England’s Last Revolution – When Villagers Fought “Against the Wind”
On June 9, 1817, a group of village men from Pentrich in Derbyshire, England rose up in rebellion against the Crown. It was dubbed “the Last Revolution in England,” though it might have more accurately been called a government-inspired provocation to action, designed to justify repression. Why did the villages fight “against the wind” that was the power of England?
After the war with France ended in 1814, England suffered from great social, economic and political problems. Many of the major issues were the direct result of the war, but others were the necessary product of the changes occurring throughout society, some of which had begun earlier. The discontent that these occurrences brought, and the distress in the lives of the working people, culminated in the series of events that occurred between 1811-1819, including the Pentrich Rebellion in 1817, which is the backdrop for my historical romance novel, Against the Wind.
The uprising in the Midlands in 1817 was just what the leaders of the British government needed to justify sending a strong signal to the masses that no rebellion, such as occurred in the French Revolution, would be tolerated in England. The hundreds of villagers who rose up with the pikes and crude weapons were ignorant of the true facts—that the government itself had stirred their rebellion.
The year began with a rally held in London in January, perhaps inspired by the political clubs that advocated the vote for all men. The mood of the masses was rebellious and ended with stones thrown at the Prince Regent’s carriage as he left Parliament. While the Prince wasn’t harmed, with memories of the French Revolution still vivid in their minds, and the political clubs becoming more and more popular, especially in the Midlands and the North, the House of Lords adopted a spate of laws designed to control the stirrings of rebellion, including the suspension of Habeas Corpus, and the infamous Gagging Acts. All public meetings were forbidden, except under license from local magistrates. Pubs and coffee houses, as especially notorious places for radical gatherings, were covered by the Acts, as were all public places. Sedition, that is to say opposition to the government, whether by speech or written word, was severely punished.
In March, there was a protest by thousands of depressed Manchester workers. With a view to descending on London to petition the Prince Regent to do something to relieve their economic depression, they marched peacefully carrying blankets to sleep in. Thus, it became known as the March of the Blanketeers. It rained violently on the day the march began. As five hundred of the men marched towards Derby, they found the Hanging Bridge over the River Dove at Ashbourne occupied by masses of troops who were expecting an army of 30,000 rebels. Most of the Blanketeers were turned away, but twenty-five were arrested. Only a few got to Derby and only one marcher reached London to present his petition. However, the Manchester expression of discontent served to keep alive the government’s fear of revolution.
Concerned about the growing unrest, Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary sent spies throughout England, including the Midlands, to keep watch on the “centers of discontent.” Since these spies were informers paid by results, they quickly became agents provocateur, stirring rebellion where there was none so they would be paid. Among the spies was one William Richards, better known as William Oliver, or “Oliver the spy,” who incited open rebellion in the Midlands. He is one of the characters in my novel.
Oliver traveled to Pentrich in Derbyshire, disguised as a depressed worker (he had previously been in Fleet Prison), encouraging the villagers to armed rebellion. He assured them there were thousands in London ready to join them in rising against the Crown. The villagers, in their ignorance, believed him. They were simple men who thought they were joining a great cause for democracy where every man would have a vote. They would soon learn they were wrong.
At the same time that Oliver was making arrangements with the villagers for an armed march to air their discontent, he informed the local militia of the planned uprising, even giving them the date. Due to Oliver’s lies, the hundreds who marched on that rainy night in June had no idea they stood not a chance of accomplishing their objective. When the dawn came, the men faced a regiment of the King’s Own Dragoons and were soon scattered or captured.
Notwithstanding the circumstances of the uprising and the involvement of the British government, the powers in London decided to make an example of the rebels. Forty-five men were tried for high treason by Special Commission. Three were hanged, including Jeremiah Brandreth, Isaac Ludlam and William Turner, the “ringleaders”—all characters in my novel. Fourteen were sentenced to transportation to Australia.
Years after the events, in a letter written in 1831, Lord Melbourne, a former Home Secretary, recalled that there was “much reason to suspect that the rising in Derbyshire…was stimulated, if not produced, by the artifices of Oliver, a spy employed by the Government of that day.”
In examining the causes for the uprising in the Midlands, one cannot discount that the people had been through much hardship, and by 1817, were hungry and tired of laws and taxes imposed by a nobility that had little understanding of their needs. We, who enjoy democracy, might say their desire to rise against such hardship was not unreasonable.
My story begins in London where a young noblewoman flees a fate worse than death and runs unknowingly into the arms of a spy for the Crown.
About the Author
As a child Regan Walker loved to write stories, particularly about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors thought her suited to the profession of law, and Regan realized it would be better to be a hammer than a nail. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding Prince Regent who thinks of his subjects as his private talent pool.
Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.
Buy link for Against the Wind:
Excerpt (Chapter 1):
“Under cloak of darkness, love will find you. Fearing the dark, you will never find love.”
London, April 1817
She is dead.
Katherine, Lady Egerton, stared at the still form lying on the bed. Beloved sister, friend of the heart…Anne was gone. One minute she was struggling for breath, the next she lay silent and still. The only person in the world Kit loved more than life had left her.
They are all gone now. The sudden solitude tore at her heart.
Kit smiled sadly, gazing through eyes filled with tears at the frail body lying before her. The brown mouse. Anne’s name for herself. Delicate even as a child, she had not long survived her marriage to the cruel Earl of Rutledge. Kit knelt at her sister’s bedside, assailed by grief and guilt, and reached for Anne’s hand. Could she have done more to save her sister from the dread disease? Could she have done more to protect Anne from the heartless man who was her husband?
Pale in death, Anne was still beautiful. Kit had often sketched that heart-shaped face. Not a mouse, but a much-loved sister with a kind, unselfish heart.
Kit had seen the end coming in the last few months, months through which she’d faithfully cared for Anne. The coughs that wracked her sister’s slight frame had grown worse as Anne seemed to fade before Kit’s eyes. Kit knew she was losing her even as she willed that weak body to heal. The physician said he could do nothing; each time he left shaking his head and telling Kit to make “the poor girl” comfortable as best she could. Kit had tried to save Anne, doing the only thing she knew by giving her syrup of horehound and honey. But such a small measure was not enough. Then, too, her sister had seemed to welcome death.
Suddenly, the room grew cold. Kit felt his presence, a looming evil behind her. She took a deep breath and summoned her strength.
“Leave her and come to me.” Rutledge’s tone was harsh and demanding. Kit had no need to see him to know his face would be twisted in an odious scowl, his lips drawn taut. “It is time.”
“I must see to my sister.”
“You need do nothing. I have arranged for the burial. Come away now.”
Kit knew what he wanted, for she had seen the lust in his dark eyes. What at first had been sideways glances became leers and unwanted touches. Though she’d lived in his home since the death of her husband the baron, Kit had avoided the earl, rarely leaving her sister’s bedside. She had been thinking of a way to escape, but her exhaustion in caring for Anne these last days left those plans incomplete. With meager funds, her options were few.
When she failed to rise at the earl’s direction, his hand roughly gripped her shoulder. She stiffened at the pain of his fingers digging into her skin.
“I have waited long for you, Katherine, enduring that mockery of a marriage to your sister while all the while it was you I wanted, you I was promised. Now I shall have what is mine.”
“No!” She rose swiftly, stepping back as she turned to face him. Revulsion rose in her throat. What did he mean by those words? She never had been promised to him!
His smirk transfigured what many thought of as a handsome face. Hadn’t Anne at first been fooled by his aristocratic features and wavy brown hair? One had only to look closely to see his nature reflected in those thin lips and narrow eyes now focused on Kit. A deep furrow between his brows bore witness to his long having insisted upon having his way. When Kit sketched him, it had been as an attacking hawk.
“What will you do?” he asked smugly. “Where will you go, m’dear? You are alone and without funds. I am the one who has provided food and shelter for both you and your weak sister, though I wanted only you. You are mine, Katherine, and I will have you.”
Terror seized her. Cornered, her eyes darted about like an animal snared in a trap. His tall figure blocked the door to the corridor; the only way out led through his adjacent bedchamber. She fled toward it.
She hastened into the room as he stalked after her, knowing she had but seconds, and her eyes searched for a weapon, something to hold him at bay. At the side of the fireplace were tools, short bars of iron that could fend off a man. But could she reach them in time?
He lunged for her just as she ran toward the fireplace. His body collided with hers, and she fell upon the wooden floor with a thud. Pain shot through her hip. His body crashed down upon hers, forcing the air from her lungs. She gasped a breath just as his mouth crushed her lips, ruthlessly claiming dominance.
Tearing away, she pushed against his shoulders with all her might, but his greater strength held her pinned to the floor. His hand gripped one breast and squeezed. She winced at the pain, but that was quickly forgotten the moment a greater terror seized her: His aroused flesh pressed into her belly.
Violently she struggled, but to no avail. His wet lips slid down her throat to her heaving chest as his fingers gripped the top of her gown and yanked at the silk. Kit heard the fabric tear as he ripped her gown and the top of her chemise, and she felt the cool air on her naked breasts. Frantic, she mustered strength she did not know she had. Twisting in his grasp, she reached for the iron poker now a mere foot away.
His mouth latched onto her breast where he voraciously sucked a nipple. Lost in his lust, he did not see her grasp the length of iron, raise it above him and bring it crashing down on his head. Stunned by the blow, he raised up, his eyes glazed. Kit let the bar fall again, this time with greater force. Blood spattered her chest and face as his body went limp. He slumped atop her.
Kit’s heart pounded in her chest like a bird’s wing beating against a cage. Frantically she shoved his face from her breast and rolled his body to the floor.
Unsteady at first, her breath coming in pants, Kit rose and looked down at the crumpled form lying before her, every nerve on edge as she gazed into that evil face, now deathly pale. Blood oozed from a gash in the earl’s left temple. There was no sign of life, no movement.
I have killed him!
Fear choked off her breath as she wiped blood from her face with a sleeve, and with one last look toward her sister’s bedchamber she raced from the room. Footsteps sounded down the hall. Alarmed at the prospect of encountering one of the earl’s servants who would summon a constable, Kit knew she must find a place to hide, and there was nowhere to hide in the house. Quietly stealing into her bedchamber, she grabbed her cloak and reticule, stuffing inside it the one piece of her jewelry that could be sold to sustain her, and fled the dwelling.
Out on the street, she paused to draw her cloak tightly around her, desperate to cover her torn and bloody gown. Where could she go? Who would shelter her in the state she was in, given the deed she had done?
Only one name came to her.