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Secret Histories of Britain’s Rebels and Revolutionaries
An Age of Revolutions
Sue Wilkes uncovers the hidden histories of Regency spies and the men they hunted. Eavesdrop on the secret meetings of Britain’s underground political societies of the 1790s and early 1800s. Discover the true stories behind the riots, rebellions, and treason trials in late Georgian Britain.
Regency Spies explores the plots, intrigues and perils of those thrilling times:
- Wolfe Tone’s ambitious plan to free Ireland from British rule
- Luddites incite arson and machine-breaking in Britain’s industrial heartlands
- The doomed Pentrich uprising of 1817
- The race to stop the 1820 plot to murder cabinet ministers and seize control of the capital
Sue Wilkes reveals the shadowy world of Britain’s spies, rebels and secret societies from the late 1780s until 1820. Drawing on contemporary literature and official records, Wilkes unmasks the real conspirators and tells the tragic stories of the unwitting victims sent to the gallows.
In this ‘age of Revolutions’, when the French fought for liberty, Britain’s upper classes feared revolution was imminent. Thomas Paine’s incendiary Rights of Man called men to overthrow governments which did not safeguard their rights. Were Jacobins and Radical reformers in England and Scotland secretly plotting rebellion? Ireland, too, was a seething cauldron of unrest, its impoverished people oppressed by their Protestant masters.
Britain’s governing elite could not rely on the armed services – even Royal Navy crews mutinied over brutal conditions. To keep the nation safe, a ‘war chest’ of secret service money funded a network of spies to uncover potential rebels amongst the underprivileged masses. It had some famous successes: dashing Colonel Despard, friend of Lord Nelson, was executed for treason. Sometimes, in the deadly game of cat-and-mouse between spies and their prey, suspicion fell on the wrong men, like poets Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Even peaceful reformers risked arrest for sedition. Political meetings like Manchester’s ‘Peterloo’ were ruthlessly suppressed, and innocent blood spilt. Repression bred resentment – and a diabolical plot was born. The stakes were incredibly high: rebels suffered the horrors of a traitor’s death when found guilty. Some conspirators’ secrets died with them on the scaffold...
James Gillray, 'End of the Irish Invasion and Destruction of the French Armada'. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-8768