-Documentary. On August 16th 1819, tens of thousands of cotton spinners and their wives and children gathered in St Peter’s Fields in central Manchester to hear the fiery words of a radical orator called Henry Hunt, preaching revolution and equality. This film is not only a compelling courtroom drama on the aftermath of that day but a riveting picture of a nation on the brink of revolution. Also, the way the state and forces of law and order work to hide the truth (Orgreave, Hillsborough, Grenfell Tower, etc, etc):