Friday, 9 November 2018

The French Army Mutinies of 1917






Link https://youtu.be/-XrU9Pdbc54




The French Army Mutiny
Of 1917
Transcript
Hello and thank you for downloading Witness from the BBC World Service with me Alex Last. And as part of our centenary series on the First World War, using archived recordings we go back to the spring of 1917 when the French army was rocked by mutiny.

Edward Spears:
The thing that astonishes me is that the French army didn’t mutiny a long time before 1917. They had had absolutely appalling losses, due largely you know to mistakes and to mistaken theories.

Alex Last:
General Edward Louis Spears was in 1917 the head of the British military mission to the French Government.

Edward Spears:
At the beginning of the war in August 1914 I myself had seen the French army attacking German positions and machine guns with bands playing and officers in white gloves leading them in. they went on suffering terrible losses, still they endured displaying qualities of stoicism and staying power which we really thought only we were capable of.

Alex Last:
By April 1917 one million French troops had been killed, even more had been wounded, all in less than three years of war. Most had fought and died in seemingly hopeless battles of attrition on the western front, and even if they survived the big offensives, life in the trenches could be truly grim.
The British realising this would rotate men in and out of the front lines every few days, the French did not. Troops stayed in the morass, rest was short, leave often cancelled. On April the 16th 1917 the French commander General Nivelle launched yet another massive offensive. In a message to his troops he boasted he knew the formula for victory and wrote to them of the need for sacrifice.

Louis Barthas:
The reading of this patriotic drivel aroused no enthusiasm at all.

Alex Last:
Louis Barthas kept a private account of life as an ordinary French soldier.

Louis Barthas:
It only served to demoralise the soldier who heard in it only a terrible menace, more suffering, great danger, a frightful death, a useless sacrifice totally in vain. No one had any confidence in this new round of killing leading to any useful result.

Alex Last:
One of the offensives principal targets was a ridge called Le Chemin de Dames, the French attack went wrong from the start.

Pierre Gaultier:
The plan of the French attack has been betrayed to the Germans. He knew exactly the date, even the hour of the French attack. The whistle went and we attacked, I was in the second line, in the few minutes after the attack was launched, the two battalions they had been wiped out.

Alex Last:
Pierre Gaultier was a sergeant in the French army.

Pierre Gaultier:
So our attack was stopped, was hopeless, put ourselves in shell holes or made little holes to put ourselves in so that the machine guns couldn’t hit us. We stayed there for the rest of the day could only recover to our lines at night.

Alex Last:
90,000 French troops were killed or wounded in the first day but Nivelle did not call a halt. A popular song emerged among the French troops of the time the words said it all.
[French recording of the song La Chanson de Craonne]
Adieu la vie, adieu l'amour, Adieu toutes les femmes C'est bien fini, c'est pour toujours De cette guerre infâme C'est à Craonne sur le plateau Qu'on doit laisser sa peau Car nous sommes tous condamnés C'est nous les sacrifiés
Goodbye to life,
Goodbye to love,
Goodbye to all the women,
It’s all over now, we’ve had it for good,
With this awful war,
Its in Craonne up on the plateau we’re leaving our skins,
Because we’ve all been sentenced to die,
We’re the ones that they’re sacrificing,

Louis Edwards:
The weariness, the hopelessness of the prospect of the war seemed utterly dreadful. Furthermore there were these rumours of the Russian Revolution and things weren’t looking at all good.

Alex Last:
In early May, elements of a French division refused the order to attack, mutinies soon spread.

Louis Barthas:
A wind of revolt blew across almost all the regiments. There were plenty of reasons for discontent, the painful failure of the Chemin de Dames offensive, which had no result other than a dreadful slaughter. The prospect of more long months of war, ahead with a highly dubious outcome, and finally the long wait for home leave.
It is that which bothered the soldiers most I believe.

Alex Last:
Louis Barthas’s regiment was one of those that mutinied.

Louis Barthas:
At noon on May the 30th there was even a meeting outside the village to form a Russian style Soviet composed of three men from each company to take control of the regiment. To my amazement, they offered me the presidency of the soviet; that is to say to replace the Colonel no less.
Imagine me, an obscure peasant commander of the 296th regiment. I refused as I had no wish to be tied to an execution post.

Alex Last:
Incredibly the French managed to keep the mutiny a secret from both friend and foe.

Louis Edwards:
It did seem astonishing that we had 60 highly qualified officers attached to the French headquarters, and over a period of weeks the French had managed to conceal any trouble from them. In a way perhaps it was fortunate, because the Germans hadn’t heard either, if the Germans had then the war would have been over.

Alex Last:
General Spears was one of very few outside the French army to hear about the mutinies. He went to investigate himself.

Edward Spears:
I found that there were only two divisions of the whole French army that could be relied upon, between the front line and Paris. And I arrived in part of the country near Soissons which I knew very well and there I was met with the most amazing sight. Regiment after regiment was in open mutiny.
There were degrees of mutiny, in many units all the men wore red rosettes, the officers were confined to a section of the village, had no authority at all. And the men had established posts, I wasn’t in the least molested, I asked what was going on? And got rather evasive answers, but in the main found that the line taken by the men was that they were prepared to occupy the line, but they weren’t prepared to fight. After what had happened, after the bloodbath they’d been submitted to after all, one could understand their point of view.

Alex Last:
Faced with mutinies on such a large scale the French army – both officers and men- wrestled with how to react. Caught in the middle sergeant Gaultier was ordered to lead a few men to halt a huge crowd of mutinous soldiers from another regiment.

Pierrre Gaultier:
Before we got to the crowd my men told me “we’ll follow you anywhere. But we shan’t go with bayonets on against French troops”. I looked at the crowd, they were unarmed. One of them had a frying pan in one hand and a poker in the other and was hitting it as hard as possible and he told me “come on boys, we’ll go to Paris and throw grenades in the Palais Bourbon”. 

So, I told him he may do whatever he likes but we weren’t of that opinion, we had nothing to do we started talking, there were thousands they were upset but they had nothing ferocious about them. But in the meantime some machine guns had already been put in position. And they went back to their quarters and the next day rains of lorries came and took them somewhere, I never heard of them again.

Alex Last:
Amid the crisis General Nivelle was removed, General Petain took over and promised to improve conditions. Through force and deception the most rebellious units were separated and purged. Thousands were arrested hundreds sentenced to death, though only around 50 were actually executed. And in time the mutinies petered out, units were returned to the line.

Louis Barthas:
We gathered to start off for the trenches, noisy demonstrations took place. Shouting, singing, whistling, screaming and of course the singing of the International. If the officers had made a gesture or sad a word against this noise I sincerely believe they would have been ruthlessly massacred, so high was the tension. 

They took the most sensible course, waiting patiently until calm was restored, you cannot shout, whistle and scream forever. And there was no leader among the rebels capable of making a decision or of giving us direction. So we ended up heading towards the trenches although not without grumbling or griping.

Alex Last:

For the French army after the mutinies for a time the notion of launching huge offensives was over. It adopted a more defensive policy to reduce the loss of life, but the sacrifices of the French soldier were to continue for another year, by which time almost one and a half million were dead, more than four million wounded. Losses that would profoundly shape France for decades.
But perhaps given the scale of the slaughter on all sides what’s remarkable was not that there was a mutiny but rather that it was so rare.

Louis Edwards:
Who can blame the men who had suffered so much for not believing that the struggle wasn’t hopeless? Who could blame for having lost faith in their leadership?

The German Revolution of 1918







Hello and welcome to the Witness podcast from the BBC World Service with me Alex Last. And today using recordings from the BCC archive we go back 100 years to November 1918, when in the final weeks of World War One Germany was on the point of collapse and facing revolution.

Archival Witness One:

The whole life of the country was becoming grimmer, it was getting very difficult. The war was lasting too long and Germany didn’t have much chance of winning it because conditions within the country were getting so very difficult and there was a general feeling that the war as a whole had to stop. This feeling was spreading very fast among the civilian population and I saw that the war would have to end soon. That was the feeling shared by most of the soldiers I met in those days, they were fed up with the whole thing and they wanted to go home badly.

Alex Last:
After four years of war by late 1918 the situation in Germany was desperate. First there was the human cost, two million German soldiers were dead, four million had been wounded. Germany’s armies were in retreat, its main allies were defeated or on the point of collapse. But on the home front too civilians had been struggling. Years of a British naval blockade on Germany had created shortages and hunger.
Archival Witness Two (Hertha Hasse):
Of course the food situation got worse and worse, which got on everybody’s nerves.

Alex Last:
Hertha Hasse lived in Frankfurt.

Hertha Hasse:
Our diet consisted mainly of turnips one day and barley and prunes the next and then it started again. And people got more and more undernourished, and my mother gave everything possible to the children.
Those people who really had no connections and didn’t get anything else were in a deplorable state of nutrition.

Alex Last:
Alarmingly for the German government discipline within the armed forces was fraying.
Archival Witness three (Heinrich Boytoff):
In 1918 when I became a soldier myself I think discipline was getting rather slack.

Alex Last:
Heinrich Boytoff was the son of a German officer.

Heinrich Boytoff:
You could see it on the streets of the garrison town, when soldiers coming from the front didn’t take the pains of saluting officers anymore. They thought the officers in the garrison had a very good time so why should they salute them? That was considering the discipline in the Prussian army a very great change. And it showed that something was breaking, for instance my commanding officer was so afraid of a coming revolution that he made me sleep with a gun in my arm in front of his rooms in the night.

I had to do that, perhaps this experience shows that the German army behind the front was in those days, let’s say September, October, November not quite intact anymore. And the average soldier, a lot of them I think had the feeling that the war was lost already then.

Alex Last:
They were not alone; in September 1918 the German High Command told the German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm that the war was indeed lost. Germany began to make peace overtures but the Allies wanted total capitulation. The German military’s top brass had effectively ruled the country during the war but now defeat was inevitable they wanted to abdicate responsibility for the catastrophe. So in the final weeks of the war there was constitutional reform, a move towards parliamentary democracy. For the first time leaders of the left-wing Social Democrats the country’s largest political party were invited to into government, but events on the ground were moving fast.
There were strikes by workers and in Kiel sailors of the German Navy mutinied demanding peace.

Naval Officer Edgar Luktin was in the city.

Archival Witness Four (Edgar Luktin):
The first signs of what was coming appeared in Kiel, there was some shooting, in the morning of the 5th of November I saw the Red Flag on board of my boat. First shock, the general feeling was of course, well now it’s definitely over and that was the feeling of the Kiel population too. They were certainly mostly interested in coming to and with this lost war because then they could hope they would get food again. They were more or less starving since quite a considerable time.

Alex Last:
And form Kiel protests escalated across Germany, left-wing workers and soldiers councils were set up in major cities, there were calls for peace and democratisation, the creation of a socialist state, some wanted to go further. Germany was facing a revolution.
In response peace efforts were stepped up and on the 9th of November the Kaiser himself was forced to abdicate and in Berlin Germany was declared a Republic. And the leaders of the Social Democratic party took charge of the government, trying to stabilise the situation.


Archival Witness four (Baron von Rheinbarben):
When I arrived in the Foreign Office on the morning of the 9th of November there were certain groups in the streets and unrest everywhere. But we didn’t know the real truth that the Kaiser had left for Holland and that the German government had broken down.

Alex Last:
Baron von Rheinbarben was a German diplomat.

Baron von Rheinbarben:
There was no more government to decide what should happen. Only one man perhaps and that was Ebert the chief of the Social Democrat Party. He remained in office but we heard that Schiedemann another Social Democrat had declared a German Republic from the window of the Reichstag.
Archival Witness five (Eva Reichman):
The atmosphere was heavy with rumours.

Alex Last:
Eva Reichman lived in Berlin.

Eva Reichman:
Then suddenly I remember near the Opera House a red motor car chased through Unter den Linden, a motor car with a red flag with soldiers and machine gun in front. The others followed, a few shots were heard in the distance. The streets filed with little discussion groups bearing banners or shouting `Long live the Republic! Long live the Socialist Revolution!`

Archival Witness six:
There were thousands and thousands of people, there was a mob. They cried that they wanted the communists as new rulers. And I saw officers still in uniform and I saw the mob taking away the epaulettes of those officers. It was terrible.

Archival Witness seven:
Then suddenly the news sellers turned up with new special editions, the Kaiser and the Crown Prince had abdicated. At that moment, it was a moment of extreme excitement, the idea of monarchy or no monarchy didn’t matter to me in the least, my only idea was that now the Armistice was attained.

Alex Last:
And within days the war would be over, though the political chaos in Germany would not. For peace Germany would have to accept harsh terms but its military and political leaders knew that fighting on was not an option. The German army was defeated and exhausted; the public would not countenance futile slaughter. And yet for soldiers like Hartwig Pohlmann the deafeat was still very hard to take.

Archival Witness eight(Hartwig Pohlmann):

We of course knew that the bitter end was near, our Armistice delegation had crossed the lines near La Capelle on November the 8th. Two days later HQ orders told us that the Armistice will be concluded without delay. The Emperor, the Crown Prince and all the Federal Princes had resigned.
That same day the new German Republican government of Ebert, Schiedemann and Haase asked our supreme Headquarters to make sure that we soldiers should uphold discipline. Then we received on November the 11th the order `As from twelve noon the guns are silent, the war is over`. How we had imagined and longed for that very moment, but now Germany had capitulated, and in our state of despair the retreat began.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

The Peterloo Massacre





Link https://youtu.be/xBcTOje1v4s

The Peterloo Massacre

Transcript

Melvyn Bragg:

Hello in 1819 Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote

“I met Murder on the way—

He had a mask like Castlereagh—

Very smooth he looked, yet grim;

Seven blood-hounds followed him:



All were fat; and well they might

Be in admirable plight,

For one by one, and two by two,

He tossed them human hearts to chew

Which from his wide cloak he drew.”




As Foreign Secretary Robert Stewart Castlereagh had successfully coordinated European opposition to Napoleon, but at home he repressed the reform movement and popular opinion held him responsible for the Peterloo massacre of peaceful demonstrators in 1819.

Shelley’s the Masque of Anarchy reflected the widespread public outrage and condemnation of the government’s role in the massacre.

Why did a peaceful and orderly meeting of men, women and children in St. Peters Field Manchester turn into a bloodbath? How were the stirrings of radicalism in the wake of the Napoleonic wars dealt with by the British establishment and what role did the Peterloo massacre play in bringing about the Great Reform Act of 1832?

With me to discuss the Peterloo massacre are Jeremy Black Professor of History at the University of Exeter, Sarah Richardson Senior Lecturer in history at the University of Warwick and Clive Emsley Professor of History at the Open University.

Jeremy Black, the early 19th century, it was a time of great anxiety for the British government and the spectre of descent and so on. We can trace it back, I know you historians want to back to Adam, but let’s start with the French Revolution in 1789 and kick that off into what we’re going to talk about.

Jeremy Black:

French Revolution breaks out in 1789, it frightens many members of the British establishment because there is a comparable movement of British radicalism which looks to France for inspiration. Though in part that movement is actually indigenous and looks back to earlier British traditions. Britain goes to war with Revolutionary France in 1793, and the war goes badly. And in the context of an unsuccessful war in the context of anxiety about radicalism at home and indeed in Ireland as well, there’s the growing use of what according to some commentators is repression against signs of radicalism. And that in a way provides the context, the long context for Peterloo.

Melvyn Bragg:

So we have the suspension of Habeas Corpus, we have the Treasonable Practises Act, we have Seditious Meetings Act. I mean really ferocious suppression of any sort of free speech, any real assembly, any written work. At the same time to be fair one has to say that the government was terrified that they were going to be invaded by the powerful French, that they were going to be overturned, the Monarchy wrecked, the whole system would be wrecked, so there was a real threat. We can look back now and say oh the Liberals- a really serious threat going on.

Jeremy Black:

Oh yes there was a really serious threat, there’s also an important point on which historians are very divided. Um, historians are very divided as to the extent to which the governments sentiments rested also on a wide springing of a popular conservatism.

I mean it’s not that everybody in the country is radicals and they’re being held down by a brutal and oppressive government. Such an you know that that’s not the case. There is an important populist radical stream and there’s an important populist conservative stream. And both of them actually interact right through the end of the 18th and the early 19th century.  

Melvyn Bragg:

That’s actually what makes it so interesting, Sarah Richardson can you tell us about the ideological impact of the French Revolution, develop what Jeremy said into works which were around at the time, I’m thinking principally of say Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man.

Sarah Richardson:

The Rights of Man is extremely influential, it encapsulates this concentration on universal rights, so ties in with this idea of reform. I think that whilst Jeremy’s right that some of the traditions of radicalism go back, the emphasis is coming out of the Enlightenment and ideas to do with what’s happening in France are about universal rights, rights for everybody. Rights that don’t rely on Aristocracy, don’t rely on birth, don’t rely on income but the rights that you were born with, and this is something that clearly the working-class radical movements pick up on.

Melvyn Bragg:

Can you tell us how Thomas Paine – lets stick with Paine, but you can please bring along another writer- he’s very useful and also important in America and in France as well as in this country. The idea of rights was in itself we just – listeners might just thing well there you are- but it was a radical idea wasn’t it, you didn’t have power because of privilege, you didn’t have power because of divine right, had rights because you were a human being born, where by being born were given you.

Sarah Richardson:

That’s right and I think that when you look at it in terms of political rights and civil rights this is a very radical idea. The British constitution is really based on property, on the idea that interests are represented that people aren’t represented, numbers aren’t represented but interests are represented and you are represented virtually by the fact that in Parliament for example you have members from across the country, they’re not necessarily voted in by the whole population but they are representing that population via their interests.

Now what Tom Paine is-

Melvyn Bragg:

It’s a Parliament of Property and Power rather than a Parliament of people.

Sarah Richardson:

That’s right, and what Tom Paine is really saying that to sweep that system away that individuals have rights, that you should be able to participate as a citizen in the country and voting rights are one aspect of that, that can be recognised.

Melvyn Bragg:

Can we talk a bit about the industrial unrest that preceded the events at Peterloo? Peterloo 1819 war finishes 1815, big industrial unrest started before that. You have the Luddites and then the Blanketeers marching, smashing machines, resenting the fact that machines were taking away their jobs and children and women and so on. And I mean anti Industrial Revolution turning into political action especially up in the north.

Sarah Richardson:

That’s right, the Luddite rebellions are very much anti industrial, and in some way quite conservative in resisting change that clearly this feeds into the political unrest, the fact that these people have no rights, they’re not represented, their interests aren’t being represented virtually.

Melvyn Bragg:

But we’re talking about marches, smashing machines, violence, meetings against the Acts that have been put in -as Jeremy said in the beginning- during the French wars.

Sarah Richardson:

Lots of violence, and the Blanketeers march is important in this context, because its one of the largest protests in the country, around 10,000 people and its just a couple of years before Peterloo in 1817. And again, the magistrates send in soldiers to stop this march. That the Manchester textile workers are trying to organise a march to London to present a petition to the Prince of Wales, Prince Regent to ask him to intervene in the economic distresses in the country.

Melvyn Bragg:

Okay, Clive Emsley we’ve already heard about the Napoleonic wars and about the appetite for radical politics, how were they surviving when habeas corpus was suspended, when the Treason Acts and so forth. How were they how do they keep going?

Clive Emsley:

There are restrictions on mass meetings, it doesn’t stop people talking. And it… part of the radical movement does appear to go underground, there is an interesting debate among historians, I mean no one is quite agreed on the extent to which English radicalism is almost entirely constitutional and uhh the alternative view is that there is an extremely strong underground revolutionary element within English radicalism.

Melvyn Bragg:

When we’re looking at the radicals over here we split again now, we have this sort of Constitutional element which we’ll be coming to at Peterloo, and then we have the real revolutionaries and it could be suggested that there were before Peterloo there were a couple of attempts at which could be called revolution in this country.

Clive Emsley:

Oh yes, and those attempts actually go back to the to the 1790’s. There looks to be a group of individuals who are working towards a revolution within the country in the late 1790s. in 1801 you get the conspiracy of Colonel Despard, who was a comrade in arms of Nelson but is executed with several members of the Guards for attempting to kill the King, or at least that was the story.

And then you have no serious revolutionary activity of that sort but you get Luddism. And Luddism is infected with these radical ideas or would seem in certain areas to be infected with the radical political ideas and that’s an interesting new departure, that you have industrial action linked with political ideology.

Jeremy Black:

One of the things about Luddism is that the government’s response is to send troops. Thousands and thousands of troops are deployed in Nottinghamshire and in the Yorkshire area, so in the absence of a major police force, I mean this is the pre age of –

Melvyn Bragg:

Are we still talking of around Peterloo time?

Jeremy Black:

Oh, yes, yes of course you know they are deploying thousands of troops against what appears to be this umm working-class movement which has a political tinge which they don’t understand.

Melvyn Bragg:

Yeah, let’s let’s get to Peterloo. Sarah, its called by the Manchester Patriotic Union society, and given what happened, given what became thought of by some as terrible, they the Manchester Patriotic Union Society called this meeting and at the end of their meetings they sand Rule Britannia and God Save the Queen, which might surprise somebody thinking this was a bunch of terrible radicals. Can you just tell us what they were after? This outfit the Manchester Patriotic Union Society?

Sarah Richardson:

Well they’re raising profile, they’re trying to get reform on the political agenda. As we’ve seen the government shows no interest in advancing, - it’s a Tory government they’re interested in repressing this sort of move they’re not interested in legislating or changing anything. So they’re trying to use numbers, they’re trying to use peaceful protest, and they’re trying to raise consciousness by inviting important speakers like Hunt, also John Cartwright whose another leading radical to try and spread the message so it’s, they’re really trying to get reform on the agenda.

Melvyn Bragg:

And they’re Constitutionalists, they believe in constitutional monarchy, to get it into a particular local context you have this booming city, a massive city of Manchester, with no representation in Parliament whatsoever, and you have a couple of houses, literally a couple of houses in Wiltshire which sends up an MP. So this is, this is what they’re on about. Clive Emsley one of the members of the Manchester Patriotic Union Society spoken of was Henry Hunt, can you tell us something about him?

Clive Emsley:

Well he’s not umm he doesn’t come from Manchester, he’s a Wiltshire farmer a real John Bull character, famous for his pugilism. And he’s a fantastic speaker, and can hold a crowd and convince a crowd and has reputation as the finest radical orator in the country. That’s the reason why if you want to get a mass meeting then you get orator Hunt with his big white top hat to come and address them.

Melvyn Bragg:

It’s a wonderful picture, I love the fact that he’s a hunting, shooting, farming, fishing John Bull man going to Manchester, he went there to address them on what were then thought to be radical though constitutional issues.

Clive Emsley:

Yeah, and Hunt is a Constitutionalist, there are there are other radicals, this underground revolutionary element is continuing at the same time. And Hunt knows them and certainly in London he is involved in a meeting at the end of 1816 which leads to serious disorder. But Hunt actually manages to control the bulk of the crowd while the extremists are all for storming the tower.

Melvyn Bragg:

Sorry Jeremy you want to say something?

Jeremy Black:

Yeah Hunts part of a tradition, Burdett before him, Cartwright before him of radicals who want to work within the system to reform it, and many of whom are strong in the north and its no accident that the major reforming movement of the 1780s is the Yorkshire Association. The north of England has a very powerful reforming-the constitutional reforming tradition.

Melvyn Bragg:

So they call this meeting Sarah Richardson, they cleared it with the magistrates, they were going to be on St. Petersfield, we’re told that up to 50,000 people turned up, there are masses of eye witnesses, it was massively reported. They got their on the day in their best clothes as we understand, which is a factor because this is a celebration, and they were told no weapons and so on.

So they get there in the morning, can you just tell us through to the speeches and then what happened?

Sarah Richardson:

Around midday the square is filling up with people, around 50,000 people by midday and another 10,000 people by an hour later. The magistrates are watching, there are a number of middle class commentators are also watching. But its fair to say the majority of the people almost all the people in the square are working class. Who’ve come there in their best clothes to listen to the speakers and peacefully.

There’s no real sign of disorder, so around twenty past one the speakers arrive and there’s a platform at one end, they’re taken towards the platform in order to begin their speeches about 1:30.

Melvyn Bragg:

This is Hunt with his white top hat and Carlile?

Sarah Richardson:

Yeah, I mean one of the other people is a member of the Manchester Female Patriotic Union called Mary File, which is the female reform movement that’s set up, there’s a number of these set up around the country. So, women are important as participants in the crowd, but also speakers, she’s up on the platform with Hunt and Carlile and other leading Manchester radicals. And the press is there, the Times has sent its reporter, the local press are there so they’re also in the square.

So, the speakers arrive, the magistrates then decide that Manchester is in great danger and there’s going to be disorder so they decide to send the police in to arrest the speakers. The police turn to the magistrates and say we can’t go in unaccompanied we need soldiers, so you have the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry who’ve been set up I think after the Blanketeer protests and Manchesterers wanted their own local militia partly as Jeremy said because there’s no police force so therefore, they want their own militia in order to control disorder.

Melvyn Bragg:

So, these are chaps on horses with sabres?

Sarah Richardson:

On horses with sabres. And then there is the regular army Hussars as well around there backing them up. So, they send the soldiers in, the crowd resist and try and stop them from getting to the platform, link arms. And that’s when they get the sabres out, the horses out and basically slash down the crowd and kill a number of people, official estimates say eleven but-

Melvyn Bragg:

Well this new book here that I have before me that just came out by Michael Bush says that they’ve done the sums again and that its seventeen and over six hundred wounded.

Sarah Richardson:

I think that that’s entirely believable.

Melvyn Bragg:

And Clive Emsley, you’ve got the Yeoman cavalry going, can you tell us a little bit more about that and what was their relationship with the Hussars, the regimental cavalry that backed them up, these men some of whom had fought at Waterloo? Actually, some of the people who had been killed fought at Waterloo as well. Its all very complicated, just tell us about the Yeomanry and then what part the Hussars play.

Clive Emsley:

Well in fact sending the Yeomanry in was probably the biggest mistake, because the Yeomanry were generally speaking Millowners or the sons of Millowners or farmers the sons of farmers. These were, these were local volunteers who trained once a month or whatever. And this is, this is almost a kind of manifestation of class war. Because these are people who employ the individuals in the crowd. And so sending those individuals into the crowd who are not as well trained by any stretch of the imagination as the regular cavalry, with this potential for class hostility was an astonishingly stupid thing to do.

Melvyn Bragg:

One thing that I think we should record because I thought it was very interesting, the Hussars the professionals, the regimentals, deeply disapproved of what the Yeomanry did.

Clive Emsley:

Oh yes, and, and there are, one of the Hussars Lieutenants, lieutenant Joliffe wrote an account in which he describes, and indeed The Times reporter describes the Yeomanry cavalry cheerfully sabreing people and the regular cavalry being ordered not to do that specifically not to do that.

I mean there’s also the problem of when you, the physical problem for the soldiers of sitting on a horse in a very dense crowd, and certainly the regulars were told to use the flats of their blades, so they’re having to control their horses with their left hand, and twist their wrist given the structure of a sabre grip, twist their wrists to bring down the flat of the blade.

Now even bringing down the flat of the blade means an edge can slice an ear or whatever but an extremely difficult thing to do even for a good swordsman on a horse.

Melvyn Bragg:

Excellent, now then Jeremy you’ve mentioned journalists were there, and they were arrested and rather surprisingly the journalist from The Times was arrested- that wasn’t surprising, what was surprising was that the editor of The Times went through the roof and insisted on publishing everything he could about how black a day it was, and this was very influential, can you talk us through that?

Jeremy Black:

One of the things that are worth remembering is that there isn’t a conservative establishment in which everyone has the same opinion. I mean The Times is a conservative newspaper but it is equally horrified at what is going on as a lot of reformers are. The newspapers reported it fully, they brought home to a national and indeed international audience because people abroad were able to understand what had happened by reading the London newspapers that something had happened in the provinces.

And again, this is a relatively new development, in essence in the 18th century the reporting in the London press, the national press of what happened in the provinces was generally quite small, quite modest and by having reporters actually physically there, you know these are early days for having newspaper reporters, most newspapers had no reporters they essentially just used cut and paste, taking reports from other newspapers elsewhere. By actually sending reporters by actually then when their reporters got arrested taking local Manchester press reports-

Melvyn Bragg:

The Times reporter got arrested.

Jeremy Black:

Got arrested, and so they then took Manchester press reports and published them through the London press they made Peterloo- I mean Peterloo anyway was very important- but they made it an incredibly totemic moment through the newspapers.

Melvyn Bragg:

Did the reporting as it was done stir up a body of opinion then which, which had an importance?

Clive Emsley:
Oh yes absolutely, I mean for one thing it provokes extremist radicals, it also it embarrasses a lot of the conservative establishment. And I think the government is in a bit of a quandary, I mean what, what can we really do about this? We’re scared about the potential for some form of insurrection, some extreme radicalism. But we can’t start criticising our magistrates, or prosecuting our magistrates.

So, the government is in a bit of a cleft stick here. But there’s also a very serious impact on the well even on members of the Manchester Yeomanry cavalry. Less than ten years after leading the cavalry, the Manchester Yeomanry cavalry a cotton manufacturer HH Burleigh is actually calling for Parliamentary reform at a mass meeting in Manchester. Which is an interesting volte face.

Melvyn Bragg:

But in a sense the government if we’re looking at it terribly crudely and I do apologise won. Henry Hunt in the white top hat the John Bull, two and half years in prison, Richard Carlile newspaperman six years in prison. His wife kept on publishing his newspaper, she’s put in prison while pregnant for two and a half years, his sister she’s put in prison for two and a half years. So, in that sense the clampdown continues.

Carlile manages to use his trial to get around the suppression of the press because trials were published and therefore there’s a further inflammation of public opinion from his trial. Tell us about that Sarah.

Sarah Richardson:

Well Carlile’s interesting because he actually escapes, he’s one of the few people that escapes from Peterloo, from the square. He manages to get to London, he’s harboured by local radicals and then he gets to London an account in his own newspaper. He gets six years as you say where Henry Hunt gets two and a half, because he is prosecuted for publishing seditious libel. And so therefore-

Melvyn Bragg:

The seditious libel being the account of the meeting?

Sarah Richardson:

Yeah, and for insurrectionary words and so on. But his trial is an incredibly important piece of political theatre, I think. Because one of the things he does in his trial for example is read out Tom Paine’s Age of Reason because trials can be reported verbatim and while you cannot publish accounts of Peterloo without being chucked in prison or arrested-

Melvyn Bragg:

Well The Times did, I mean they were to powerful to chuck in prison.

Sarah Richardson:

Lots of journalists are arrested at this time, and there’s a lot of censorship and the government introduces six Acts after Peterloo in order to further repress the press.

Melvyn Bragg:

Yes, we must say that as well, six further Acts of repression were introduced as a result of Peterloo.

Sarah Richardson:

Yeah, partly for seditious words but also to increase the tax on newspapers, to try and tax them out of existence. So, you’re driving the radical press underground.

Melvyn Bragg:

Quickly Jeremy, I started this program with a couple of stanzas from a very long poem by Shelley, he’s over in Italy, and he gets word of it he really wakes up and dashes it off. He writes it in 1819 but its censored until 1832, but did it have any effect? Is he engaging yet another constituency with this? Presumably it was passed around.

Jeremy Black:

Yes, very much so. I mean romantic opinion; fashionable opinion is helped by responses such as Shelley’s to feel that the government system in some way is corrupt. I mean in practical terms there are very serious issues in British society, I mean how do you manage economic difficulties, how do you manage political change, and sometimes the emotional response isn’t always appropriate.

But there is no other response to Peterloo other than an emotional response because it was such an appalling mishandling of a situation. And I, I mean looking forward the, the climate of opinion helps to make it very very difficult, to defend what increasingly to many people seems to be indefensible. Which is the political system which is the representational system.

Melvyn Bragg:

But that’s a slower burn Jeremy, what happens in the aftermath of Peterloo if you look is that actually the government gets its way. I mean people say oh sorry oh dear oh dear, but there are six Acts that come in. Tax the newspapers out of existence, absolutely no meetings whatsoever, tying everybody’s hands, and then it isn’t as if Peterloo’s the end of something, could be said to be the beginning of something, because a year later we have the Cato street conspiracy. Just tell us why that was important Clive.

Clive Emsley:

Hunt goes back to London and there is an enormous celebratory welcome for him, and the extremists with whom he’d had these slight links in 1816 and 1817 who went by the name of the Society of Spencean Philanthropists. They followed a kind of proto Communist Newcastle schoolmaster called Tom Spence, who felt everyone should get back to the land and we should stop all this industrialisation and there should be equality.

Then there are three principal leaders Doctor Watson and his son and a former militia officer called Arthur Thistlewood. And these people have already attempted at least one coup d’état, and after Peterloo they are incensed and say something must be done.

Melvyn Bragg:

So what do they do?

Clive Emsley:

They plot to kill the cabinet at a cabinet dinner.

Melvyn Bragg:

Why did it take so long then? Everybody thinks the Peterloo massacre brought reform, but its 13 years before there’s reform which actually carries on the theme that the governments still in charge. The Whigs are an absolutely rotten opposition, Tories got Wellington their great Icon and despite how much he might have been disliked so very quickly Jeremy, so sorry we’ll have to do this bit again some other time. Why did it take so long to get to the Great Reform Act which wasn’t all that great anyway when you think about it, but still why did it take so long?

Jeremy Black:

Why’d it take so long? Because first of all there’s an important conservative populist side which we haven’t talked about, second of all because the radicals and reformers are divided and third of all because what historians need to do is look at processes as well as structure. Structure demands change as it were but the process of getting change is much much more complicated. Incidentally it leads to a whole lot of big riots. Peterloo was not a riot the riot was by the Yeomanry, the riot was actually by the Yeomanry, but there are big riots in the 1830s in Bristol and in Nottingham by pro reformers and that is very interesting because the relationship there between popular activism and for political change is a complex one.

Melvyn Bragg:

Sarah?

Sarah Richardson:

I think that you can’t get change without a government that’s going to introduce change, and the basic fact is the Whigs are not in power, they’re the only party that is going to embrace any sort of change and so that is the straight answer why you don’t get reform until the 1830s.

Melvyn Bragg:

Sorry, Jeremy mentioned the phrase conservative populism, can you just amplify that into two paragraphs?

Clive Emsley:

Um, yes I mean, it links with the notion of the freeborn Englishman and the idea of the English Constitution, still being generally speaking superior and the English being superior to everybody in Europe.

Melvyn Bragg:

So that is, that conservative populism slowed it down a bit?

Jeremy Black:

I think conservative populism slows it down, I think Sarah is absolutely right, Whigs aren’t in power, Tories aren’t going to introduce it. No two ways about it and as you say 1832 is not I mean people think of it in the 19th century as a great reform act, the practicality is that most males still don’t have the vote, women of course don’t have the vote and its only some parliamentary boroughs that get the vote. Though Manchester crucially does.

Clive Emsley:

And the interesting thing of course is that an enormous number of males lose the vote in 1832. Which is something that is conveniently forgotten very often, in the notion of a progressive linear development in the vote in British society.

Melvyn Bragg:

Well thanks very much for being such good sports, I’m sorry about that stampede, there you go, Sarah Richardson, Clive Emsley and Jeremy Black thank you very much indeed and next week we will be talking about Heaven.





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