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Friday, 15 March 2013

New Book Contract: Regency Spies

I’m very pleased to announce that I’ve just signed a new book contract with Pen and Sword for their new Social History imprint!

‘Regency Spies: England's Rebels and Revolutionaries Exposed’ will explore the shadowy world of the network of government spies and agents provocateurs which kept watch on Britain’s underprivileged masses during the Napoleonic wars.  The upper classes feared a replay of the French Revolution on British soil: the threat of an armed insurrection or a French invasion was taken very seriously.  Any hint of sedition was ruthlessly suppressed.

The ‘Great War’ against Napoleon had a devastating effect on the British economy.  Taxation reached record levels to pay for the war, and the poorer classes endured great hardship.  Hunger fuelled riots for cheaper food and Luddite attacks on mill-owners, factories and machinery.

The spy network had some famous successes, like the discoveries of the Despard plot, the Pentrich Rising and the Cato St conspiracy.  Sometimes the government’s efforts descended into high farce, like the ‘Spy Nozy’ affair, in which poets Wordsworth and Coleridge were shadowed by a special agent.  But the stakes were incredibly high: agitators risked the horrors of a traitor’s death if found guilty.

The book will tell the stories of the real conspirators against the government, and the tragedies which befell ordinary folk entrapped by agents provocateurs.  The provisional launch date for ‘Regency Spies’ is mid-to-late 2015.

Images from the Library of Congress British Cartoons collection:
Satire identifying reform with revolution by Cruikshank, 1819. Library of Congress collection.
‘True reform of Parliament: patriots lighting a revolutionarybonfire in new Palace Yard by Gillray, 1809. Sir Francis Burdett is making a speech and waving a bonnet rouge [cap of liberty] shaped like a fool's cap as Horne Tooke lights on fire a pile of acts and charters, as well as a Bible, with a flaming baton labeled "Sedition" while three creatures add to the flames. James Boswell, Samuel Whitbread, Lord Folkestone, and Henry Clifford add documents to the pile as a mob destroys Parliament in the background.

The Tyrant of Orkney and Shetland

On the remote islands of Orkney and Shetland, Earl Patrick Stewart’s ruined mansions bear witness to his wealth and power.  But nothing could save Patrick when his rapacity brought him into conflict with church and king…

Royal blood ran in Patrick’s veins.  He was the son of Robert Stewart (1533–1593), an illegitimate son of James V and Euphemia Elphinstone. When Robert died in 1593 his son Patrick (1566–1615) took over the earldom.  This haughty tyrant ruled the isles with great cruelty.  The earl used the people of Orkney and Shetland as slave labour ‘without meat, or drink, or hire’ (pay).  They were forced to man Patrick’s boats and ships and were treated like galley slaves. 

Patrick’s splendid castle at Scalloway (1599) was funded by a tax on every ox and sheep in Shetland.  The islanders worked stone in his quarries, carried stone and lime to construct his castles, palaces and park walls, and undertook whatever other jobs he wanted doing. You can find out more about the rule of  'Black Pate' and his downfall in my new feature for Highlander magazine.


Scalloway Castle, Shetland.  Local tradition says that the mortar for its walls was mixed using human hair, blood and eggs.  © Sue Wilkes.

St Magnus’s Cathedral, Kirkwall. The cathedral steeple was fortified by Patrick Stewart’s son Robert during his rebellion. Black’s Picturesque Tourist of Scotland, (Adam & Charles Black, 188). Nigel Wilkes Collection.


Monday, 4 March 2013

Talks in 2013

So far this year I have got two talks lined up, so please make a note in your diaries.  On Thursday 13 June I will be giving a talk on 'Stolen Childhoods'  to Witton Women's Institute at St Wilfred's Parish Centre (Witton Street) in Northwich; the meeting opens at 7.45 pm and my talk begins at 8pm.  I'll be discussing child labour in northwest England during the industrial revolution.

And on Saturday 30 November, Chester Library is holding a Jane Austen's Christmas event.  At 2pm I'll be giving a talk on Christmas time in Austen's day, and will read some extracts from my book Regency Cheshire.  Hope to see you there!


Mule Spinning Room, 1860s. Child piecers and scavengers at work in a cotton spinning mill, supervised by the overlooker. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts Vol. I, (c.1862).
Rows in Watergate St, Chester. Stranger’s Companion in Chester, 4th edition, c.1828