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Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Radicals and Reform

Famous Radicals.

By the early 1790s, it was blindingly obvious to liberal-minded thinkers that Britain's corrupt electoral system was long overdue for reform. Unless you were a member of the governing elite, of course - the rich had inherited the earth, and their sons were destined to rule over the middle and lower classes.
The Radicals included some prominent Whigs like Charles James Fox and Sir Francis Burdett. They wanted the abolition of rotten boroughs, the introduction of annual parliaments, and a more representative franchise. Reformers harked back to the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which they believed enshrined men’s civil liberties and rights. They looked back to a long-lost Saxon golden age in which all men had the vote. (On the other hand, the government asserted that there was no historical precedent for universal suffrage).
Major John Cartwright (1740–1824) was convinced that ‘many of the political evils of the day’ emanated from ‘ignorance of the principles of the constitution’.  This former naval officer, a neat, upright gentleman, had served with distinction until the American War of Independence, but resigned in disgust over what he perceived as Britain's unjust treatment of the colonists.
Charles James Fox.
Cartwright, a prolific writer and campaigner, believed that petitioning parliament was the only way to achieve radical reform. The Major was a founder member of the Society of Constitutional Information in 1780, along with John Horne Tooke and others. Even Pitt the Younger, then the great white hope of the reform movement, was a member – ironic considering his later treatment of the Radicals.
Thomas Paine.
In the 1790s, Thomas Paine’s revolutionary ideas were taken up by the Society of Constitutional Information and by the ‘corresponding societies’. These societies wrote to one another about parliamentary reform and the rights of man, and spread these ideas widely in Britain. One group, the United Englishmen, expressed the views of many freethinkers in its ‘Declaration, Resolutions and Constitution’: ‘The House of now thoroughly corrupted, and from being the representative of a great and free People, is become a junto of Placemen, Pensioners and Court Dependents...The only effectual a radical Reform of the Representation of the People in Parliament’ (PC/1/42/144, 1798).
Corresponding societies were formed in London, Manchester, Leeds,
Matthew Campbell Browne.
Nottingham, Norwich and Sheffield. The Sheffield Society for Constitutional Information had nearly two thousand members. The Society resolved that Paine should be thanked ‘for the affectionate concern he has shown in his second work on Behalf of the Poor, the Infant and the Aged; who notwithstanding the opulence which blesses other parts of the community, are by the grievous weight of Taxes, rendered the miserable victims of Poverty and wretchedness’. (Resolutions of the SSCI, 14 March 1792, Sheffield Archives, MD 251).
The government's spies kept close watch on the corresponding societies. Although most of the societies' members were peaceful, there were a select few with revolutionary intentions, as we shall see.

Noted Radicals: John Wilkes, John Horne Tooke, Sir Francis Burdett (5th Baronet), William Cobbett and Henry Hunt. History of England, Henry Fisher, Son, & Co., 1828. Author’s collection.

Charles James Fox, Dr Johnson’s Mrs Thrale, T.N. Foulis, 1910. Author’s collection.
‘Mad Tom, or the Man of Rights’. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-3847.
Citizen Matthew Campbell Browne, ‘Delegate from the Sheffield & Leeds Constitutional Societies to the British Convention’ at Edinburgh in 1794. Engraving by John Kay, 1794. Hugh Paton (ed.), A Series of Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings by the late John Kay, Vol. 2, (Adam and Charles Black, 1877). Author’s collection.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Jane Austen and the 'Infamous Mistress' Connection

Grace Dalyrmple Elliott - Met Museum.
Today I'd like to give a warm welcome to fellow Pen and Sword authors Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, authors of An Infamous Mistress - a biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott. But what was the connection between Jane Austen and Grace? You can find out more in Joanne and Sarah's guest blog post:

Jane Austen: The Dalrymple and Elliott Connection
Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion, written in 1816 and published posthumously just months after her death in 1817, has at its centre the Elliot family – a surname we’re all too familiar with after writing our biography of the eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott.
Jane Austen.

Anne Elliot, the novel’s heroine, had been persuaded to break off an early engagement to Captain Wentworth of the Royal Navy and, while in Bath, was courted by her cousin and heir to the Elliot estate, the recently widowed and caddish William Elliot.
There is also a Viscountess Dalrymple mentioned in Persuasion, from an Irish family who is related to the Elliots. Anne’s vain father Sir Walter and elder sister Elizabeth court Lady Dalrymple’s attention, determined to make use of their connection to this titled lady (for the finances of the Elliot family are in a decline – they have to rent out their family estate, Kellynch Hall).
It’s possible, as Margaret Doody has speculated in Jane Austen’s Names: Riddles, Persons, Places, that ‘there is a hidden joke, a potentially dirty meaning, in wishing to see Lady Dalrymple’, because Grace’s notoriety would still be remembered when Austen was writing – was this a sly dig at Grace, the name chosen by Austen in the full knowledge that many of her readers would get the joke, especially with the connection between the names Elliot and Dalrymple?
Grace was still alive at the time, although her star had faded somewhat and she was living largely in the shadows of society – wouldn’t you just love to know if she read the novel, and if she did, what her thoughts were on the names of the characters!

Lady Dalrymple, PBS.
Persuasion:Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret.
Austen’s Elliot family had Scottish origins and Sir John Eliot, Grace Dalrymple’s husband, was a Scotsman, hailing from Peebles. Grace too was from a Scottish family, although hers was more noble in its origin for her maternal ancestors were once the Lairds of Blackburn in the Berwickshire borders. She also counted a countess amongst her close relations for her maternal aunt, Robinaiana, became the Countess of Peterborough, although only after many years of being the Earl’s mistress first, a path her infamous niece was later to follow with significantly less success. Grace never got a title; she was divorced by her husband Dr John Eliot before he became Sir John and her subsequent lover, the Earl (and future Marquess) of Cholmondeley refused to make her his Countess.
If Grace is recalled somewhat in the character of Lady Dalrymple, was her husband Sir John Eliot at all the inspiration for Sir Walter Elliot? Both baronets, Sir John and Sir Walter, were vain and self-satisfied men (although Sir John was certainly more careful of his fortune than Austen’s Sir Walter), and neither man had a male heir (John Eliot’s son by Grace died as an infant, and his only other male progeny was born illegitimately to an unknown woman).
There is another similarity too – Sir Walter takes into his house, ostensibly as a companion to his daughter Elizabeth, a Mrs Clay, an impoverished widow with children to provide for and who has designs on becoming the next Lady Elliot for all that she is beneath Sir Walter on the social ladder. Both before and after his divorce from Grace, Sir John Eliot embarked upon a series of affairs with women well below him socially (one was a tea dealer from the Tottenham Road). At his death his final mistress was, like Austen’s Mrs Clay, angling for marriage and a title – and hoping that her daughter (by another man) would benefit from Sir John’s fortune to the detriment of his own illegitimate offspring.
N.B. – while Sir John was an Eliot, after her divorce Grace habitually spelled her surname differently, using both Elliot and Elliott.
Thomas Gainsborough, Jane Austen and Fashionable Society by Catherine Engh on NASSR Graduate Student Caucus, a fascinating read which looks at Gainsborough's portraits of Grace in conjunction with Jane Austen's use of the Dalrymple and Elliot surnames.
Jane Austen's Names: Riddles, Persons, Places by Margaret Doody, University of Chicago Press, 2015.
 Our book, An InfamousMistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott is available now from Pen and Sword and all good bookshops.
Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner in France during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris.
Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage-a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits.
The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the history of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men.
Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time.
This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before.
You can also visit Joanne and Sarah at All Things Georgian where they blog about anything and everything to do with the Georgian era.
Images supplied by Joanne and Sarah:
Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Tilly Tremayne as Lady Dalrymple in the PBS version of Persuasion.
Jane Austen, coloured copy of a drawing by her sister Cassandra, held by the University of Texas.
Lady Dalrymple and [her daughter] Miss Carteret escorted by Mr Elliot and Colonel Wallis, from a 1909 copy of Persuasion.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Pitt The Younger

Today I'm a guest on fellow Pen & Sword author Catherine Curzon's wonderful Georgian blog. William Pitt the Younger was a reforming spirit in his early days as a politician, but changed his mind in the aftermath of the turbulent French Revolution and war with France. Pitt became an implacable opponent of parliamentary reform, and his spies kept close watch on the corresponding societies which grew up to discuss Radical ideas like those of Thomas Paine.

Images: France; Freedom. Britain: Slavery
An unusual opposition print, 1789. On the left can be seen Jacques Necker, the French finance minister, in a land of 'Freedom’; on the right, Pitt rules over a land of ‘Slavery’. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZC2-3583

Britannia between Scylla & Charybdis
Pitt steers a small boat carrying Britannia, The Constitution, towards a castle with a flag inscribed "Haven of Public Happiness". They are pursued by ‘sharks’ Sheridan, Fox, and Dr Priestley (the Radical). James Gillray, 1793.Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-3137

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Thomas Paine

Paine by John Kay.

Another 'person of interest' to the British government was Thomas Paine (1737–1809), the son of a Thetford staymaker. His writings were truly revolutionary. His first great work, Common Sense (1776), was a plea for American independence.

His second major work, Rights of Man (part I) was a riposte to Edmund Burke’s Reflexions on the Revolution in France (1790), a powerful attack on French revolutionary ideals, and a plea for maintaining the current status quo.
Edmund Burke

But it was the second part of Paine’s Rights of Man (1792) which arguably had the largest influence on men’s thinking. He attacked the institution of monarchy: ‘Man has no power over posterity in matters of personal right; and therefore no man, or body of men, had, or can have, a right to set up hereditary government...we cannot conceive a more ridiculous figure of government, than hereditary succession’. 

He advocated the abolition of the poor laws. The state should provide for the poor, babies and old people. To add fuel to the flames, Paine’s Age of Reason (1794–5) lambasted organized religion.

Paine’s pioneering ideas spread like wildfire. His works had a massive circulation and were eagerly adopted by the Society of Constitutional Information (which he had joined), and by the so-called ‘corresponding societies’.

Tom Paine laces Britannia into a revolutionary corset.
In May 1792, Paine's Rights of Man was banned by the British government, but this act of censorship simply boosted sales of his work. Pitt's government now charged Paine with seditious libel; he fled to France, but was found guilty in absentia. Britain now became a very dangerous place for those who wanted to disseminate Paine's works, as we shall see.  

Illustrations: Thomas Paine, Kay's Original Portraits, courtesy the Internet Archive. 
Edmund Burke. Collotype after the painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Dr Johnson’s Mrs Thrale, T.N. Foulis, 1910. Author’s collection. 
'Fashion before ease'. Gillray cartoon, 1793, courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-3146.


Monday, 4 January 2016

Book Giveaway - Regency Spies!

I hope you all had a lovely peaceful Christmas and New Year! What better way to beat those January blues than a book giveaway? There's a chance to win a free signed copy of my new book Regency Spies on Goodreads! The competition, open to UK residents only, ends on 10 February 2016.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Regency Spies by Sue Wilkes

Regency Spies

by Sue Wilkes

Giveaway ends February 10, 2016.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Happy Christmas Everyone!

Hugh Thomson illustration for the Graphic, 1889.
A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers! I look forward to sharing more secret histories from the world of Regency Spies in 2016!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Spies

'Presentation of colours' to the militia. 
 Lord Liverpool once commented: ‘Spies and informers had been at all times employed by all governments, and ever must be’. The Home Office’s espionage or ‘missionary’ system was a significant expense for government. 

It spent thousands of pounds annually paying its own spies, and reimbursing local magistrates for their spies.

What kind of person was recruited as a spy? In London, the famous Bow Street Runners often undertook intelligence-gathering. In the provinces, lawyers were sometimes pressed into service (some notorious spies like Leonard McNally in Ireland, which rebelled in 1798, were legal professionals). 
Thomas Reynolds - a United Irish spy.

Army and navy officers and militia-men were also asked, or volunteered to, infiltrate the meetings of Radicals, workers’ societies and revolutionary groups, and root out potential traitors on the home front.
In the industrial districts, some impoverished workers were only too happy to earn good money informing on their neighbours. 
This period was very profitable for the Regency spies, but their lives were at risk if people realized they were being betrayed. On Saturday 9 May 1812, a Lancashire militia-man and his sweetheart died in sinister circumstances. Sergeant John Moore of the 1st Manchester Local Militia and his cousin Margaret were thrown into the Rochdale Canal, near Manchester, where they drowned. A Manchester spy, John Bent, later confirmed to the authorities that the locals had discovered that Moore ‘was an informer’.