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The Peterloo Massacre

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 15 December 2005

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, a defining moment of its age. 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, Castlereagh had successfully co-ordinated European opposition to Napoleon, but at home he had repressed the Reform movement, and popular opinion held him responsible for the Peterloo Massacre of peaceful demonstrators in 1819. Shelley's epic poem, The Mask 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 Peter's Field, Manchester turn into a blood bath? 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 Jeremy Black, Professor of History at the University of Exeter; Sarah Richardson, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Warwick; Clive Emsley, Professor of History at the Open University.

  • Further Reading

    J Belchem, Popular Radicalism in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Palgrave, 1996)

    L Colley, Britons (Yale, 2005)

    Philip Lawson, 'Reassessing Peterloo', History Today, 1988

    Rohan McWilliam, Popular Politics in nineteenth century England (Routledge, 1998)

    D Read, Peterloo (Manchester University Press, 1958)

    J Stevenson, Popular disturbances in Britain

    M Thomis and P Holt, Threats of revolution in Britain (Macmillan, 1977)

    E P Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin, 1991)

    Clive Emsley, British Society and the French Wars, 1793-1815 (1979)

    Clive Emsley, The English Police: A Political and Social History (1996)

    Sarah Richardson & Kathryn Gleadle, Women and Politics, 1760-1860 (Palgrave, 2000)

    Sarah Richardson & Sonja Cameron, The History of Suffrage, 1760-1867 (Pickering & Chatto, 1999)

    Michael Bush, The Casualties of Peterloo (Manchester, 2005)

    Jeremy Black, The English Press, 1621-1861 (Sutton Publishing, 2001)

    Jeremy Black, A History of the British Isles (Palgrave, 2002)

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