The working class movement in England. Eleanor Marx Aveling 1895


1. Lucy Toulmin Smith. Introduction to “English Gilds,” page 30.

2. Kett was the descendant of an ancient Norman family, and both he and his brother William, although described respectively as a “tanner” and “butcher,” were landowners and men of position in Norfolk. His espousal of the cause of the people is thus doubly interesting. His chief demand was that “all bondmen be made free.” The character of the man is shown in his answer to an offer of pardon from the king if he would surrender himself and disband his followers: “Kings were wont to pardon wicked persons, not innocent and just men.” There is a contemporary account of the “rebellion” written in Latin, subsequently Englished. The rebel blood in the family seems to have descended to the third generation, for in 1589 his grandson, a clergyman, was burnt alive for heresy as a “dangerous person.” He died with a heroism that was worthy of his name.

3. The name “Levellers,” like most party names (e.g., “Lollards,” “Anabaptists,” “Quakers,” “Whigs” and “Tories”) was originally a nickname applied in scorn and derision. The Levellers were those who demanded, so early as 1647, that the “whole body of the People” should make the people’s laws. They were an immensely important factor in forcing Cromwell and the House of Commons to definite action. The Levellers themselves were divided into more and less advanced sections.

4. John Liburne, “Honest John,” born about 1614 (the date is uncertain), died 1657. Already, in 1637, after a short period of flight to Holland, we find him sentenced by the Star Chamber to be “whipped, piloried, and imprisoned” for contumely in connection with the printing of unlicensed books. Henceforth his life was one long struggle After being whipped through the streets, he continued to speak from his pillory until he was gagged. In prison he was treated with barbarous cruelty. But he wrote numberless tracts, all the same. In 1641 the long Parliament decided that the sentence upon him had been “bloody, wicked, cruel, barbarous, and tyrannical.” When the Civil War began Lilburne fought at Edgehill, was taken prisoner, and but for the fact that Parliament threatened reprisals, would have been executed. He served in the Parliamentary Army, with no little distinction, until 1645. Then his life became one long struggle- But neither persecution nor exile, imprisonment nor ill-usage could break his indomitable nature. With all his faults, Lilburne was enormously popular, especially with the Londoners. In 1649 leaders of the great May rising declared that if a hair of his head were touched, his death should be avenged “seventy times sevenfold,” and years later, when he was being tried for all kinds of misdemeanours, crowds of people declared they would rescue him should he be condemned. It is worth recording that the very soldiers sent to keep down the demonstrations in his honour shouted and flung caps in the air, and even sounded their trumpets when the hero was acquitted. About 1655, after many adventures, Lilburne joined the “Quakers,” when it would seem that he was not, only left alone, but actually received a small pension, through his old enemy Cromwell, until his death in 1657. He was the author of an immense number of pamphlets.

5. The Edict of Nantes was promulgated by Henry IV. in 1598, and granted toleration to the Huguenots. It was revoked in 1685 by Louis XIV., and this revocation, of course, resulted in the persecution of the French Protestants and their emigration, chiefly to England.

6. The Blanketeers were so called from the fact that at a great meeting in Manchester it was decided to petition against the use of military force, and to send “ten out of every twenty persons” who attended the meeting to London with the petition, and the petitioners were advised to take a blanket with them. Their march therefore became known as that of the Blanketeers.

7. The Peterloo meeting, attended it is said by 50,000 or 60,000 persons — not the least enthusiastic being the huge Women’s procession — was held at St. Peter’s Field, Manchester. The people were charged by the troops, and large numbers killed and seriously wounded.

8. William Cobbett was the grandson of an agricultural labourer. His father had “risen” to be a small farmer. Born in 1792, Cohbett, after a short time spent in an attorney’s office, enlisted as a soldier, and after earning golden opinions from his officers, it was as the champion and friend of the soldier that he first attracted attention. This championship got him into difficulties, and in 1792 he emigrated to Philadelphia where he earned a living in translating and teaching English to the French refugees, among his pupils was Talleyrand. In 1800 he returned to England, and thenceforward became, thanks to his strong personality and his vigorous pen, a power in English public life. His Weekly Political Register — begun in 1802, and carried on with short interruptions until 1835 — is an invaluable work for students of this period of English history. In addition to the Register and the other weekly compilations — e.g., the “State Trials,” and so forth — he was the author of innumerable works. Of these, the most fascinating is undoubtedly the inimitable “Rural Rides”; not the least interesting the “History of the Protestant Reformation” — a most virulent attack upon this same “Reformation,” and upon the corrupt makers of it. His “English Grammar,” too, is delightful reading. He died in 1833. As a stylist this English peasant ranks with the greatest English writers.

9. Richard Carlile, known best, perhaps, as an Atheist, was born in 1790. His father, a shoemaker, published a collection of mathematic and algebraic questions. Educated in the village school, Carlile picked up some “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic,” and even a little Latin. After various ventures, he started a publishing business, which soon brought him into conflict with the authorities. In 1819 he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 1,500 for “blasphemy.” The trial attracted so much attention that the Czar issued a special ukase, forbidding any report of it in Russia. Meantime, his wife pluckily carried on his work, until she, too, was sent to jail for two years. On his release, he was almost immediately re-arrested, and another period of imprisonment followed, during which his sister stepped into the breach, until she also was sent to jail for two years. Not only was Carlile the most distinguished freethought martyr of the early part of the century, he was also an active worker in the “Reform” movement, and did as much as any man to secure the liberty of the press that is now enjoyed in England. He died in 1843.

10. Born 1740 of an old Northampton family. After serving with great distinction in the Navy, he was, in 1775, appointed a major in the Militia, and began the long series of his writings and his active propaganda in favour of certain political reforms — among these all the Chartist “points.” At the same time Cartwright was actively interested in agriculture, and was energetically supporting the anti-slavery movement, at no small personal risk and danger to himself. He was also a frequent contributor to Cobbett’s Register. During the whole long period of his life he held steadily to his principles; refused to be disheartened by defeat; was ever ready with pen and voice to demand the rights of the people. A man whose memory deserves to be held in honour by the workers. He died in 1824.

11. Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847) was born in county Kerry, Ireland, of a fairly wealthy family. Like most Irish Catholics at this time, when the brutal anti-Catholic Laws were in force, he received his first education from the “hedge-school'’ master — i.e., literally, the master who taught surreptitiously under hedges in the open fields. After a short period of more regular schooling, the Irish University being closed to a Catholic, his education was completed abroad. Having studied law in England, he was among the earliest to benefit by the first Catholic Relief Act, and in 1798 was called to the Irish bar. It may be noted, in passing, that he continued almost to the end of his life to act as barrister — and a very lucrative business he found it. During the revolutionary years 1798-9 he remained not merely outside the revolutionary Irish movement, he was even hostile to it. His first great speech was made at a meeting called to protest against the Act of Union [of Ireland with England, brought about in 1800 by force, fraud, corruption — every conceivable infamy an infamous Government and venal Irish House of Commons were capable of], and henceforth he became a popular agitator, his remarkable eloquence, ready wit, and delightful humour easily winning the impressionable Irish heart. A turning-point in his career was the prosecution of his friend and supporter Magee, editor of a Dublin paper, for “libelling the Viceroy.” The English minister Peel has admitted that the sole object of the prosecution — tactics not unknown even to-day in some countries — was to crush so powerful a weapon as this paper. The jury was, of course, packed, and, with the consent of Magee, O'Connell, acting as counsel, instead of pleading where the verdict was a foregone conclusion, took advantage of the prosecution to. make a partisan speech, to violently attack the Government, and, in Peel’s words, “to utter a libel more atrocious than that which he proposed to defend.” Magee himself was frightened, and in a most cowardly declaration repudiated his own counsel, with no benefit to himself, but with the necessary result of adding enormously to the popularity and influence of O'Connell. Henceforth O'Connell’s power grew. He helped to start the “Catholic Organisation,” which was mainly instrumental in forcing au unwilling British House of Commons to pass a new ‘’ Catholic Relief Hill,” and before long he was almost as popular in England as in Ireland. In 1828 he was returned to Parliament, where he soon made his mark. The years that followed were years of storm and stress; now prosecuted, then defying the powers that were, he wielded a power that under other circumstances would have been impossible. Largely influencing the early Chartist agitation, until the starting of the Workmen’s Association, when his power began to wane, he in 1835 — having, like Parnell, the balance of Parliamentary power in his hands — made a pact with the English Whigs, and we soon find him denouncing trade unionism and all “interference” between employer and employed. In 1840 he founded the “Repeal” Association, and in Ireland regained the popularity which his opposition to trade unions had lost him. After another three years of Irish agitation he was arrested and prosecuted in 1843, and after a trial lasting 25 days, was pronounced — it is hardly necessary to say in Ireland — by a packed jury, guilty of “intimidation,” threatening to use physical force, and so on. But the sentence was deferred, and O'Connell meantime proceeded to England, making a kind of royal progress through the country, received everywhere with unbounded enthusiasm Finally he was condemned to 12 months’ imprisonment and a fine of 2,000, but a few months later the sentence was reversed on appeal, and O'Connell liberated. But the strength of the man was now broken, and the O'Connell who in 1846 called the attention of the House of Commons to the horrible distress and to the beginning of that famine which was to decimate Ireland, was but a shadow of the great “Liberator “of earlier years. His last appearance in Parliament was in February, 1847. In August of the same year he died, In studying the life of O'Connell, one seems to be studying the history of his unhappy country. In him were combined all the charm, the genius, the wit, the humour — and alas ! the weakness, the vanity, the venality of so many of his race. If it is difficult not to love him, it is impossible to respect him, and it is certain that the hope of “Ireland a nation” lies not in her middle-class O'Connells but in her generous, devoted, heroic working-men and working-women.

12.Spencer Walpole, “History of England from the Battle of Waterloo.”

13. Feargus O'Connor (1794-1855) was born in County Cork, Ireland. After taking an active part in the Reform and Repeal movements of 1831, he was, after the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832, returned to Parliament as a “Repealer” — i.e., pledged to vote for the repeal of the union between England and Ireland. In London he threw in his lot with the advanced section, and played a prominent part later on in the “Workmen’s Association” — the body which formulated the Charter. Partly as a consequence of this, partly on purely personal grounds — O'Connor had a genius for quarrelling all round — he quarrelled violently with O'Connell. In 1835, on the ground that he had not the necessary property qualification he was unseated. In 1837, supported by the “Workman’s Association,” he started the Northern Star, and worked with enormous energy for the Chartist cause. Owing to the violence of his language he has been classed among the “Physical Force” Chartists, though he himself claimed to be a “Moral Force” man. In any case the actual leaders of the Physical Force Party do not seem to have had much confidence in him. In 1840 he was tried for seditious libel, and sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment. In 1842 he did much to break up the contemplated alliance between the Chartists and the bourgeois Radicals. In 1843 he was again prosecuted for taking part In the ‘'Plug” riots. In 1846 — after a vigorous campaign against the Anti-Corn Law League, and its leaders he started a “Co-operative Land Society,” which for a time entirely absorbed him. In 1848 he presided over the Chartist Demonstration at Kennington, which was practically the end of the Chartist agitation. From this time the incipient madness that had long been noticed in him became acute, and in 1852 it was necessary to place him in a lunatic asylum. Here he remained until 1854, when he was allowed to be removed to the house of his sister, where he died in 1853. At his funeral over 50,000 persons, it is said, were present.