Category Archives: Political

A Holiday in Prison

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A HOLIDAY IN PRISON – 1768-1770

Mr Sargeant Glynn, John Wilkes, The Rev John HorneDURING the many hundred years that the famous gaol existed in St. George’s Fields no human being ever served a term of imprisonment within its walls under such happy conditions as John Wilkes.  From first to last it must have been evident to him that he continued to be the most popular man in England.  Any number of friends were allowed to visit him whenever they desired.  His board was sumptuous, his lodging the best that the prison could provide.  And, greatest solace of all, he was able to pursue his crusade on behalf of “Liberty” without hindrance, being permitted to write and publish whatever he chose, and to take counsel with the most militant of his supporters.  Except that he was prohibited from leaving the gaol he was as much his own master as if he were living in his own house.

Anticipating a long imprisonment, his first consideration was to provide a home for his daughter, not wishing her to remain any longer in “the dismal dungeon of St. Sepulchre’s.”  Polly Wilkes was now in her eighteenth year, a merry amiable girl with much charm of manner, and the grace and elegance of the well-bred Parisienne.  In spite, however, of her sparkling black eyes she was inordinately plain, almost ugly, resembling her father in nearly every feature.  The bond of sympathy between the two had become even stronger and closer still since their frequent partings, and she was more attentive than ever to his slightest wish, seeming to have no other thought but to give him pleasure.  In her estimation he was the greatest hero and the noblest martyr that the world had ever seen.  Few women have shown so perfect an example of filial affection as the daughter of John Wilkes.

Excerpt from Life of John Wilkes by Horace Bleackley – 1907

Chapter 14  A Holiday in Prison

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Further Reading and External Links

John Wilkes on Spartacus Educational

John Wilkes on Google Books

John Wilkes on Wikipedia

The Second Parliamentary War

 

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The Second Parliamentary War – 1768-1769

John WilkesEVER since the Middlesex election there had been rumours that Wilkes would be expelled from Parliament, but the Government observed the greatest secrecy with regard to its plans.  Although George the Third, exasperated by the persistency with which his enemy tried to extenuate “No. 45,” had declared that “the expulsion of Mr. Wilkes appears to be very essential and must be effected,” there was much difference of opinion among the ministers.  Most of the Cabinet were disposed to oblige the king, but Camden was wholly averse to such a drastic measure, deeming it more politic to let matters rest where they were.  Eventually the will of the great lawyer prevailed.  Grafton, a political dilettante grown weary of his hobby, was glad to procrastinate, having no inclination to incite the Wilkites to begin window smashing once more.

The Premier was bearing a heavy weight of unpopularity already.  Accepting office originally because his adherence was necessary in order that Pitt might come into power, he had been robbed by illness of the services of his colleague for many months, besides sharing the odium which the Great Commoner had incurred through the acceptance of a peerage.

While the mob hated him because he had not obtained a pardon for Wilkes, the upper classes were indignant at his want of firmness during the riots.  For the poverty and distress that had increased so much in recent years his Government was held responsible.  With the American colonists, too, it was becoming more detested every day owing to the imposition of new import duties.  In the Cabinet, since Chatham had ceased to preside over its councils, there was little unanimity.  A heterogeneous medley of Whig and Tory, they were bound together merely by love of place, which, though possibly one of the strongest of political bonds, is apt to be productive of fierce jealousies.  Naturally Grafton, who had never regarded Wilkes as a grievous sinner, was loath to increase his own embarrassments by trying to deprive the demagogue of his seat.  So the summer passed by, and the Government took no steps to gratify the king.  Instead, a sort of tacit compact seems to have been arranged, the ministers being content to allow Wilkes to remain a member of Parliament as long as he submitted to his punishment quietly.

 

Excerpt from Life of John Wilkes by Horace Bleackley – 1907

Chapter 13 The Second Parliamentary War

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Further Reading and External Links

The National ArchivesThe second half of the 18th century saw a flowering of ideas concerning popular rights. In the 1760s, many of these concern John Wilkes MP.

Remember John Wilkes
The radical, journalist and politician, John Wilkes, is remembered by a statue on Fetter Lane in the City of London.

 

Social Change and Railways

 

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Railways & Social Changes in the 19th Century

The First Railway CoachTHE steamship, the railway-train, the electric telegraph, the newspaper, and cheap postage (all occupied with facilitating travel or the interchange of commodities and ideas) have influenced modern life probably more than any other agencies. 

The steamboat Clermont was plying in America on the Hudson, in [1807], but not until [1812], when Henry Bell launched the Comet on the Clyde, did Britain’s course in steam navigation begin, and it was only in [1838] that a ship crossed the Atlantic by steam-power alone, a feat that had been declared impossible.  In [1814] George Stephenson constructed an engine, nicknamed Puffing Billy, from its noise, and showed that the steam locomotive was possible; by [1825] the Stockton and Darlington Railway was carrying both passengers and goods, and the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened in [1830].  Stephenson boasted that it should be cheaper for a workman to ride in a coach than to wear out energy and shoeleather in walking, and he kept his word; it was not long before a network of railways made travel easy.  Henceforth bulky articles were readily carried both by land and sea; commerce expanded, and Britain became more than ever the workshop of the world.

 

Excerpt from The British Nation by George McKinnon Wrong – 1903

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Further Reading and External Links

Visit the Victoria and Albert Museum for more on Social Changes in the 19th Century

Find out more about the British Railway Network

History of Rail Transport on Wikipedia

History Learning Site and Railway History

The Origin of the Name ‘Pipe Roll’

 

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The Pipe Roll Society

The National Archives

The Origin of the Name ‘Pipe Roll’

King Henry II – on the throne at the time of the early Pipe RolsTHE origin and meaning of the name Pipe Roll as applied to the sheriffs’ accounts of the landed and feudal revenues of the Crown seems to have escaped notice.  In fact the name should be ‘Roll of Pipes’ as the pipes were not the Roll itself, but the individual membranes of which the Roll consisted.  This comes out clearly from passages in certain ordinances of the Exchequer issued by  Edward II on 14 June anno sexto decimo (1323), and printed in the Red Book of the Exchequer, iii. 858, where we have the following direction given,

Quant (?Que) le Grant Roule soit escrit saunz rascure et les Pipes annuelement examinez;

while further on the officials are more explicitly directed to see that

soient desore annuelment tutes les pipes de tutz les accomptes renduz en lan bien et pleynement examinez avant qe eles soient mises ensemble, et roule fait de eles.

Each ‘pipe’ of the Roll must be examined before they are put together and the Roll made up.  So again on p.860 we have the ‘pipes’ of the Foreign Accounts as well as those of the sheriffs’ accounts.  From these passages we also learn that the proper name of the series was Le Grant Roule or Magnus Rotulus, but we also find it spoken of as Le roule annal; but it soon came to be known as La Pipe (Rot. Pari., ii. 101, A.D. 1348).  The ‘pipes’ or membranes of which each Roll consists are strips of parchment about 6 feet long, sewn together at one end, and not continuously, as the Patent and Pell Rolls are.  Each strip bears at its head the name of the county whose account it contains, as EBOR.  If one strip does not suffice the supplementary strip is headed ITEM EBOR , and if a third is requisite then it will be ADHUC ITEM EBOR, and so on.  That the ‘pipes’ are the individual membranes, and not the accounts, as suggested in the Oxford Dictionary, seems clear: further, as they were flat strips of parchment, in seeking for the meaning and etymology we may keep clear of the notion of anything tubular and cylindrical on which previous suggestions have run.

Excerpt taken from The English Historical Review Volume 26 – 1911

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Further Reading and External Links

The Pipe Roll Society:  Rolls for 8 Richard I and 3 John have been printed in full by the Pipe Roll Society.  The earliest record dates from 1129-30, and then continue in an almost unbroken series from 1155 until 1833.

The National Archives:  The Pipe Rolls are the oldest series of English governmental documents, and were created by the most ancient department of the English government, the Exchequer, which existed by 1110. The earliest survivor dates from the reign of Henry I, and is second only to Domesday Book itself in its antiquity as a public record. They were created principally to record the accounts of the sheriffs of the counties of England, which they made annually before the barons of the Exchequer, but came also to include the accounts of other officials.  The National Archives have extensive information on the Pipe Rolls.  Visit their website to find out more

Pipe Rolls on Wikipedia

Pipe Rolls on Google Books

An Exile in Paris

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An Exile in Paris – 1764

John Wilkes and Daughter PollyExcept for two brief clandestine visits to London in a vain endeavour to seek a pardon, Wilkes remained in exile from England during the next four years.  For this long banishment he had no reason to blame his advisers.  Immediately his friends knew that he had crossed the Channel he was overwhelmed with entreaties to return.  Those best able to advise him, like George Onslow and William Fitzherbert, the two most zealous partisans amongst his fellow-members of Parliament, sent word that the House of Commons could do no more than expel him, while Earl Temple assured him that he had nothing to fear from the House of Lords.  It was the opinion, also, of Alexander Philipps, his lawyer, that no British jury would convict him.  But his friends warned him that if he remained abroad he would lose his popularity, since the public could not be expected to fight the battles of a man who had run away.

Influenced by this unanimous advice, in which Humphrey Cotes and his brother Heaton had joined most earnestly, he determined to set out for London on the 13th of January, so as to arrive in time for the meeting of Parliament on the 16th of the month.  It was a grave risk, as he knew well enough, for should the House decide upon his expulsion it might be difficult for him to avoid a debtor’s prison.  The wonderful good fortune that attended him at some of the most perilous moments in his career did not fail him at this crisis.  A genuine but an opportune relapse seized him.  Ever since his flight from London he had been much indisposed.  The jolting of the coach and the sickness he had suffered on the stormy sea had re-opened his wound, and though still weak and in much pain he had plunged into the gaities of Paris with accustomed ardour.  Consequently he grew worse, and two days before he should have left for England he was obliged to take to his bed.  It was a most fortunate indisposition.  Had he returned to London on the 13th of January he would have suffered a long imprisonment, during which the fickle public must have lost all interest in “Wilkes and Liberty”.  On the other hand, his exile although in most respects a delightful holiday, gave him the prestige of martyrdom, and he was able to arrive in his native land at a time of his own choosing, when he could make a dramatic re-appearance upon the political stage.

Excerpt from Life of John Wilkes by Horace Bleackley – 1917

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Further Reading and External Links

John Wilkes on Google Books

John Wilkes on Wikipedia

John Wilkes on Spartacus Educational

 

The First Parliamentary War

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The First Parliamentary War – 1763

John WilkesParliament met on Tuesday, the 15th of November.  For many weeks the whole nation had been looking forward to this day, as though a decisive battle in foreign warfare was to be lost or won.  All were aware that there had been few contests in the history of England upon which graver issues had depended, since the fight between the Opposition and the Ministry over the body of John Wilkes would decide whether the king or Parliament was henceforth to control the destinies of the people.  Dense crowds were gathered in the courtyards outside the old Palace of Westminster.  Members of both Houses thronged the long corridors within, each party having mobilised its forces for the great fight. There was an atmosphere of unaccustomed excitement everywhere.  Each face was aglow with expectation; all hurried to and fro with quick eager footsteps.  

Long before the Speaker took his seat every bench was filled in the chapel of St. Stephen’s, where the Commons assembled, and members were standing along its panelled walls.  Although not as notable an assembly as some of the Parliaments that had gone before and came soon after, it still contained the most noble figure that ever entered those doors.  He sat amidst his colleagues of the Opposition this great William Pitt, grim and aloof, unconscious of the incessant glances that were cast upon him, a tall gaunt man in ill-fitting clothes, and though the shadow of pain and sickness rested upon his cheeks and he leant forward in his seat with the stoop of the valetudinarian, the gleam of his blue eyes revealed the unquenchable fire that glowed within his breast, and the fierce curved nose and stern mobile lips gave an impression of power and virility to his pale face.  Across the House his brother-in-law, the Premier, bent over a sheaf of notes, a silent, bloodless man with a hacking cough, his firm mouth and tilted nostrils indicating the proud Grenville obstinacy, and while he had none of Pitt’s fiery eloquence, his clear logical speeches made him one of the most formidable of debaters.

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Robert Walpole and The South Sea Bubble

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Sir Robert Walpole and The South Sea Bubble of 1720

Sir Robert WalpoleWalpole had opposed the South Sea scheme, though he made money out of speculation in the stock, and in the moment of disaster the king dismissed Stanhope and Sunderland, who soon died, and called upon Walpole to take charge of the finances. 

It was the beginning of his long supremacy.  He reorganized the South Sea Company, leaving it with a capital of £33,000,000 and still a gigantic corporation.   The shareholders got one share in the new company for three in the old, government guaranteed dividends on half the stock, and with something short of utter ruin the crisis passed.  It wrought much harm; that it brought Walpole to the front and made his real capacity apparent must be counted among its good results, for, as no one else, Walpole saw what England needed, and had the courage and ability to hold the government to its real tasks.

In earlier ages the king had been the real head of the government.  Sir Robert Walpole is the first name in the long roll of British prime ministers – men who rule the state though they use the sovereigns name.

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The South Sea Bubble

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The South Sea Bubble of 1720

The South Sea Bubble by Edward Matthew WardThe treaty of 1713 between Great Britain and Spain had also granted to English merchants the right of sending a merchant ship every year to the South Seas, as the Pacific Ocean was then called. 

In consequence, English commerce and wealth began to increase by leaps and bounds.  All this made people ready to venture their money in risky enterprises, and a number of merchants and bankers formed a great company for trading with the South Seas.  Their schemes caught the public fancy, and when the South Sea Company promised to make all rich who trusted their money to it, people rushed to take its shares.  They paid absurdly high prices for very doubtful chances of gain; and men and women, rich and poor, went almost crazy with excitement. 

When they regained their senses they saw that they had paid far too dear for profits which might never come.  Then, all at once with equal folly they rushed to sell their shares, but very few people would buy.  The great South Sea Bubble burst, and many thousands of people were ruined. 

The only man who came forward with any plan for healing some of the misery was Robert Walpole, who was known to be the best man at figures in the House of Commons.  He had warned people against trusting these schemes, and now he showed his skill in repairing some of the ruin.  This brought him back to power as one of the chief of the king’s ministers, and for the next twenty one years he was the first man in England next to the king.

Excerpt from Stories from English History by Henry Pitt Warren – 1908

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John Wilkes

 

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John Wilkes – Liberty

‘North Briton’ No. 45 (23 April 1763) dealt with the speech from the throne preceding the recent adjournment, and characterised a passage in which the peace of Hubertsburg was treated as a consequence of the peace of Paris, as ‘the most abandoned instance of ministerial effrontery ever attempted to be imposed on mankind;’ nay, even insinuated that the king had been induced to countenance a deliberate lie.

The resentment of the king (George III) and the court knew no bounds, and the law officers advised that the article was a seditious libel.  Proceedings in the ordinary course were, however, precluded by the anonymity of the publication; and accordingly the two warrants which were issued by the secretaries of state (Egremont and Halifax) for the apprehension of the authors, printers, and publishers of the alleged libel and the seizure of their papers contained the names of the printers only.  The secretaries had no higher jurisdiction than justices of the peace, and as a justice’s warrant was valid only against the persons named therein, there was thus in fact no warrant under which Wilkes could be legally arrested. 

The printers were first apprehended, and, on the information of one of them, Wilkes was taken early in the forenoon of 30 April, on his way from the Temple to his house in Great George Street, Westminster.  The officers entered the house with him, and John Almon q. v. calling about the same time, the news was carried to Lord Temple, who at once applied for a habeas corpus.  Wilkes was meanwhile taken before the secretaries.   He parried their questions and protracted the examination until the habeas corpus had been granted.  There was, however, some delay in the actual issue of the writ, of which the secretaries took advantage by committing Wilkes to the Tower under a warrant which directed him to be kept close prisoner.

The direction was obeyed to the letter, neither his legal advisers nor the Duke of Grafton nor Lord Temple being permitted to see him.  Temple, as lord-lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, received the king’s express orders to cancel Wilkes’s commission in the militia.  He obeyed (5 May), and was then himself dismissed from the lieutenancy (7 May).  Wilkes’s house had meanwhile been thoroughly ransacked, and his papers, even the most private and personal, seized.

Excerpt from The Dictionary of National Biography Volume 21 1909

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The Sepoy Rebellion

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Houses of Parliament

The Sepoy Rebellion – 1857 – As the mutiny developed, these conservatives looked round for some specific act to which they could triumphantly point the people of England as a verification of their predictions, and an adequate and valid reason for the Sepoy Rebellion.  They found it in the fact that the Governor General, Lord Canning, (fresh from home and not yet tainted with their Christless “neutrality,”) had so far forgotten the obligations of his high position before the people of India, that he had actually contributed money in aid of a Missionary Society.  

By an American reader this statement must be thought simply ridiculous, and the writer be deemed trifling.  But no, far from it; we are in sober earnest.   This was, in all seriousness, solemnly put forward before the British people and Parliament as the cause of the Rebellion by these “most potent, wise, and reverend seigneurs” of the East India Company.   They found a mouth-piece even in the House of Lords, in the person of one of their former associates, Lord Ellenborough, who rose in his place, and lifted his hands in horror as he announced the fact, and declared that nothing less than Lord Canning’s recall could be considered an adequate penalty for so great a violation of the rules and traditions of the Honorable Court!

This “old Indian,” who thus made a fool of himself, and slurred the Christianity of the very crown before him in the presence of what has been called “the most venerable legislative assembly in Christendom.

Excerpt from The Land of Veda by William Butler – 1872

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