Marlowe and Watson

Mark Eccles – Christopher Marlowe & Tom Watson – in Elizabethan London

dell writing matters june 2018 – marlowe -Eccles \CM & Marlowe 1934 web vers     13 09

Notes on –Chistopher Marlowe in London Harvard USA, 1934, Octagon  NY 1967- reprint
Featuring the document on the \Bradley or Hog Lane incident used by Peter Farl Baiey*

This document, in latin- there is currently no English translation –  is the jail delivery document for Thomas Watson published by Mark Eccles in the book dealing with Marlowe’s relation with Watson, discovered by  Eccles when he was undertaking research into Thomas Watson (pp8-9).

The text gives information on Marlowe and the document, which he claims to have discovered  in the Public Record Office He noticed the name Christopherus Morley and had the document photostated. The following commentary is based on reading Eccles book. A translation would be helpful as the commentary depends on this and other documents not always given by Eccles.

Preface

Eccles cites help from J Leslie Hotson, and Hotson sets the scene with a preface in which he asserts that  Eccles has added “a generous chapter to the poet’s life, which confirms our notion of the violence of his character”. (v) and also claims Eccles has discovered a new group of associates, led by  poet Thomas Watson. (vi). Eccles then suggests

“Marlowe’s life… has the fascination of the unknown. Such fragments of it as we do succeed in discovering only intensify the silence and blackness of the rest. Of the six years of his prime (ie 1587-1593, TF), nothing is known beyond a few casual allusions and the charges made at the time of his arrest and death. Between the Privy \Council’s letter on his behalf to the University of Cambridge in 1587 and the warrant which it issued in 1593 for his arrest, only one definite record of Marlowe has been found.  From this record we shall take our start”. (page 4)

The Bail Bond

What is this record? It  is clearly a bail bond –  the sureties being named as Richard Kitchen and Humphrey Rowland, but details of the offence appear missing. Eccles asks

“What breach of the law brought him in 1589 to Newgate? …The bond into which he entered on October 1st of that year …to appear at the next session of Newgate… a document so vague and all embracing provokes our curiosity” p4

This bond is however not reproduced by Eccles. He mentions that J H Ingram has discussed it in his book THE LIFE OF MARLOWE(P51) and discusses Hotston in an article in July 1926 commenting he cannot find anything about the recognizances. The anonymous sureties were however found by Hotson in other documents. Eccles comments that Hotson could not find why Marlowe was charged, asking  ‘he is indicted for felony, is committed to bail. What was his offense? Was he convicted? Nobody knows”. p5-6.

However later (p13) Eccles discusses the bail document and in a footnote points out that J H Ingram provides a facsimile on p149. This does not seem to be reproduced though he comments that it was missed by Jeafferson (cited in a footnote on page 13) along with the 1592 document on Marlowe and the constables, which is reproduced on page 105. This is muddle.

The Goal Delivery – Marlowe & Watson

Eccles indicates he was researching Marlowe’s life and notes that Kyd and Nashe are known to be friends of Marlowe, and thinks Thomas Watson could be a friend so he researches Thomas Watson- he had dedicated Meliboeus to Thomas Walsingham – p8 – and was likely to be in Marlowe’s circle as Walsingham was closely associated with Marlowe. Then Eccles  discovered Chancery Miscellanea, Bundle 68 file 12 No 362 a writ and return into Chancery of a Goal delivery at Newgate reciting the coroner’s request. Patent Rolls for 32 Eliz (part 4) contain also a pardon” (Eccles op cit pp8-9 given in latin pp25-26).

Eccles implies that the Goal Delivery document for which he gives the legal latin original encapsulates the other two, but why these other docs are not given is not clear from the book.  It is unfortunate that the bond which Marlowe gave – and which he presumably signed – is not given – particularly as this would give us a second signature for Marlowe if he did sign it. The lack of signatures for Marlowe has always been a challenge for scholars. The introduction ends, on page 9, with the comment “the story which these records have to tell follows”, and is given in three sections.

Section 1 tells of a street fight based on the coroner’s inquest into William Bradley, who had been fighting Marlowe with swords. Watson tried to defend Marlowe, Bradley fights him and is killed (pp9-11). Eccles then discusses the inquest jury  report (11- 13)  implying he has seen it. He then mentions the bond “for his appearance at the next Goal Delivery” and says the “brief and uncommunicative memorandum of this bond is the only document in the case which has been known up to this time”, and gives a reference for it. (p13- he states a facsimile is given in J H Ingram, Christopher Marlowe and his Associates, p149  – but gives no more information on this book).

Eccles says the recognizance bound Marlowe to appear at the next court sessions and this document was found among the court delivery rolls. He comments on the use or non use of the bond by historians (pp13-14) and asserts that it showed Marlowe was charged with a felony…but does not say  what crime he is charged with. But “the newly discovered documents (plural- referring to his own discoveries TF) give information on ‘what had happened to cause Marlowe’s arrest’ and details of the court case (‘what went on at the hearing of the case’). Since more than one document is mentioned, why only one document is cited is again curious.

Section 2: On the “Goal Delivery of Newgate at which Marlowe and Watson appeared”- the trial was held on Dec 3 in the 32nd year of Elizabeth (which began on November 17 1589)” p14.  Eccles describes the judges noting a connection with Marlowe – Manwood – Chief Baron of the Exchequer- his tomb d 14 12 92 – has an epitaph by CM – Hackington Canterbury. Potentially an important piece of evidence.

P22 THE GOAL DELIVERY (incorporates inquest ) Eccles also gives (p24-25) the pardon for  WATSON 5 months after entering Newgate; this is NOT the bond. It is the PARDON  and is only given in latin.

Section III

Eccles attempts a comparative analysis with other documents. 26-31. Mainly on legal procedure, what counts in getting a not guilty verdict.

CHAPTER 2 IN NEWGATE

Eccles seeks information on Marlowe’s time  in Newgate before getting pardoned. Notes different dates for entering the prison for register of prisoners and coroners inquest, but both dates are in September 1589, p35 raises issue of whether learned to coin in Newgate – the Baines note says he learned coining from Poole- who might be Poley??? – but was only in Newgate 3 days or 13 days, not really enough time to learn. (see 36) –  Discusses prison procedure, first cell Limbo p39-42.

CHAPTER 3; WILLIAM BRADLEY,

P43 – 58 LONG DISCUSSION OF WILLIAM BRADLEYS in the records

p59 The fight with Marlowe. Bradley to Watson – “Art thou now come?” indicates Watson was the real combatant. Eccles contends Bradley had sworn that WATSON not MARLOWE was seeking his bodily injury or death BEFORE A JUSTICE OF THE QUEEN’S BENCH SO MARLOWE WAS NOT THE INSTIGATOR. pp57-58 Eccles gives a discovery by Hotson who found a proceeding of the Queen’s Bench where William Bradley seeks to bind Hugonem Swyft, Johannem Allen and Thomamem Watson to keep the peace against him, the three to appear on November 25th 1589, by which time he was dead. p59. “the fray… was not a sudden or casual brawl in the streets” and  CM was not the cause.

Indications of how the fight started are not given in a confusing discussion of conflicts none of which involve Marlowe.ends p 68- the killing of Bradley was on 18 9 89 p69

CHAPTER IV MARLOWE’S SURETIES

Relates to the bond which has not appeared in this text. Marlowe’s sureties for his bail bond are Richard Kitchen – Humphrey Rowland. On Kitchen some data is available  relating to Marlowe but Eccles assumes ‘friend’ but has no evidence to prove this. 19th page on Richard Kitchen data states he knew host of Mermaid – concludes he knew Marlowe. There are 9 inconclusive pages on Humphrey Rowhlands “even conjecture is hard pressed to imagine how Marlowe is likely to have made his acquaintance”. p100. At the end of this chapter it is not established how the two men standing bail knew Marlowe.

CHAPTER V MARLOWE AND THE CONSTABLES.

Eccles returns to the issue of recognizances (Bail agreements) and states one Jeafferson MIDDLESEX COUNTY RECORDS wrote of the problems with recognizances, and gives what appears to be a recognizance for Marlowe for alleged assault on constables on May 9th 1592 GIVEN ON PAGE 105 DOES NOT APPEAR IN FAREY but what happened when he came to court is not explained.

ONE FROM 1589 IS MENTIONED P 104…. but no details. The 1592 case  seems to be ‘threats against the constables’  – Marlowe should have appeared before the middlesex justices at the Michaelmas Sessions of 1592… p 107

Eccles does not discuss the actual threats to the constables (Hollowell Street is named in the latin document) and discusses whether this is THE christopher marlowe pp108-113. Concludes it is. Eccles has Holywell Street. However spelling is less important than outcome, which is absent.

CHAPTER VI- NORTON FOLGATE

Eccles believes these two documents deal with “an unsuspected conflict with the law in 1592” and “the second definite record of Marlowe’s life as a playwright in London”. (p114) and also where he lived – in Norton Folgate. “The Newgate calendar of 1589 describes Marlowe as living in “the same precinct with Watson, ‘Norton Fowlgate'”- 10 pages on the area given.

p123 “Marlowe as the newly found records of the Middlesex Sessions now make it (sic) evident, inhabited the same theatrical quarter in 1589 living in the liberty of Norton Folgate, and in 1592 assaulting the constables of Holywell Street in Shoreditch”.

Then goes on to Greene, and his mistress, cites Harvey on his burial, Cutting Ball, Tarlton to Francis Walsingham on his son, p125 – godson of Sir Philip Sidney – Ends on Poley. An intriguing insight into the world around the ‘Roaring Boys’ of Elizabethan Theatre.

——————————————————————–

The coverage of Thomas Watson starts here p128

CHAPTER VII Douai 128-144

CHAPTER VIII THE WISE MAN OF ST HELENS 145 -161

exclusive material on Watson ends p161

——————————————————————–

Returns to Marlowe with chapter IX A DEDICATION BY MARLOWE

The dedication is to a poem by Watson AMINTAE GAUDIA 10 11 1592 entered at the stationers register, the dedication commends  the posthumous poem to Countess of Pembrokeshire-  Watson like so many  of the ROARING BOYS died young and was mourned by his friends. The initials at the end of the dedication are CM- this has been dismissed as referring to Marlowe by previous writers on Marlowe but Eccles is justified in thinking this perverse. However the dedication (in latin, translated) ends

“Shall I, whose slender wealth is but the seashore myrtle of Venus, and Daphne’s evergreen laurel, on the foremost page of every poem invoke the as Mistress of the Muses to my aid: to sum up all, thy virtue, which shall overcome virtue itself, shall likewise overcome even eternity

“Most desirous to do thee honour, CM”

This is not obviously Marlovian – I leave it to the experts to decide. Eccles is probably right that Marlowe could be the author asking for Lady Sidney’s patronage of the poem in fulsome language, but the initials CM are not definitively Marlowe.

The rest of the chapter sums up that Eccles has established the link between Marlowe and Watson, and argues the discoveries “at last clears the poet’s reputation from the shadow of supposed felony”. (p170) As he was pardoned, this is fair comment though making Hotson’s earlier comment on Marlowe’s violent character (v) insubstantial.

On page 171 Eccles concludes that Marlowe lived in Norton Folgate in 1589 and three years later attacked or threatened to attack the constables of Holywell Street.

The concluding comment (p171) that “Watson had family connections with two of Sir Francis Walsingham’s adroitest spies” does not make it likely that Marlowe made the acquaintance of Thomas Walsingham through Watson, though it is possible.

There is no bibliography and footnotes were given in the text.

Trevor FIsher                                                                                            13 09 18

*Peter Farey’s list of documents is found at www.rey.prestel.co.uk

Mark Eccles – Christopher Marlowe & Tom Watson – in Elizabethan London

dell writing matters june 2018 – marlowe -Eccles \CM & Marlowe 1934 web vers     13 09

Notes on –Chistopher Marlowe in London Harvard USA, 1934, Octagon  NY 1967- reprint
Featuring the document on the \Bradley or Hog Lane incident used by Peter Farl Baiey*

This document, in latin- there is currently no English translation –  is the jail delivery document for Thomas Watson published by Mark Eccles in the book dealing with Marlowe’s relation with Watson, discovered by  Eccles when he was undertaking research into Thomas Watson (pp8-9).

The text gives information on Marlowe and the document, which he claims to have discovered  in the Public Record Office He noticed the name Christopherus Morley and had the document photostated. The following commentary is based on reading Eccles book. A translation would be helpful as the commentary depends on this and other documents not always given by Eccles.

Preface

Eccles cites help from J Leslie Hotson, and Hotson sets the scene with a preface in which he asserts that  Eccles has added “a generous chapter to the poet’s life, which confirms our notion of the violence of his character”. (v) and also claims Eccles has discovered a new group of associates, led by  poet Thomas Watson. (vi). Eccles then suggests

“Marlowe’s life… has the fascination of the unknown. Such fragments of it as we do succeed in discovering only intensify the silence and blackness of the rest. Of the six years of his prime (ie 1587-1593, TF), nothing is known beyond a few casual allusions and the charges made at the time of his arrest and death. Between the Privy \Council’s letter on his behalf to the University of Cambridge in 1587 and the warrant which it issued in 1593 for his arrest, only one definite record of Marlowe has been found.  From this record we shall take our start”. (page 4)

The Bail Bond

What is this record? It  is clearly a bail bond –  the sureties being named as Richard Kitchen and Humphrey Rowland, but details of the offence appear missing. Eccles asks

“What breach of the law brought him in 1589 to Newgate? …The bond into which he entered on October 1st of that year …to appear at the next session of Newgate… a document so vague and all embracing provokes our curiosity” p4

This bond is however not reproduced by Eccles. He mentions that J H Ingram has discussed it in his book THE LIFE OF MARLOWE(P51) and discusses Hotston in an article in July 1926 commenting he cannot find anything about the recognizances. The anonymous sureties were however found by Hotson in other documents. Eccles comments that Hotson could not find why Marlowe was charged, asking  ‘he is indicted for felony, is committed to bail. What was his offense? Was he convicted? Nobody knows”. p5-6.

However later (p13) Eccles discusses the bail document and in a footnote points out that J H Ingram provides a facsimile on p149. This does not seem to be reproduced though he comments that it was missed by Jeafferson (cited in a footnote on page 13) along with the 1592 document on Marlowe and the constables, which is reproduced on page 105. This is muddle.

The Goal Delivery – Marlowe & Watson

Eccles indicates he was researching Marlowe’s life and notes that Kyd and Nashe are known to be friends of Marlowe, and thinks Thomas Watson could be a friend so he researches Thomas Watson- he had dedicated Meliboeus to Thomas Walsingham – p8 – and was likely to be in Marlowe’s circle as Walsingham was closely associated with Marlowe. Then Eccles  discovered Chancery Miscellanea, Bundle 68 file 12 No 362 a writ and return into Chancery of a Goal delivery at Newgate reciting the coroner’s request. Patent Rolls for 32 Eliz (part 4) contain also a pardon” (Eccles op cit pp8-9 given in latin pp25-26).

Eccles implies that the Goal Delivery document for which he gives the legal latin original encapsulates the other two, but why these other docs are not given is not clear from the book.  It is unfortunate that the bond which Marlowe gave – and which he presumably signed – is not given – particularly as this would give us a second signature for Marlowe if he did sign it. The lack of signatures for Marlowe has always been a challenge for scholars. The introduction ends, on page 9, with the comment “the story which these records have to tell follows”, and is given in three sections.

Section 1 tells of a street fight based on the coroner’s inquest into William Bradley, who had been fighting Marlowe with swords. Watson tried to defend Marlowe, Bradley fights him and is killed (pp9-11). Eccles then discusses the inquest jury  report (11- 13)  implying he has seen it. He then mentions the bond “for his appearance at the next Goal Delivery” and says the “brief and uncommunicative memorandum of this bond is the only document in the case which has been known up to this time”, and gives a reference for it. (p13- he states a facsimile is given in J H Ingram, Christopher Marlowe and his Associates, p149  – but gives no more information on this book).

Eccles says the recognizance bound Marlowe to appear at the next court sessions and this document was found among the court delivery rolls. He comments on the use or non use of the bond by historians (pp13-14) and asserts that it showed Marlowe was charged with a felony…but does not say  what crime he is charged with. But “the newly discovered documents (plural- referring to his own discoveries TF) give information on ‘what had happened to cause Marlowe’s arrest’ and details of the court case (‘what went on at the hearing of the case’). Since more than one document is mentioned, why only one document is cited is again curious.

Section 2: On the “Goal Delivery of Newgate at which Marlowe and Watson appeared”- the trial was held on Dec 3 in the 32nd year of Elizabeth (which began on November 17 1589)” p14.  Eccles describes the judges noting a connection with Marlowe – Manwood – Chief Baron of the Exchequer- his tomb d 14 12 92 – has an epitaph by CM – Hackington Canterbury. Potentially an important piece of evidence.

P22 THE GOAL DELIVERY (incorporates inquest ) Eccles also gives (p24-25) the pardon for  WATSON 5 months after entering Newgate; this is NOT the bond. It is the PARDON  and is only given in latin.

Section III

Eccles attempts a comparative analysis with other documents. 26-31. Mainly on legal procedure, what counts in getting a not guilty verdict.

CHAPTER 2 IN NEWGATE

Eccles seeks information on Marlowe’s time  in Newgate before getting pardoned. Notes different dates for entering the prison for register of prisoners and coroners inquest, but both dates are in September 1589, p35 raises issue of whether learned to coin in Newgate – the Baines note says he learned coining from Poole- who might be Poley??? – but was only in Newgate 3 days or 13 days, not really enough time to learn. (see 36) –  Discusses prison procedure, first cell Limbo p39-42.

CHAPTER 3; WILLIAM BRADLEY,

P43 – 58 LONG DISCUSSION OF WILLIAM BRADLEYS in the records

p59 The fight with Marlowe. Bradley to Watson – “Art thou now come?” indicates Watson was the real combatant. Eccles contends Bradley had sworn that WATSON not MARLOWE was seeking his bodily injury or death BEFORE A JUSTICE OF THE QUEEN’S BENCH SO MARLOWE WAS NOT THE INSTIGATOR. pp57-58 Eccles gives a discovery by Hotson who found a proceeding of the Queen’s Bench where William Bradley seeks to bind Hugonem Swyft, Johannem Allen and Thomamem Watson to keep the peace against him, the three to appear on November 25th 1589, by which time he was dead. p59. “the fray… was not a sudden or casual brawl in the streets” and  CM was not the cause.

Indications of how the fight started are not given in a confusing discussion of conflicts none of which involve Marlowe.ends p 68- the killing of Bradley was on 18 9 89 p69

CHAPTER IV MARLOWE’S SURETIES

Relates to the bond which has not appeared in this text. Marlowe’s sureties for his bail bond are Richard Kitchen – Humphrey Rowland. On Kitchen some data is available  relating to Marlowe but Eccles assumes ‘friend’ but has no evidence to prove this. 19th page on Richard Kitchen data states he knew host of Mermaid – concludes he knew Marlowe. There are 9 inconclusive pages on Humphrey Rowhlands “even conjecture is hard pressed to imagine how Marlowe is likely to have made his acquaintance”. p100. At the end of this chapter it is not established how the two men standing bail knew Marlowe.

CHAPTER V MARLOWE AND THE CONSTABLES.

Eccles returns to the issue of recognizances (Bail agreements) and states one Jeafferson MIDDLESEX COUNTY RECORDS wrote of the problems with recognizances, and gives what appears to be a recognizance for Marlowe for alleged assault on constables on May 9th 1592 GIVEN ON PAGE 105 DOES NOT APPEAR IN FAREY but what happened when he came to court is not explained.

ONE FROM 1589 IS MENTIONED P 104…. but no details. The 1592 case  seems to be ‘threats against the constables’  – Marlowe should have appeared before the middlesex justices at the Michaelmas Sessions of 1592… p 107

Eccles does not discuss the actual threats to the constables (Hollowell Street is named in the latin document) and discusses whether this is THE christopher marlowe pp108-113. Concludes it is. Eccles has Holywell Street. However spelling is less important than outcome, which is absent.

CHAPTER VI- NORTON FOLGATE

Eccles believes these two documents deal with “an unsuspected conflict with the law in 1592” and “the second definite record of Marlowe’s life as a playwright in London”. (p114) and also where he lived – in Norton Folgate. “The Newgate calendar of 1589 describes Marlowe as living in “the same precinct with Watson, ‘Norton Fowlgate'”- 10 pages on the area given.

p123 “Marlowe as the newly found records of the Middlesex Sessions now make it (sic) evident, inhabited the same theatrical quarter in 1589 living in the liberty of Norton Folgate, and in 1592 assaulting the constables of Holywell Street in Shoreditch”.

Then goes on to Greene, and his mistress, cites Harvey on his burial, Cutting Ball, Tarlton to Francis Walsingham on his son, p125 – godson of Sir Philip Sidney – Ends on Poley. An intriguing insight into the world around the ‘Roaring Boys’ of Elizabethan Theatre.

——————————————————————–

The coverage of Thomas Watson starts here p128

CHAPTER VII Douai 128-144

CHAPTER VIII THE WISE MAN OF ST HELENS 145 -161

exclusive material on Watson ends p161

——————————————————————–

Returns to Marlowe with chapter IX A DEDICATION BY MARLOWE

The dedication is to a poem by Watson AMINTAE GAUDIA 10 11 1592 entered at the stationers register, the dedication commends  the posthumous poem to Countess of Pembrokeshire-  Watson like so many  of the ROARING BOYS died young and was mourned by his friends. The initials at the end of the dedication are CM- this has been dismissed as referring to Marlowe by previous writers on Marlowe but Eccles is justified in thinking this perverse. However the dedication (in latin, translated) ends

“Shall I, whose slender wealth is but the seashore myrtle of Venus, and Daphne’s evergreen laurel, on the foremost page of every poem invoke the as Mistress of the Muses to my aid: to sum up all, thy virtue, which shall overcome virtue itself, shall likewise overcome even eternity

“Most desirous to do thee honour, CM”

This is not obviously Marlovian – I leave it to the experts to decide. Eccles is probably right that Marlowe could be the author asking for Lady Sidney’s patronage of the poem in fulsome language, but the initials CM are not definitively Marlowe.

The rest of the chapter sums up that Eccles has established the link between Marlowe and Watson, and argues the discoveries “at last clears the poet’s reputation from the shadow of supposed felony”. (p170) As he was pardoned, this is fair comment though making Hotson’s earlier comment on Marlowe’s violent character (v) insubstantial.

On page 171 Eccles concludes that Marlowe lived in Norton Folgate in 1589 and three years later attacked or threatened to attack the constables of Holywell Street.

The concluding comment (p171) that “Watson had family connections with two of Sir Francis Walsingham’s adroitest spies” does not make it likely that Marlowe made the acquaintance of Thomas Walsingham through Watson, though it is possible.

There is no bibliography and footnotes were given in the text.

Trevor FIsher                                                                                            13 09 18

*Peter Farey’s list of documents is found at www.rey.prestel.co.uk

chartley – a place out of time & a rebellion

Chartley A place out of time published Stafford Newsletter –  5 9 18

In the time of Elizabeth 1, the sleepy hamlet of Chartley on the Stafford-Uttoxeter Road was famous throughout the country. It was the home to one of the oldest families of the aristocracy – the Devereux and was visited by two Queens, though one was the prisoner of the other. Many people know that the  the famous Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there before her execution. However most people think that Mary was kept in Chartley Castle, including Wikipedia and the Oxford History of England .

Yet Mary never entered Chartley Castle, which was a ruin by the time she made the first of two forced visits to Staffordshire.

 

Her name will always be linked to the half timbered moated manor house, burnt down in 1781 and being a forgotten place despite the Devereux making their home there after the Wars of the Roses. The Devereux men were barons, rewarded for their loyalty to the crown and their fighting qualities, players in political battles resembling Game of Thrones. One Baron backed Richard III at Bosworth, dying a fighting death along with his King. The family then backed the victorious Tudors, successfully. Walter Devereux was made Viscount Hereford by Henry VIII. The  tomb of this Walter is in Stowe church to this day.

 

However the story for which Chartley is still remembered starts with his grandson, another Walter Devereux. This Walter Devereux inherited the title of Viscount as a young man not yet 17, but favoured by fortune and the crown. As a protestant family the Devereux had not served Mary Tudor, and her death in 1558 opened doors to Protestants as Elizabeth 1 favoured the reformed church. In 1561 or 1562 this second Viscount Hereford  married Lettice Knollys, cousin to the new Queen. Lettice was one of the most beautiful women in Elizabeth’s court, and remained attracted to Courtly  glitz and glamour even when living in the Staffordsire countryside. Having had several children by Walter, after several years of marriage rumours began to circulate about a scandalous friendship with the Earl of Leicester. Nevertheless, this did not stop Elizabeth visiting in 1575, with her favourite in tow – the very same Earl of Leicester.

 

The family was well regarded by Elizabeth because of the service shown when Mary Queen of Scots made her first, forced visit to Staffordshire in 1569. Mary Stuart, a catholic, had fallen out so

badly with the protestant Scots that they rebelled, driving her out of Scotland in May 1568, and she only just crossed the border to Carlisle ahead of the Rebels. Having arrived in England, she called upon Elizabeth to provide an army to put her back on the Scottish throne.  The last thing that Elizabeth wanted was to put a Catholic Queen on the throne of a protestant country, and Mary was imprisoned at Tutbury  pending discussions with the Scots, who refused to have Mary back.

 

The result was that Mary was to be kept under House Arrest pending developments while her young son James grew up and was expected to inherit the Scottish throne. However this gave Elizabeth a major headache. Most of England north of the River Trent was still largely Catholic, Protestants living mainly south of the River. Mary provided an excuse to rebel and put a Catholic Queen on the English throne. The government relied on Tutbury being remote from the rebel areas, though it is just north of the River Trent.

 

Catholic plots developed and when the Catholic Duke of Norfolk revealed he wanted  to marry Mary, he brought  matters to a head. Elizabeth, who was unmarried and had not chosen a successor, was well aware Mary was heir to the throne as her cousin. If the two Catholics married they would be able to produce more Catholics to stand in line to the throne so Elizabeth forbade the marriage. To her horror the Catholic  Northern Earls rebelled. Elizabeth did not have a standing army or a police force, and when the Earls mobilised 6000 soldiers it was clear their army could march south unopposed as  Elizabeth struggled to mobilise troops.

 

The rebels occupied Durham cathedral on November 15th and broke the law by celebrating the Catholic mass. Worse, the target of the rebellion was clear. The Rebels were heading for Tutbury, aiming to liberate Mary before Elizabeth could get an army across the River Trent to stop them. A rebel army with an annointed Catholic Queen at its head could become unstoppable. This was Crisis with a capital K.

 

It was at this point that the Devereux loyalty to the Crown became a factor. Walter had been given joint responsibility with the Earl of Huntingdon, his father’s cousin, to keep Mary at Tutbury and ordered to keep a troop of horsemen ready for trouble. What then happened is not clear from the history books, though as Chartley is less than a days ride from Tutbury, it is not difficult to work out. On November 25th Mary was moved south across the River and taken under armed guard to Coventry. The Northern Rebellion collapsed. While the text books do not say who organised Mary’s removal, it is very clear who the Queen thought was responsible for saving her throne. She made Walter an Earl.

 

On 17th June 1571 Walter was also made a Knight of the Garter, the citation saying he was “one of the few peers of the old blood who, during the conspiracy of the Duke of Norfolk, remained faithful throughout to the queen”. Walter had completely removed the blot caused by his ancestor fighting for Richard III against Henry Tudor. And though he would not live to see the final stages in the story of Mary Queen of Scots and her time in Staffordshire, the rest of his family would see the tragedy unfold.

 

———————————————————————————–

Chartley A place out of time published Stafford Newsletter –  5 9 18

 

In the time of Elizabeth 1, the sleepy hamlet of Chartley on the Stafford-Uttoxeter Road was famous throughout the country. It was the home to one of the oldest families of the aristocracy – the Devereux and was visited by two Queens, though one was the prisoner of the other. Many people know that the  the famous Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there before her execution. However most people think that Mary was kept in Chartley Castle, including Wikipedia and the Oxford History of England .

Yet Mary never entered Chartley Castle, which was a ruin by the time she made the first of two forced visits to Staffordshire.

 

Her name will always be linked to the half timbered moated manor house, burnt down in 1781 and being a forgotten place despite the Devereux making their home there after the Wars of the Roses. The Devereux men were barons, rewarded for their loyalty to the crown and their fighting qualities, players in political battles resembling Game of Thrones. One Baron backed Richard III at Bosworth, dying a fighting death along with his King. The family then backed the victorious Tudors, successfully. Walter Devereux was made Viscount Hereford by Henry VIII. The  tomb of this Walter is in Stowe church to this day.

 

However the story for which Chartley is still remembered starts with his grandson, another Walter Devereux. This Walter Devereux inherited the title of Viscount as a young man not yet 17, but favoured by fortune and the crown. As a protestant family the Devereux had not served Mary Tudor, and her death in 1558 opened doors to Protestants as Elizabeth 1 favoured the reformed church. In 1561 or 1562 this second Viscount Hereford  married Lettice Knollys, cousin to the new Queen. Lettice was one of the most beautiful women in Elizabeth’s court, and remained attracted to Courtly  glitz and glamour even when living in the Staffordsire countryside. Having had several children by Walter, after several years of marriage rumours began to circulate about a scandalous friendship with the Earl of Leicester. Nevertheless, this did not stop Elizabeth visiting in 1575, with her favourite in tow – the very same Earl of Leicester.

 

The family was well regarded by Elizabeth because of the service shown when Mary Queen of Scots made her first, forced visit to Staffordshire in 1569. Mary Stuart, a catholic, had fallen out so

badly with the protestant Scots that they rebelled, driving her out of Scotland in May 1568, and she only just crossed the border to Carlisle ahead of the Rebels. Having arrived in England, she called upon Elizabeth to provide an army to put her back on the Scottish throne.  The last thing that Elizabeth wanted was to put a Catholic Queen on the throne of a protestant country, and Mary was imprisoned at Tutbury  pending discussions with the Scots, who refused to have Mary back.

 

The result was that Mary was to be kept under House Arrest pending developments while her young son James grew up and was expected to inherit the Scottish throne. However this gave Elizabeth a major headache. Most of England north of the River Trent was still largely Catholic, Protestants living mainly south of the River. Mary provided an excuse to rebel and put a Catholic Queen on the English throne. The government relied on Tutbury being remote from the rebel areas, though it is just north of the River Trent.

 

Catholic plots developed and when the Catholic Duke of Norfolk revealed he wanted  to marry Mary, he brought  matters to a head. Elizabeth, who was unmarried and had not chosen a successor, was well aware Mary was heir to the throne as her cousin. If the two Catholics married they would be able to produce more Catholics to stand in line to the throne so Elizabeth forbade the marriage. To her horror the Catholic  Northern Earls rebelled. Elizabeth did not have a standing army or a police force, and when the Earls mobilised 6000 soldiers it was clear their army could march south unopposed as  Elizabeth struggled to mobilise troops.

 

The rebels occupied Durham cathedral on November 15th and broke the law by celebrating the Catholic mass. Worse, the target of the rebellion was clear. The Rebels were heading for Tutbury, aiming to liberate Mary before Elizabeth could get an army across the River Trent to stop them. A rebel army with an annointed Catholic Queen at its head could become unstoppable. This was Crisis with a capital K.

 

It was at this point that the Devereux loyalty to the Crown became a factor. Walter had been given joint responsibility with the Earl of Huntingdon, his father’s cousin, to keep Mary at Tutbury and ordered to keep a troop of horsemen ready for trouble. What then happened is not clear from the history books, though as Chartley is less than a days ride from Tutbury, it is not difficult to work out. On November 25th Mary was moved south across the River and taken under armed guard to Coventry. The Northern Rebellion collapsed. While the text books do not say who organised Mary’s removal, it is very clear who the Queen thought was responsible for saving her throne. She made Walter an Earl.

 

On 17th June 1571 Walter was also made a Knight of the Garter, the citation saying he was “one of the few peers of the old blood who, during the conspiracy of the Duke of Norfolk, remained faithful throughout to the queen”. Walter had completely removed the blot caused by his ancestor fighting for Richard III against Henry Tudor. And though he would not live to see the final stages in the story of Mary Queen of Scots and her time in Staffordshire, the rest of his family would see the tragedy unfold.

 

———————————————————————————–

 

Did Villa score the first League Goal?

Did Villa Score the first League Goal?

As every decent history book says, Aston Villa started the first Football League in the world when Secretary William McGregor called for leading clubs to play together regularly in 1888. That is why his statue is there outside the Trinity Road stand. And until recently we had the record for scoring the first goal on the first Saturday – though it was an own goal.

The own goal is still accepted, but recent research suggests it was not the first goal scored on that first Saturday. In his excellent book THE ORIGINS OF THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE (Amberley 2014) Mark Metcalf has a different story, though it is still true that the first goal scored by Villa in the League was the own goal by Gershom Cox against Wolverhampton, away in a 2-2 draw.

The belief that this was the first ever League goal was because it was reported to have happened half an hour after the kick off at 3pm – other games kicking off later. Metcalf found a researcher, Robert Boyling, at the Newspaper Library in Colindale, who discovered an advert saying the game would start at 3.30 on 8th September 1888. So Cox put through his own goal at 4pm.

In the games at Everton V Accrington and Stoke V Albion did not have goals before half time, but reports in the Bolton and Preston games kicked off at 3.45 and 3.50. The report of the Bolton Wanderers V Notts County game is the key. The reporter wrote that “The County kicked off with the sun at their backs, the visiting right made an attack that was cleared by Bethell but Davenport coming away transferred the play to the other end, and in two minutes from the start Kenny had scored a fine goal for the Wanderers”. Kenny was Kenny Davenport and as Bolton kicked off at 3.45 his first goal was 3.47 so 13 minutes before Cox put through his own net.

Kenny Davenport scored the first goal in League Football in World History and we can forget Cox’s own goal. The Villa – Wolves game ended 2-2.

Trevor Fisher               20 8 18

Did Villa Score the first League Goal?

As every decent history book says, Aston Villa started the first Football League in the world when Secretary William McGregor called for leading clubs to play together regularly in 1888. That is why his statue is there outside the Trinity Road stand. And until recently we had the record for scoring the first goal on the first Saturday – though it was an own goal.

The own goal is still accepted, but recent research suggests it was not the first goal scored on that first Saturday. In his excellent book THE ORIGINS OF THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE (Amberley 2014) Mark Metcalf has a different story, though it is still true that the first goal scored by Villa in the League was the own goal by Gershom Cox against Wolverhampton, away in a 2-2 draw.

The belief that this was the first ever League goal was because it was reported to have happened half an hour after the kick off at 3pm – other games kicking off later. Metcalf found a researcher, Robert Boyling, at the Newspaper Library in Colindale, who discovered an advert saying the game would start at 3.30 on 8th September 1888. So Cox put through his own goal at 4pm.

In the games at Everton V Accrington and Stoke V Albion did not have goals before half time, but reports in the Bolton and Preston games kicked off at 3.45 and 3.50. The report of the Bolton Wanderers V Notts County game is the key. The reporter wrote that “The County kicked off with the sun at their backs, the visiting right made an attack that was cleared by Bethell but Davenport coming away transferred the play to the other end, and in two minutes from the start Kenny had scored a fine goal for the Wanderers”. Kenny was Kenny Davenport and as Bolton kicked off at 3.45 his first goal was 3.47 so 13 minutes before Cox put through his own net.

Kenny Davenport scored the first goal in League Football in World History and we can forget Cox’s own goal. The Villa – Wolves game ended 2-2.

Trevor Fisher               20 8 18

Blair’s legacy is toxic

TOXIC BLAIR

(used Labour List 16 8 18- submitted 29 06 18)

The revelations about rendition and complicity in human rights abuses in June 2018 confirm that the Blair legacy is toxic. Turning a blind eye to American moves in the War Against Terror is not confined to any one government., but the sense that the Blair Regime was not behaving as a Labour government should was clear at the time. Astonishingly, the Blair tendency still shows no sign that it should apologise, and fuels the opposition within the Labour Party which still misleadingly polarises into Blair and anti-Blair factions.

Blair won a massive majority in 1997 creating an opportunity for progressive politics which was largely thrown away in the first two terms. Brown also shares much responsibility for a New Labour Project which having overcome loss of voter support in four elections to 1997 regained it then lost it again. Arrogance and cynicism were at the core of the Blair triangulation project allowing the hard left to still attack opponents for being “Blairite”. In reality the soft left was never Blairite, but suffered from supporting Blair in the 1990s, which the Hard Left never did. The Hard Left were not compromised by what happened after 1997, nor the palpable loss of electoral support which the Blairites still fail to accept.

Blairites assumed, and still assume, that they have a superior grasp of political strategy securing a winning postion. The evidence shows that in the first Blair government the party membership began to drop as members were alienated, so by 2001 the victory was gained by repeating 1997 without having the same levels of street activity. This reinforced the belief of the Projectiles that the Project did not need ground troops and they made no attempt to deal with the problems their own control freakery had created. The next government 2001- 2005 increased voter alienation and despite securing a working majority in parliament the regime failed to notice that it was increasingly unpopular.

It is possible to lose support and still win enough seat, and Blair did so in 2005 getting a working majority on only 37% of the vote – Corbyn got fewer seats in 2017 with over 40% of the votes. But the writing was on the electoral wall with over 50 marginal seats after 2005. Had Blair not resigned for Brown to take over this would have come to haunt him. Brown’s failures in office and the defeat in 2010, with barely 29% of the vote, destroyed his reputation, but the failure in 2010 was not just Brown’s but Blairism and its core policies of triangulation.

In the 2010 leadership election the soft left voted for Ed Miliband to keep out his Blairite  brother David. Miliband proclaimed that the New Labour era was over, but he remained commited to the Project. Of all his mistakes appointing Douglas Alexander as campaign chief was the most damaging. Alexander forfeited the 2015 election and his own Scottish seat in a wipe out of Labour north of the border which left the Party with only one MP. Recognising that the Blair Project was dead in the water should have followed but dogmatism rules.

In the 2015 leadership contest, with the soft Left Andy Burnham leading, Blairites chose to nominate Jeremy Corbyn to let him onto the ballot paper. There was no chance Corbyn could get on the ballot paper with his own level of support. So non Corbynista MPs signed his nomination forms believing that hard left votes might be drawn from Burnham to allow one of their two candidates to come through and win. Instead the soft left membership voted overwelmingly for Corbyn and a decisive end to the New Labour era. This was entirely due to the Blairite stupidity of nominating Cornbyn. If they do not like the result, they know who to blame.

However they still take no responsibility for what has happened in the last twenty years, and continue to run a tight factional machine producing the Progress-Labour First slate for the NEC. They show no sign of regret for their many mistakes or even willingness to accept they made them. This means that a vote for any of that crew is a mistake which could only lead to a return of the bad old days post 1997. Whoever I decide to vote for in the NEC elections, it will not be any on that slate.

The historical facts of New Labour failure have been obvious for many years, but still don’t impact in the world of Progress and Labour First, making it easy for the hard left to target anyone not of their persuasion as ‘Blairite’. Unless there is a soft left revival, a polarised party will continue to favour the hard left bandwagon. The soft left given the choice prefers Corbynism to Blairism.

How long will it take for Blairites to realise their game is up? Phyicist Max Planck once noted that in science, “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”. Its even more difficult in politics for practitioners to see the light. Perhaps we have to wait for the grim reaper to do his work. Certainly the Blairites are showing no sign of accepting that the accomodation with Thatcherism which won them their elections was the Midas touch,.

Trevor Fisher                                                               29 06 18

TOXIC BLAIR

(used Labour List 16 8 18- submitted 29 06 18)

The revelations about rendition and complicity in human rights abuses in June 2018 confirm that the Blair legacy is toxic. Turning a blind eye to American moves in the War Against Terror is not confined to any one government., but the sense that the Blair Regime was not behaving as a Labour government should was clear at the time. Astonishingly, the Blair tendency still shows no sign that it should apologise, and fuels the opposition within the Labour Party which still misleadingly polarises into Blair and anti-Blair factions.

Blair won a massive majority in 1997 creating an opportunity for progressive politics which was largely thrown away in the first two terms. Brown also shares much responsibility for a New Labour Project which having overcome loss of voter support in four elections to 1997 regained it then lost it again. Arrogance and cynicism were at the core of the Blair triangulation project allowing the hard left to still attack opponents for being “Blairite”. In reality the soft left was never Blairite, but suffered from supporting Blair in the 1990s, which the Hard Left never did. The Hard Left were not compromised by what happened after 1997, nor the palpable loss of electoral support which the Blairites still fail to accept.

Blairites assumed, and still assume, that they have a superior grasp of political strategy securing a winning postion. The evidence shows that in the first Blair government the party membership began to drop as members were alienated, so by 2001 the victory was gained by repeating 1997 without having the same levels of street activity. This reinforced the belief of the Projectiles that the Project did not need ground troops and they made no attempt to deal with the problems their own control freakery had created. The next government 2001- 2005 increased voter alienation and despite securing a working majority in parliament the regime failed to notice that it was increasingly unpopular.

It is possible to lose support and still win enough seat, and Blair did so in 2005 getting a working majority on only 37% of the vote – Corbyn got fewer seats in 2017 with over 40% of the votes. But the writing was on the electoral wall with over 50 marginal seats after 2005. Had Blair not resigned for Brown to take over this would have come to haunt him. Brown’s failures in office and the defeat in 2010, with barely 29% of the vote, destroyed his reputation, but the failure in 2010 was not just Brown’s but Blairism and its core policies of triangulation.

In the 2010 leadership election the soft left voted for Ed Miliband to keep out his Blairite  brother David. Miliband proclaimed that the New Labour era was over, but he remained commited to the Project. Of all his mistakes appointing Douglas Alexander as campaign chief was the most damaging. Alexander forfeited the 2015 election and his own Scottish seat in a wipe out of Labour north of the border which left the Party with only one MP. Recognising that the Blair Project was dead in the water should have followed but dogmatism rules.

In the 2015 leadership contest, with the soft Left Andy Burnham leading, Blairites chose to nominate Jeremy Corbyn to let him onto the ballot paper. There was no chance Corbyn could get on the ballot paper with his own level of support. So non Corbynista MPs signed his nomination forms believing that hard left votes might be drawn from Burnham to allow one of their two candidates to come through and win. Instead the soft left membership voted overwelmingly for Corbyn and a decisive end to the New Labour era. This was entirely due to the Blairite stupidity of nominating Cornbyn. If they do not like the result, they know who to blame.

However they still take no responsibility for what has happened in the last twenty years, and continue to run a tight factional machine producing the Progress-Labour First slate for the NEC. They show no sign of regret for their many mistakes or even willingness to accept they made them. This means that a vote for any of that crew is a mistake which could only lead to a return of the bad old days post 1997. Whoever I decide to vote for in the NEC elections, it will not be any on that slate.

The historical facts of New Labour failure have been obvious for many years, but still don’t impact in the world of Progress and Labour First, making it easy for the hard left to target anyone not of their persuasion as ‘Blairite’. Unless there is a soft left revival, a polarised party will continue to favour the hard left bandwagon. The soft left given the choice prefers Corbynism to Blairism.

How long will it take for Blairites to realise their game is up? Phyicist Max Planck once noted that in science, “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it”. Its even more difficult in politics for practitioners to see the light. Perhaps we have to wait for the grim reaper to do his work. Certainly the Blairites are showing no sign of accepting that the accomodation with Thatcherism which won them their elections was the Midas touch,.

Trevor Fisher                                                               29 06 18

Bamford & Peterloo

Bamford & Peterloo

Samuel Bamford and the reform movement after Waterloo

Whatever Mike Leigh makes of Peterloo in his forthcoming film (due for release November 2018), he can hardly ignore the autobiography of Samuel Bamford Passages in the Life of a Radical. Bamford was an eyewitness at Peterloo – perhaps giving the best account as he knew the background and was a superb descriptive writer. He was acquainted with the leaders at Peterloo and was a local organiser on the day, leading the Middleton contingent into Manchester after several weeks of rehearsal.

Bamford was much more than just a witness at Peterloo in 1819, and his memoir is a classic of the

post Waterloo period comparable with de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821). Both are  rooted in the same historical period though Bamford’s memoir is political where De Quincey’s masterpiece is a study of his personal psychology. Bamford’s view of  the working class politics of the time  is unequalled, for Bamford knew the main players in both the reform movement and the shadowy revolutionary underground. He was elected to the Hampden Club meeting in London in January 1817 as the delegate from Middleton, and was noticed by the journalist William Cobbett as a unknown but valuable contributor. E P Thompson commented on Cobbett’s warm description that  “The ‘sensible and modest man from Middleton’  was Samuel Bamford, the weaver* and – when every criticism has been made – the greatest chronicler of early C19th radicalism” (1)

 

Thompson is correct though he is aware that Bamford’s account is slanted by his middle aged shift away from reformism. However  Bamford was present at many of the key reform activities apart from Peterloo- and was a committed activist who the government tried to remove from the scene and imprisoned after the massacre. Bamford had both connections in the reform movement, which allowed him to take part as a local activist in the preparations for the Demonstration in |St Peter’s Field in 1819, and the revolutionary movement, as is clear from what he wrote in his autobiography. This makes the book unique as the only work which provides a window into both the conspiratorial world of would be post Luddite revolutionaries, and the mass reform movement which culminated in Peterloo.

 

Writing later he did not admit his revolutionary connections and in the memoir claimed he remained in the world of peaceful reform agitation and his imprisonment after Peterloo was a vindictive government act which did not establish that he was involved in physical force agitation. Other evidence suggests he was concealing his real views. It is clear he was trusted by revolutionary activists. In a world where known physical force activism carried a death penalty, Bamford was discreet but said enough to sketch a subversive current active north of the River Trent. This makes him a unique eye witness on what happened at Peterloo, and how far the fears of the authorities of a French style violent upsurge were justified. (2)

 

The politics of 1817

 

Bamford was involved with the Hampden clubs and attended the delegate meeting in London in January 1817 but was mainly active in south Lancashire and acted – if only as advisor – on events in Manchester during 1817 which prefigured Peterloo. Thompson argued that the government attack on the reform movement in the opening months of 1817  is a

 

“Coincidence of persecution and confusion (which) is the background to the tangled story of the March of the Blanketeers, the Ardwick conspiracy, and the Pentridge rising” (3),

 

I have argued elsewhere ** that while the story is tangled, there is no direct link between the events in Derbyshire and those in Manchester, and that there is no evidence to justify Thompson’s claim that “There is a sense in which Peterloo followed directly, and inevitably, on Peterloo” (4). Events in Manchester had a different dynamic to that of the village rebels of the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border. Nevertheless there were connections and one of the key links was Samuel Bamford.

 

Bamford posed in his memoirs as a convinced constitutional reformer, but despite being in the Hampden club tradition he met with William Benbow and Joseph Mitchell in London, and back in Lancashire after the collapse of the Hampden organisation kept links with these would be revolutionaries. Benbow visited him in Middleton and tried to get him to support the March of the Blanketeers, but Bamford thought the scheme was bound to fail and Benbow appears to have agreed – Drummond and Baggulley who Bamford did not know emerged to lead the March. Benbow remained a physical force activist into the Chartist era, advocating the General Strike.  Benbow is not portrayed as a  major figure by Bamford unlike the other notable figure in Lancashire’s weak revolutionary movement, Joseph Mitchell. Bamford knew him well enough to defend him when he became the most controversial figure in the post war working class movement. Mitchell left Lancashire, only to become unwittingly the underground contact for William Oliver the government spy who penetrated and betrayed the  Pentridge rising – perhaps as an agent provocateur. Mitchell was suspected of being a spy himself and suffered persecution, but Bamford emphatically exonerated him from this charge. Which, of course, shows that Bamford know how to distinguish between the  revolutionaries and the spies who sabotaged the uprisings in the summer of 1817.

Bamford was frequently  visited by men who wanted direct action, and after the Ardwick plotting fled with the fake doctor Thomas Healy fearing he could be blamed for the conspiracy. When returning home he was arrested and taken to London to be interrogated. No evidence could be found to justify a prosecution but he was for ever afterwards suspect in the eyes of the authorities. With some justification, for as Thompson notes  “Bamford was visited that May (ie after returning from arrest and interrogation TF)… by delegates from Derby, Thomas Bacon and (William TF) Turner, both of whom were to be involved in the Pentridge rising” (5). Bamford knew of the revolutionary network but only dropped hints in the memoir, knowing the activities were seditious and after Pentridge had led to executions and transportation.

 

The revelation of Oliver’s activities by the Leeds Mercury showed that the government knew of the Pentridge plot and could have stopped it. This undermined the government’s case for continued repression – juries would not convict if informers were used to prosecute radicals fearing tainted evidence – and as Zamoyski has argued there was no widespread revolutionary movement in Britain. But though the authorities had to scale down repression in 1818, allowing reform to revive, the fear of working class activity intensified particularly in Manchester as the magistrates became increasingly paranoid, watching workers organise. Bamford remained at the heart of the Middleton reform community, and this led him to be centrally involved in the preparations for the demonstration which has become known as Peterloo and an eyewitness on the day. Bamford’s record is a classic which deserves to be widely known. But while it is the truth, is it the whole truth?

Bamford wrote from personal experience, and this is backed up by many other reports (6) and the casualty lists showing that this was a massacre, the crowd was not disorderly and suffered injuries with a dozen fatalities while the forces of the crown went unscathed: Bishop Stanley records sabre wounds to the heads of special constables, who can only  have been attacked by cavalry running amok. The casualty lists have been closely studied and back up Bamford’s view: this was an unprovoked attack on an unarmed crowd.

 

But Bamford was writing later when he had retired from the radical movement, and his protestations of pure constitutional reformism have to be taken as a very partial account: military style drilling on the Moors had a double thrust. Thompson notes with justified scepticism regarding Bamford’s claims of constitutionalism the report of a spy stating that Bamford was involved in purchasing Pikes for a revolutionary group in November 1891, a few months after Peterloo. Tempers were inflamed in the working class areas of South Lancashire after Peterloo, and understandably radicalism had a sharp edge. But how extensive was the revolutionary underground before the massacre? Bamford not only knew of it but was part of it during the troubled years after the end of the Napoleonic wars. His memoirs are a classic document deserving to be better known. But while an accurate picture of what Bamford saw, it is not the whole picture.

 

Trevor Fisher                                                                                       11 5 18

______________________________________________________________________

 

NOTES

(1) E P Thompson – The Making of the English Working Class, 1963-2013 edition p698

 

(2) Adam Zamoyski in PHANTOM MENACE Collins 2014

 

(3) E P Thompson op cit p702

 

(4) Op cit p736

 

(5) Op cit p 717

 

(6) Curiously Thompson (op cit p755) says of the quotation he gives describing Hunt’s arrest that this is from the testimony of a ‘fair minded opponent’. The witness is Bishop Stanley and he was a neutral observer who gave a chilling account of what he saw – his testimony is given on pp 20-21 of Three Accounts of Peterloo ed F A Bruton, reproduced by www.folkcustoms.co.uk in 2014

 

*silk weaver

 

** See www.trevorfisher.info/history’EPThompson, Manchester & 1817

Bamford & Peterloo

Samuel Bamford and the reform movement after Waterloo

 

 

Whatever Mike Leigh makes of Peterloo in his forthcoming film (due for release November 2018), he can hardly ignore the autobiography of Samuel Bamford Passages in the Life of a Radical. Bamford was an eyewitness at Peterloo – perhaps giving the best account as he knew the background and was a superb descriptive writer. He was acquainted with the leaders at Peterloo and was a local organiser on the day, leading the Middleton contingent into Manchester after several weeks of rehearsal.

 

Bamford was much more than just a witness at Peterloo in 1819, and his memoir is a classic of the

post Waterloo period comparable with de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821). Both are  rooted in the same historical period though Bamford’s memoir is political where De Quincey’s masterpiece is a study of his personal psychology. Bamford’s view of  the working class politics of the time  is unequalled, for Bamford knew the main players in both the reform movement and the shadowy revolutionary underground. He was elected to the Hampden Club meeting in London in January 1817 as the delegate from Middleton, and was noticed by the journalist William Cobbett as a unknown but valuable contributor. E P Thompson commented on Cobbett’s warm description that  “The ‘sensible and modest man from Middleton’  was Samuel Bamford, the weaver* and – when every criticism has been made – the greatest chronicler of early C19th radicalism” (1)

 

Thompson is correct though he is aware that Bamford’s account is slanted by his middle aged shift away from reformism. However  Bamford was present at many of the key reform activities apart from Peterloo- and was a committed activist who the government tried to remove from the scene and imprisoned after the massacre. Bamford had both connections in the reform movement, which allowed him to take part as a local activist in the preparations for the Demonstration in |St Peter’s Field in 1819, and the revolutionary movement, as is clear from what he wrote in his autobiography. This makes the book unique as the only work which provides a window into both the conspiratorial world of would be post Luddite revolutionaries, and the mass reform movement which culminated in Peterloo.

 

Writing later he did not admit his revolutionary connections and in the memoir claimed he remained in the world of peaceful reform agitation and his imprisonment after Peterloo was a vindictive government act which did not establish that he was involved in physical force agitation. Other evidence suggests he was concealing his real views. It is clear he was trusted by revolutionary activists. In a world where known physical force activism carried a death penalty, Bamford was discreet but said enough to sketch a subversive current active north of the River Trent. This makes him a unique eye witness on what happened at Peterloo, and how far the fears of the authorities of a French style violent upsurge were justified. (2)

 

The politics of 1817

 

Bamford was involved with the Hampden clubs and attended the delegate meeting in London in January 1817 but was mainly active in south Lancashire and acted – if only as advisor – on events in Manchester during 1817 which prefigured Peterloo. Thompson argued that the government attack on the reform movement in the opening months of 1817  is a

 

“Coincidence of persecution and confusion (which) is the background to the tangled story of the March of the Blanketeers, the Ardwick conspiracy, and the Pentridge rising” (3),

 

I have argued elsewhere ** that while the story is tangled, there is no direct link between the events in Derbyshire and those in Manchester, and that there is no evidence to justify Thompson’s claim that “There is a sense in which Peterloo followed directly, and inevitably, on Peterloo” (4). Events in Manchester had a different dynamic to that of the village rebels of the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border. Nevertheless there were connections and one of the key links was Samuel Bamford.

 

Bamford posed in his memoirs as a convinced constitutional reformer, but despite being in the Hampden club tradition he met with William Benbow and Joseph Mitchell in London, and back in Lancashire after the collapse of the Hampden organisation kept links with these would be revolutionaries. Benbow visited him in Middleton and tried to get him to support the March of the Blanketeers, but Bamford thought the scheme was bound to fail and Benbow appears to have agreed – Drummond and Baggulley who Bamford did not know emerged to lead the March. Benbow remained a physical force activist into the Chartist era, advocating the General Strike.  Benbow is not portrayed as a  major figure by Bamford unlike the other notable figure in Lancashire’s weak revolutionary movement, Joseph Mitchell. Bamford knew him well enough to defend him when he became the most controversial figure in the post war working class movement. Mitchell left Lancashire, only to become unwittingly the underground contact for William Oliver the government spy who penetrated and betrayed the  Pentridge rising – perhaps as an agent provocateur. Mitchell was suspected of being a spy himself and suffered persecution, but Bamford emphatically exonerated him from this charge. Which, of course, shows that Bamford know how to distinguish between the  revolutionaries and the spies who sabotaged the uprisings in the summer of 1817.

Bamford was frequently  visited by men who wanted direct action, and after the Ardwick plotting fled with the fake doctor Thomas Healy fearing he could be blamed for the conspiracy. When returning home he was arrested and taken to London to be interrogated. No evidence could be found to justify a prosecution but he was for ever afterwards suspect in the eyes of the authorities. With some justification, for as Thompson notes  “Bamford was visited that May (ie after returning from arrest and interrogation TF)… by delegates from Derby, Thomas Bacon and (William TF) Turner, both of whom were to be involved in the Pentridge rising” (5). Bamford knew of the revolutionary network but only dropped hints in the memoir, knowing the activities were seditious and after Pentridge had led to executions and transportation.

 

The revelation of Oliver’s activities by the Leeds Mercury showed that the government knew of the Pentridge plot and could have stopped it. This undermined the government’s case for continued repression – juries would not convict if informers were used to prosecute radicals fearing tainted evidence – and as Zamoyski has argued there was no widespread revolutionary movement in Britain. But though the authorities had to scale down repression in 1818, allowing reform to revive, the fear of working class activity intensified particularly in Manchester as the magistrates became increasingly paranoid, watching workers organise. Bamford remained at the heart of the Middleton reform community, and this led him to be centrally involved in the preparations for the demonstration which has become known as Peterloo and an eyewitness on the day. Bamford’s record is a classic which deserves to be widely known. But while it is the truth, is it the whole truth?

Bamford wrote from personal experience, and this is backed up by many other reports (6) and the casualty lists showing that this was a massacre, the crowd was not disorderly and suffered injuries with a dozen fatalities while the forces of the crown went unscathed: Bishop Stanley records sabre wounds to the heads of special constables, who can only  have been attacked by cavalry running amok. The casualty lists have been closely studied and back up Bamford’s view: this was an unprovoked attack on an unarmed crowd.

 

But Bamford was writing later when he had retired from the radical movement, and his protestations of pure constitutional reformism have to be taken as a very partial account: military style drilling on the Moors had a double thrust. Thompson notes with justified scepticism regarding Bamford’s claims of constitutionalism the report of a spy stating that Bamford was involved in purchasing Pikes for a revolutionary group in November 1891, a few months after Peterloo. Tempers were inflamed in the working class areas of South Lancashire after Peterloo, and understandably radicalism had a sharp edge. But how extensive was the revolutionary underground before the massacre? Bamford not only knew of it but was part of it during the troubled years after the end of the Napoleonic wars. His memoirs are a classic document deserving to be better known. But while an accurate picture of what Bamford saw, it is not the whole picture.

 

Trevor Fisher                                                                                       11 5 18

______________________________________________________________________

 

NOTES

(1) E P Thompson – The Making of the English Working Class, 1963-2013 edition p698

 

(2) Adam Zamoyski in PHANTOM MENACE Collins 2014

 

(3) E P Thompson op cit p702

 

(4) Op cit p736

 

(5) Op cit p 717

 

(6) Curiously Thompson (op cit p755) says of the quotation he gives describing Hunt’s arrest that this is from the testimony of a ‘fair minded opponent’. The witness is Bishop Stanley and he was a neutral observer who gave a chilling account of what he saw – his testimony is given on pp 20-21 of Three Accounts of Peterloo ed F A Bruton, reproduced by www.folkcustoms.co.uk in 2014

 

*silk weaver

 

** See www.trevorfisher.info/history’EPThompson, Manchester & 1817

Labour’s Forgotten Leader

Remembering Labour’s Forgotten Leader.

Published on Labour List 11th April 2018

Harold Wilson is Labour’s most successful leader. This has long since been forgotten, but the House of Lords began to put him back in the spotlight on March 6th when two politicians who served under him, Bernard Donoughue and Giles Radice, gave lectures remembering him as Prime Minister. Lord Donoughue, drew on inside knowledge  – he was one of Wilson’s “Kitchen Cabinet” after the first 1974 election and set up the Number 10 Policy Unit. Although the term ‘soft left’ had not been coined, Donoughue sees him in that tradition. This partly explains why the Blairites – deliberately – and the Corbynites – accidentally – have forgotten Wilson.

 

The basis of Wilson’s claim to success is his achievement in winning four of the five elections

he fought. As Donoughue says, this is unprecedented. Attlee won one and a half – 1945 followed

by the narrow victory of 1950 when the writing was on the wall – while Blair won two and a half-

the Landslide of 1997 repeated in 2001, followed by the narrow victory of 2005 when the writing

was on the wall. Labour has not won an election since.

 

So what did Wilson have going for him and what lessons can he teach today? Donoughue touches

on several, notably being adored by Labour voters and ‘hated by the Daily Mail, itself a proof of

his great qualities”. The route to being hated by the venemous Mail was his skill in leading the

Labour Party, divided as always between the hard left and the hard right, though Wilson himself

was fond of quoting the maxim “If you cannot ride three horses at the same time, you should not

be in the circus”* – and the divisions were not yet toxic. Wilson came from the soft left which Donoughue defines as “the familiar left wing Tribunite ladder” up which Wilson climbed, based

on the weekly Tribune newspaper – plus the Tribune Group of Labour MPs, which then split with

the hard left Campaign group emerging. But under Wilson the left = right split did not go critical, though the social democratic right which was to form the Social Democrat Party in the 1980s was already visible.

 

For Donoughue, his “most valuable leadership quality was in understanding that the Labour Move-

ment has always contained a coalition of two distinct traditions”, which he defines as the liberal

progressive intellectual elite, and “second the rank and file Blue Labour, including trade unions,

…concerned with the problems facing ordinary working people in everyday life”. Its a simple sketch which needs more work, but Donoughue  is right to seeing that bridging divides in the Party was Wilson’s critical task and his comment that “Neither side should… dominate and neglect the other, this time the Blue Labour core, with dire results in the Referendum”, makes sense.

 

The Blair- New Labour attitude to working people, was toxic, but it would be sensible to note that Wilson’s attitude to what became the Hard Left was dismissive, and Wilson had no time for Tony Benn, who like Wilson and Callaghan has largely vanished from public gaze. But that is partly due to New Labour, and Donoughue is right to suggest that the priority of Wilson as “improving the daily lives of working people from whatever class” seemed to New Labour utterly irrelevant, and this was the root of the rise of UKIP. Working people had been rejected by New Labour and the Referendum of 2016 was pay back time, largely in the old mining areas Thatcher had decimated.

 

As Donoughue said, Wilson healed the Labour split of 1972 over Europe with a referendum which

he used (in 1975) “to unite and not divide”. The first referendum was a massive success, achieved a 2/3 majority against Leaving the EU (the Tories had taken the UK into the European Community

in 1972 using parliament) and put the issue into touch for a generation. It was the behaviour of

the Blair- Cameron elite, dangerously out of touch with small town Britain, which allowed that

consensus to be broken. And the first EU referendum has been forgotten. There cannot be a

second EU Referendum. The 2016 vote was the second.

 

Wilson alas no longer figures in a history written by the victors, namely the Blair New Labourites

of the 1990s. However as Donoughue says, their day is over though they show no signs of under-

standing that the circus has moved on. They patronised the old Labour Right wing, the Unions and

the anti-capitalist and pro public service core of the party. Donoughue argues that “it may be time to move Labour’s policies, as we did in the last election, towards the soft left”. This is the way to move,

and in doing so it is vital to understand the legacy of Harold Wilson. We wait for Giles Radice to

put his lecture into the public arena, but the recovery of Wilson’s remarkable career surely cannot be long delayed.

 

* which the ILP always said was invented by their leader in the 1930s, Jimmy Maxton.

 

The lecture can be found on Lords Speakers Lectures, Harold Wilson, a flawed political genius

Remembering Labour’s Forgotten Leader.

Published on Labour List 11th April 2018

 

Harold Wilson is Labour’s most successful leader. This has long since been forgotten, but the

House of Lords began to put him back in the spotlight on March 6th when two politicians who

served under him, Bernard Donoughue and Giles Radice, gave lectures remembering him as

Prime Minister. Lord Donoughue, drew on inside knowledge  – he was one of Wilson’s “Kitchen Cabinet” after the first 1974 election and set up the Number 10 Policy Unit. Although the term ‘soft left’ had not been coined, Donoughue sees him in that tradition. This partly explains why the Blairites – deliberately – and the Corbynites – accidentally – have forgotten Wilson.

 

The basis of Wilson’s claim to success is his achievement in winning four of the five elections

he fought. As Donoughue says, this is unprecedented. Attlee won one and a half – 1945 followed

by the narrow victory of 1950 when the writing was on the wall – while Blair won two and a half-

the Landslide of 1997 repeated in 2001, followed by the narrow victory of 2005 when the writing

was on the wall. Labour has not won an election since.

 

So what did Wilson have going for him and what lessons can he teach today? Donoughue touches

on several, notably being adored by Labour voters and ‘hated by the Daily Mail, itself a proof of

his great qualities”. The route to being hated by the venemous Mail was his skill in leading the

Labour Party, divided as always between the hard left and the hard right, though Wilson himself

was fond of quoting the maxim “If you cannot ride three horses at the same time, you should not

be in the circus”* – and the divisions were not yet toxic. Wilson came from the soft left which Donoughue defines as “the familiar left wing Tribunite ladder” up which Wilson climbed, based

on the weekly Tribune newspaper – plus the Tribune Group of Labour MPs, which then split with

the hard left Campaign group emerging. But under Wilson the left = right split did not go critical, though the social democratic right which was to form the Social Democrat Party in the 1980s was already visible.

 

For Donoughue, his “most valuable leadership quality was in understanding that the Labour Move-

ment has always contained a coalition of two distinct traditions”, which he defines as the liberal

progressive intellectual elite, and “second the rank and file Blue Labour, including trade unions,

…concerned with the problems facing ordinary working people in everyday life”. Its a simple sketch which needs more work, but Donoughue  is right to seeing that bridging divides in the Party was Wilson’s critical task and his comment that “Neither side should… dominate and neglect the other, this time the Blue Labour core, with dire results in the Referendum”, makes sense.

 

The Blair- New Labour attitude to working people, was toxic, but it would be sensible to note that Wilson’s attitude to what became the Hard Left was dismissive, and Wilson had no time for Tony Benn, who like Wilson and Callaghan has largely vanished from public gaze. But that is partly due to New Labour, and Donoughue is right to suggest that the priority of Wilson as “improving the daily lives of working people from whatever class” seemed to New Labour utterly irrelevant, and this was the root of the rise of UKIP. Working people had been rejected by New Labour and the Referendum of 2016 was pay back time, largely in the old mining areas Thatcher had decimated.

 

As Donoughue said, Wilson healed the Labour split of 1972 over Europe with a referendum which

he used (in 1975) “to unite and not divide”. The first referendum was a massive success, achieved a 2/3 majority against Leaving the EU (the Tories had taken the UK into the European Community

in 1972 using parliament) and put the issue into touch for a generation. It was the behaviour of

the Blair- Cameron elite, dangerously out of touch with small town Britain, which allowed that

consensus to be broken. And the first EU referendum has been forgotten. There cannot be a

second EU Referendum. The 2016 vote was the second.

 

Wilson alas no longer figures in a history written by the victors, namely the Blair New Labourites

of the 1990s. However as Donoughue says, their day is over though they show no signs of under-

standing that the circus has moved on. They patronised the old Labour Right wing, the Unions and

the anti-capitalist and pro public service core of the party. Donoughue argues that “it may be time to move Labour’s policies, as we did in the last election, towards the soft left”. This is the way to move,

and in doing so it is vital to understand the legacy of Harold Wilson. We wait for Giles Radice to

put his lecture into the public arena, but the recovery of Wilson’s remarkable career surely cannot be long delayed.

 

* which the ILP always said was invented by their leader in the 1930s, Jimmy Maxton.

 

The lecture can be found on Lords Speakers Lectures, Harold Wilson, a flawed political genius

Parliamentary sovereignty & the Maiden Tribute

Parliamentary Sovereignty & the Maiden Tribute

 

The rules of British political life are unwritten and obscure. Unlike the USA, Britain has only an “unwritten” constitution and much current practice is based on pre-democratic foundations. Since the 17th century political conflict has revolved around who controls parliament rather than how parliament operates,  and the outcomes of the 17th conflicts revolved around transferring monarchical power to parliament rather than attempting the separation of powers which underpinned the  US constitution when it was drafted in the late 18th century. British political conflicts never involved root and branch constitutional renewal. As critics in the 1980s noted, Britain avoided constitutional debate, and there has never been a constitutional convention across the UK, unlike Scotland before devolution. The outcome has been a Westminster system which is  highly centralised, contains many archaic practices, notably the House of Lords, and is not based on explicit and clearly understood principles.

 

The key issue has long been the central issue of sovereignty, which as the word suggest is based on the power of an individual, the sovereign – initially the monarch. It is not an accident that the oldest text of modern political discourse, Machiavelli’s The Prince derives its model from monarchical regimes (1), though Machiavelli operated during the Florentine republic. Sovereign power is always is some respect monarchical. During the Soviet Era, Stalin was frequently described as a “Red Tsar”. Britain has not been an autocracy since the execution of Charles I resolved that power passed to parliament, but in Britain though the system has for several centuries abandoned the monarchy it has never lost its monarchical trappings. Parliament retains the Queen’s speech at the state opening, for example, though everyone knows the Queen does not write it.

 

The political system emerged after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 as flexible enough to adapt to new circumstances, and control by Westminster satisfied the major interests in a rapidly changing society. However by the late twentieth century an increasingly diverse society found Westminster’s total dominance unsatisfactory with many of the decisions unrepresentative. This forced the development, ad hoc, of referenda the first of which took place in 1975 over the EU. The advisory nature of that referendum did not alter the constitution at that time though the system was blatantly producing unrepresentative governments, and continued to do so even when changes were inevitable.

 

As Bernard Donoughue has written (2), despite being in the Number 10 policy unit, and  had lectured on “the steady decline in electoral support for both of Britain’s main parties” he did not  grasp how changes in society meant “we would move into both a more multi-party system and, from 1979 one in which a single party would dominate government with a minority of the popular vote and the support of barely a third of the electorate”. He was not alone in being suprised, and no politician has ever seen the need for root and branch constitutional reform. While it is a continuing puzzle that Thatcherism did not led to electoral reform, it is not suprising that as governments continued to fail to win majorities among the voters the pressure for direct decision making by the undefined concept of ‘The People’ grew in strength. The key immediate point is the lack of effective debate about the constitutional effects of ad hoc popular votes.

 

The use of referedum in recent years has been driven by the attempt to produce a more representative democracy than a sovereign parliament was providing . The EU referendum of 2016 massively increased confusion about a system which earlier had been called by some  “Elected dictatorship”. However the system by 2017 was no longer able to command even passive consent. Sadly  the use of referenda failed to provide a stable political system, as the Brexit controversy indicates. The most extensive referendum yet did not produce a workable outcome.

 

By January 11th 2018, when Nigel Farage declared his sympathy for another EU referendum, the bizarre situation developed where even the acknowledged victor in the 2016 referendum and main actor in the Brexit scenario no longer believed the referendum he had long campaigned for had delivered a stable outcome. The political system in Britain is in profound crisis which demands intensive scrutiny. What drove recent changes and why has the referendum system come to produce such unsatisfactory results?

 

Referendums, sovereignty and democratic deficit.

 

One reason for the turn to direct democracy via referenda was  a widespread impression by the 1970s, particularly in Scotland but across the UK that parliament was out of touch with public opinion on issues of independence. This lead to ad hoc decisions, initially over the EU. There were increasing pressures to change the form of government, leading to the devolution of powers to national assemblies and the creation of Elected Mayors, all by referendums, but without a systematic agreement on how direct democracy fitted with representative democracy. While the initial EU referendum of 1975 was advisory,  David Cameron decreed binding votes in Scotland and on the EU.. The implications were badly thought through and unlike the 1975 referendum which produced a two thirds majority in favour of the EU  and four decades of relative stability, there has been no settling of the issues as Farage, alone among major politicians, has recognised.

 

The root of the failure to establish clear ground rules lay in the long held assumption that the unwritten constitution is the workable product of brilliant improvisation. The British never seem to have believed there was a need to work from first principles, and for the 2016 EU referendum many assumed that parliament has been removed from the process by referenda, and that a single vote makes parliament irrelevant, or simply a rubber stamp- as Brexiteers argued through 2017 seeking to close the debate on a further referendum as they had – narrowly – won in 2016, until Farage broke ranks.

 

The absence of debate on constitutional issues has prevented discussion on how referenda and representative democracy can mesh. This happens in Switzerland and some US states, but they do not do so easily. While Referendums are new for the British, parliamentary sovereignty remains in place. This decrees that no vote even if a popular one is ever final. Political decisions are reversable, and politics even when popular votes are involved is capable of taking the U turns that politicians dread. This is not however the current political view at Westminster, based on a weak understanding of the history and legal basis of the constitution.

 

Prime Minister Theresa May for example took the view that Brexit decisions once taken are irreversible. She wrote in the Daily Telegraph  that  “We are leaving the European Union on 29th March 2019”, referring to a date set  after the parliamentary vote to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the letter sent to the EU in March 2017 notifying the decision to leave. This led to to an attempt by the Conservative government to put the date into law, assuming that this would mean that the decision was irrevocable. The government was then forced into retreating.

 

The Guardian (21st December 2017) reported that “The government has accepted a compromise over its plans to Brexit date into law”, as the attempt to set a fixed date did not survive parliamentary debate. The face saving compromised negotiated by Oliver Letwin MP, in the words of  the Guardian “tweaked the government’s own amendment, leaving the Brexit date (29th March 2019) in the legislation, but giving MPs the power to push it back if the EU27 agree”. Nevertheless the Conservative web site in mid January 2017 claimed as one of three major achievements that financial commitments  would be honoured “So from March 29th 2019 when we formally leave the EU, we can spend that money on our NHS and public services”. (3) The Party and thus the government has never accepted that its decision to write to the EU on March 29th 2019 was not a binding commitment, posing a continuing failure to grasp the constitution and, worrying, suggests that law is not accepted by the  Conservative Party.

 

Nor does it understand the implications of the Lisbon Treaty.  The rigid assumption that the decision

to leave EU was irreversible and embodied in the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty had already led to humiliating reversal in the House of Lords in November. The Conservatives had assumed that Article 50 cannot be repealed and thus the decision to leave the EU had been made, removing any role for parliament actioning Article 50. This produced a parliamentary farce.

 

The former diplomat and lawyer Lord Kerr, (John Olav Kerr of Kinlochard, a crossbench peer and former member of the European Commission that drafted the Lisbon Treaty) was widely reported in  the liberal media disagreeing (4). Kerr had given an interview on the Radio 4  Today programme where he reportedly said “At any stage we can change our minds…. The Brexiteers give the impression that because of the way Article 50 is written  having sent in a letter on 29th March 2017 we must leave automatically on 29th March 2019 at the latest. That is not true. It is misleading to suggest that a decision that we are taking autonomously in this country about the timing of our departure, we are required to take by a provision of EU treaty laws”.

 

Lord Kerr’s view had weight because as he said to the BBC “I’m not a politician. I’m just the guy who wrote the Treaty telling you what the Treaty means”. Lord Kerr is an expert in international law, and his statement to the BBC that “These decisions are taken entirely in this country, they have nothing to do with the Treaty, as far as the Treaty is concerned there are lots of options…” had to be taken seriously as a view of European Law.  He is essentially arguing that the principle of parliamentary sovereignty applies. And if the decisions are taken in Westminster they can be reversed in Westminster, though my view is that  approval of a final decision by referendum would be needed.

 

According to the Independent, (9th November 2017) “pressure has been building on the Government to publish legal advice it has received, that is believed to state that Parliament can stop Brexit. The country’s top legal experts are said to have told the Prime Minister that leaving the EU could be halted if MPs judge that a change of mind is in the national interest”. Theresa May had been questioned by journalists on whether this legal advice had allowed the decision on Article 50 to be revoked, but had given no clear answer.

 

Kerr’s intervention removed any doubt, except in government circles. Kerr’s views were raised in the House of Lords, when his views were put to Lord Callanan (Minister of State  in the Department for exiting the European Union) the following Monday. Hansard shows the following:

 

House of Lords 13 11 17 Col 1845

Lord Ridley (Con) “Further to what my noble friend said about fixing the date of withdrawal… can he confirm that the judgement of the Supreme Court in the case brought by Gina Miller confirms in precise terms that article 50 is irreversible, in contrast to what the noble lord, Lord Kerr, has said?”

 

Lord Callanan: “I can confirm that. It is also stated by the European Commission that Article 50, once invoked, is irrevocable unless there is political agreement on it”.

 

Lord Elystan Morgan (Cross Bench)

“My Lords, does the minister agree that the notice given in March this year in relation to Article 50 was not a notice of withdrawal but a notice of intention to withdraw? Does he appreciate that our distinguished colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the vast mass of legal authority, are of the opinion, therefore, that such a notice can be withdrawn unilaterally….?

 

Lord Callanan, (Con)

“My Lords, no, I will not confirm that, because it has been stated by  legal opinion on this side of the water and in the EU that Article 50 is not revocable. It all flies in the face of the results of the referendum…” And Lord Callanan went on to discuss the referendum without understanding that this was governed by the principle of parliamentary sovereignty. Any law can be reversed by parliament unless developments outside parliament have overtaken the decision and the law is irrelevant (a treaty with a country that no longer exists for example).

 

Lord Callanan then had to  return  to the Lords a week later to admit he was wrong. As Hansard records:  House of Lords 20 11 17  –   2.42 PM Announcement:

 

Lord Callanan (Con)

“Last Monday …. I responded to a question from my noble friend Lord Ridley regarding the Supreme Court’s view on the revocability of Article 50. My response to my noble friend was incorrect (emphasis TF)… I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who highlighted my mistake…..I undertook to check the record… and make it clear that the Supreme Court did not opine on the revocability of Article 50…

“…to reiterate… the Supreme Court proceeded in the Miller case on the basis that Article 50 would not be revoked but did not rule on the legal position regarding its revocability. It was, and remains, the government’s position that our notification of Article 50 will not be withdrawn…..”

 

This statement avoided making a direct comment on whether the statement made by Lord Kerr was correct. But Callanan had specifically stated that Article 50 was not revocable, and Kerr is right. The revocability of Article 50  is of fundamental political and constitutional importance going beyond the immediate issue of how to leave the EU. It is particularly worrying that the Conservative Party have not accepted that the notification can be withdrawn, evading the issue even at Prime Ministerial level, and remain committed to March 29th as a rigid leaving date without accepting that the Commons voted for extending the date if agreed with the EU. The Party believes that there is a fixed situation which has never been the case. Parliament can always change its mind.

 

It is a fundamental principle of the (Unwritten) British constitution that any law can be reversed. The rules appear to have been changed by the 2016 Referendum to require this issue – and possibly others – to be decided by Referendum, but this remains obscure as the European Union Referendum Act, which recieved the Royal Assent on 17th December 2015 was poorly drafted and the parliamentary debate was scandalously unable to clarify issues of procedural importance. However in principle, as this was an Act of Parliament,  both the referendum and its consequences are subject to the unwritten constitutional rules, thus parliamentary votes on EU matters can be reversed. The implications of this principle need to be teased out in the unavoidable situation of a referendum driven politics.

 

 Lessons from history on the fundamentals of the constitution.

 

The bedrock principle is that Parliament is sovereign and can change its mind. This lead from political developments at the end of the Middle Ages  when the  monarch came to consult parliament, allowing  parliament to share the powers of the sovereign. This was pre-eminently the case with Henry VIII who even though an autocrat required his Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell to have his protestant reformation approved by parliament. Henry VIII’s break from Rome required the formal consent of the representatives of  a still overwhelmingly Catholic population – protestant ideology had little appeal even for the King – so gaining the  consent of the population via parliament was a political not a democratic move, aimed to limit opposition from followers of the Old Religion. However the law of unintended consequences then operated.

 

The Henrican Reformation contributed to the development of the formula which became known as the Crown in Parliament. Under this doctrine,  parliament had to approve decisions of the Crown,  and it became clear that sovereignty no longer was exclusively in the hands of the monarch. But  by the end of the Tudor  period the situation had become unstable by creating two power centres – the Court and Parliament. The Catesby conspiracy – the Gunpowder Plot – dramatised political reality by attempting to wipe out King and Parliament in one fell swoop, destroying the two driving forces of the Reformation and starting a Catholic coup, but its failure did not lead to a more harmonious relationship of the two power centres. The following years showed internal conflict between Crown and Parliament become savage, Charles 1 clearly aiming to return to control by absolute monarchy and the removal of parliament. The result that the English Civil Wars – and then the Glorious Revolution of 1688 – resolved by armed force that the balance of power lay with parliament. The settlement has never been questioned.

 

Parliament makes the major decisions, and these decisions are revokable. Statute Laws have certainly been revocable by parliament since the Reformation. For example, the criminalisation of homosexuality as a capital offence was made by the Henrican legislation of 1533, but the capital punishment element was removed in the Victorian period and the criminalisaution of male homosexuality as such revoked by the famous 1967 Law following the Wolfenden report. The pace  intensified in the early nineteenth century as the changes of the industrial revolution demanded laws changed to match the demands of a rapidly changing society. The changes to existing law made after the Napoleonic wars were so many and fundamental that the Oxford History of England volume  (5) dealing with the period is called The Age of Reform (1815- 1870) though laws had been changed before 1815 and after 1870 and continue to be changed. Indeed Brexit itself is an attempt to repeal the laws that took Britain into the EU. It is not the case that Article 50 is not revocable, and the attempt to put the leaving date into laws was farcical.  As far as British politics are concerned,the principle that parliament can revoke laws has never been in question, and to make sense constitutionally must transfer to referenda – which are agreed by statute law.

 

Both international and European laws have now been incorporated into English law by parliament – and Brexit aims to remove the links. This is the heart of the Brexit project, and at the heart of the disputes over how this is proceeding is the constitutional issue of whether the role of parliament has been altered by Referenda. This issue raises other questions about the democratic deficit and whether referenda themselves are revokable. Almost certainly they can and no objection has ever been raised in principle to a further referendum, but as both Houses of Parliament have voted against a further referendum on Brexit the situation raises the question of extra parliamentary politics. If the People Had Decided on Brexit in 2016, the people now being divided how can the conflict within the population be resolved to ensure that the processes do not damage confidence in democracy?

In this context an increasingly pressing question is whether government can be compelled to abolish a law by external pressure rather than party politics, Labour has voted for Article 50 to be invoked and has aligned with the Conservatives in making no admission that this can be revoked. Reform of legislation is usually a feature of party politics in the Houses of Parliament. Even the Conservative Party embraced ‘Reform to Conserve’ under Sir Robert Peel.  But sometimes the impetus has came from outside parliament, as with the Repeal of the Corn Laws. And occasionally it was through a movement with a social message, notably Votes for Women, working over a long period as was the case with the Anti Corn Law movement. The Chartist Movement which worked in the same period as the Anti Corn Law Movement failed to secure its six point charter but five of the points have been made law since its demise. MPs are reluctant to admit that an extra parliamentary movement has compelled it to change the law, but there are historical cases which show that this has happened, without affecting parliamentary sovereignty as such. A telling example, which became obscure almost as soon as it happened as the politicians of the time wanted to forget it, was the campaign to pass the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885.

 

The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon 1885

 

History books do not record many examples of parliament coming to repeal existing legislation because of a campaign which forces a complete volte face in policy in summary order, and fewer by an alliance of anti-establishment groups (6). One example is the Maiden Tribute campaign of 1885 run by the Pall Mall Gazette, whose pioneering editor W T Stead  used public  pressure, applied to parliamentarians, to force them to change entrenched positions. This was only achieved by producing a public outcry so great that politicians feared for their positions if they ignored public opinion. National politicians concluded in the summer of 1885 this would happen if they did not reverse their decisons on sexual legislation and produce a new statute- the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, a law  which aimed to protect women and young girls from sexual exploitation.

 

The events which led to the Act had their roots in a long run campaign by moral puritans and child protection activists to defend girls and young women from sexual exploitation. This was the first campaign for the new Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children which joined the existing Moral Purity lobby to campaign for a new law to protect young females from sexual abuse.

 

A key objective  was an attempt to change  the age of consent, which was 13 in the later Victorian period. The legal limit for sexual activity for girls had been 12 till 1861, despite campaigners arguing, correctly, that with the age of puberty being on average later girls could be forced into sexual activity before they were mature. From 1861 to 1880, political pressure to raise the age to 16 failed despite a concession, passed in 1875 by Disraeli’s Conservatives, raising the age of consent to 13. The Tories then lost interest in further changes. Prostitution in the UK continued to involve immature girls, with the moral puritans demonstrating that girls were detained against their will in brothels in the UK and the continent – but  politicians ignored  the evidence. Despite Gladstone’s evangelical views even Liberal Party MPs resisted change.

 

Gladstone’s Liberal victory in 1880 did offer possibilities for reform as the new government accepted substantial abuse existed, and Gladstone’s cabinet used the House of Lords  to set up a Select Committee. This reported on 10th July 1882 making reccomendations including the key proposal to raise the age of consent to 16. The Liberals had to start a Bill in the Lords as the Commons remained hostile. The next three years would show that the Lords were lukewarm but prepared to support their own Select Committee, but the Commons was opposed  and opposition was shared by both Conservative and Liberal MPs.

 

A first bill passed the Lords in the spring of 1883, but fierce criticism from Conservative peers  led the Liberals to revise it to produce a milder measure in 1884 aiming at a consensus. This was sent to the Commons where it failed to get any debate. MPs would not support a measure which they feared would risk their sons being blackmailed by  girls exploiting an age limit beyond 13. However rising public concern particularly over child abuse meant ministers could not abandon the issue. A third bill was then brought back to the Lords with the age lowered to 15 as a concession. The Lords had no problem passing this, but the MPs were a different matter.

The bill reached second reading on April 22nd 1885 when only 40 MPs bothered to turn up to debate it and the speaker abandoned the debate as so few MPs were interested. Thus the bill to protect young women and children was sidelined, with the Liberals in crisis as the government was struggling to pass a budget.  The budget crisis forced Gladstone to  resign in June 1885 and Salisbury formed a minority Conservative government pending a general election –  the moral puritans realising that the bill having been sidelined would vanish when the election was called. Drastic action was needed, and they turned to the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, W T Stead, to take up the cudgels hoping for a press campaign that the politicians could not ignore. Stead was both committed to reform of the law affecting young women and girls and prepared to take risks – though he based his campaign on meticulous research of a deeply scandalous situation.

Stead spoke to the head of the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard, Howard Vincent, who confirmed that the existing law was inadequate to trigger police action to defend even very young girls. Any doubt about this was removed when Stead visited a safe house run by the new National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (founded as the London Society  the previous year, 1884), and was introduced to a girl aged 7 who had been raped in a fashionable brothel, and one even younger, who had been rescued  by Society inspectors after being raped a dozen times. Her assailants had been discharged from court unconvicted. The magistrates ruled that she had to understand the evidence  oath sworn on the bible and was too young to do so. This viscious catch 22 meant young girls could be raped with impunity.

 

Older females could understand the oath but the existing law was inadequate to provide police with powers to investigate, even when it was clear brothel owners used violence to intimidate vulnerable women and prevent them appealing to the police. Vincent told Stead that young women could be bought and taken to brothels for sex against their will, and taken abroad to imprisonment in brothels – the phenomenon of White Slavery – and despite the age of consent being 13 this would not protect them as police were powerless to investigate the trade and take women to safety. For Stead, this was the equivalent of the sacrifice of virgins to the gods of the ancient world, and his campaign would be called The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon.

Stead set out to prove that young females could be traded for sexual purposes by the sensational method of purchasing a girl of 13 and sending her abroad – where she would vanish, but be under the protection of the Salvation Army which agreed to support his move. The girl was Eliza Armstrong, and Stead purchased her from her mother and sent her to a brothel where she was lightly drugged and left alone with Stead. Having proved that he could have raped her, the still virgin Eliza was then taken abroad by the Salvation Army. Stead wrote his story in the Pall Mall Gazette and launched a campaign backed by Moral Purity and child protection groups across the country.

The full story can be read in my book SCANDAL – THE SEXUAL POLITICS OF LATE VICTORIAN BRITAIN (Sutton 1995) and while the particulars belong to the history of morality, the political effects prove without question the rule that legislation can be remade if there is a powerful upsurge of public feeling. The minority Conservative government had no more intention of passing a Criminal Law Amendment Bill into law than the Liberals under Gladstone had been, but the  well organised public campaign in support of pushing the Bill through into law became unstoppable.

 

The wider context aided the campaigners. Stead’s campaign and the actions of the SPCC and moral groups like the Society for the Suppression of Vice occured during a time of political instability, with the Tories and Liberals both planning for a General Election after Gladstone’s resignation. The election could not happen immediately because the extension of the franchise to male labourers, agreed in 1884, was delayed as the new voter lists had not been completed. The gap between Gladstone’s resignation and the election gave the reformers a window of opportunity. They knew that the situation meant that working class men could be persuaded that their daughters were at risk from the lust of rich men, and this message was easily understood, the National Society for the Protection of Children agitating for the age of consent to be raised to 18 – unsuccessfully, but pointedly ensuring the issue could be an election issue.

 

Stead’s sensational story made this unavoidable. Advertised on 4th July 1885, the actual articles at the start of the following week forced the Conservatives to reintroduce the Liberal Bill, and the Conservative Home Secretary R A Cross brought it back to the Commons five days after Stead’s first article. Passing the bill into law and defusing the furore had become an urgent priority for both major parties, and it became law on August 14th.

 

The significance of the 1885 Criminal Law Amendment Act Campaign

 

The historical significance of the Maiden Tribute campaign and the passing of the Act casts a sharp light on the notion of Victorian Morality, which clearly was a fiction before the Act. Prostitution had long been acknowledged as a key element of city life, and tolerated. Sex was umentionable in polite society, but prostitution was openly debated in parliament. However the refusal of MPs to protect young girls from gross exploitation and failure to challenge White Slavery in law – by MPs of both major parties – went well beyond the previously open acceptance of the trade in sex, which had been debated and tolerated for several decades.

 

By 1882 and the Lords select committee report, the existence of gross human rights abuses raised the temperature. There had long been a double standard of morality between men and  women, but what was happening to girls clearly went beyond this. The refusal of male MPs to protect the vulnerable outraged common decency, uniting the morality lobby, the child protection lobby, and the newly emerging feminist movement. Like child employment in factories before the factory act, the refusal to extend legal protection showed political blindness in  a climate where class politics and human rights were both becoming political issues. MPs were out of touch with the new politics of an increasingly democratic society. Nevertheless, they were able to ignore protests till Stead’s campaign.

From a constitutional viewpoint, there was nothing new about the strategy, which drew on the attempts to pressurise parliament of the Chartists and the Anti Corn Law League half a century earlier, though with an unprecented use of press to reach normally a-political citizens.  The key constitutional  issue is that when the pressure was applied by Stead and his colleagues, there were no institutional barriers to changing the law. MPs only had to change their mind. The speed of government reaction was purely due to the fear among politicians, once they were exposed to the campaign in London and other major cities, of a backlash which could have severe electoral consequences in the impending election (though this did not take place till 1886: but the Conservatives had no intention of waiting till it was on the  horizon).

 

Whatever had been said or passed into law before, once the campaign had become a major sensation the political imperative was clear- abandon previous legislation (theoretically parts of the 1861 and the whole of the 1875 Act (7)) and reverse policies and attitudes to produce a whole new settlement. The barriers to changing the law were purely due to attitudes among MPs, and once they feared an electoral backlash they capitulated, totally if  with a bad grace. Parliamentary sovereignty asserted itself, as Stead and his allies knew was possible.

 

While the campaign was crude and Stead himself cut corners, later serving time in prison for a technical offence – he had bought Eliza from her mother: but it was her father, in this patriarchal society, who had control over her and Stead had not asked him. Nonetheless, the substance of the campaign was well founded. The Act, entitled “An Act to make further provision for the Protection of Women and Girls, the suppression of Brothels and other purposes”, became the cornerstone of moral law for several generations. The age of consent, despite recent debates, has remained at 16 ever since 1885.

The Act actually went beyond the topics indicated in the title, notably including the notorious Labouchere amendment (Clause 11) which criminalised gross indecency among men. This was used ten years later to prosecute Oscar Wilde. It can be argued that this was out of order given the actual substance of the parliamentary debate had been the feminist issues of women and girls, but the Speaker ruled that any topic of a sexual nature could be introduced into the debate –  a very wide definition of parliamentary sovereignty- but it was difficult to challenge it, and no-one inside or outside parliament did. When push came to shove, parliamentary sovereignty proved unchallengable. While the introduction of referenda have created many issues which are so far unresolved, it is undoubted that parliamentary sovereignty remains intact and a W T Stead could well look on the activities of the pro-Brexit press as showing a family resemblance to his own largely forgotten campaign of 1885.

 

Constitutional problems and the current controversies

 

The Maiden Tribute affair is one small example of how successfully a political system based on an

unwritten constitution could produce reform demanded by popular pressure, and this was underlined by

more successful if longer run campaigns including the Anti Corn Law League and the Women’s

suffrage movement. Even the Chartists, though defeated in the 1840s, could look at the success of 5 of

their 6 principles made law with some satisfaction. The result has been that the system has been

supremely successful in coping with demands for change. While the Maiden Tribute campaign is

unusual in using shock tactics, a campaigning newspaper and an ad hoc alliance of campaign groups

and leaders, and certainly was an unrepeatable exercise comparable to using Dyno Rod to remove an

obstruction in a pipeline, it had exploited the key fact about parliamentary sovereignty – MPs can

change their mind.

 

The ability of a sovereign parliament to modify existing laws and practices without a formal written

constitution has been undeniable but in the late twentieth century this ceased to be the case. The initial

referendum of 1975 succeeded in securing consent for a settlement which lasted for four decades, but

without setting any rules. It had a two thirds majority in favour, but this was not set down

as a principle and the vote was advisory. Changes to make decisions mandatory, and by simple

majority, then took place without systematic analysis of the consequences.

 

The Brexit situation points up unresolved issues which the traditional unwritten constitution has failed

to deal with. Despite previous successes over, centuries recent developments have called into question

the centuries old assumption that adaption within the UK could continue to cope with stresses which

are driven by powerful, and contradictory, nationalist pressures, notably in Scotland. It is not simply

that the  limits of having to rely on unwritten rules has proved a challenge to a divided polity which

has little constitutional grasp, as the Lords debate on Article 50 showed . There is no obvious sign a

written constitution would make a positive difference and formal constitution making is a dead letter

but it is a pressing issue that the referendum method in the UK has no checks and balances. As

operated in the UK, referenda are effectively a game of Russian Roulette, where a small majority which

can well be temporary leads to massive consequences. At the heart of the problems, is the unresolved

issue of the adoption of referenda without any clear idea of how this meshed with parliamentary

sovereignty, especially once the continuing problem of whether small majorities had resolved

controversial issues emerged with the conflict between the Scottish and UK results in 2016 and also

intensified unfinished business from the earlier Scottish referendum.

 

The Brexit movement and Scottish Nationalism, both of which have demanded referenda,

successfully, produced outcomes which have only produced unstability. One very obvious

shortcoming is the lack of a settled resolution to  the national issues inside the UK. These have been

underlined by Brexit, especially as – in contradiction to the Brexit rhetoric that the People Voted For

Brexit – the obvious facts are that Northern Ireland and Scotland did NOT vote for Brexit  The existing

problem of the unresolved Scottish independence referendum was magnified by Brexit. UKIP’s lasting

achievement may finally prove to be that they helped secure the breakup, not the independence, of the

  1. And Brexit itself south of the Scottish border has not proved to have won over the dissidents,

splitting the nation into opposed camps.

It is thus clear that Referenda are not proving successful in resolving long run political disputes nor in

creating a climate in which such disputes can be easily resolved. No short paper can deal with

these fully and this paper does not attempt to do so. However the difficulties, which revolve around

the unresolved issue of sovereignty and the role of parliament will become more pressing as

the Brexit leaving date approaches. Parliament has regained the right to vote on the Deal. But the

government has made it clear this will not stop Brexit. Its position, made clear several times and most

notably in response to epetitions, is that

 

“The British people voted to leave and the Government will implement their decision. The vote on the

final deal will give parliament the choice to accept the agreement or leave the EU with no agreement”.

(8).

 

A choice which is so constrained is not a choice, and raises the issue of whether if parliament

voted down the agreement the government could use Crown Prerogative – the power of the

monarch which transferred to the Prime Minister – to push through the No Deal scenario. But to do this

would show the nature of Prime Ministerial power as monarchical power, and the disputes around the

legitimacy of that would be very damaging. Perhaps the PM would call a General Election, but if so it

could hardly be a one issue campaign – the record of the PM itself would be a factor, as it was in the

2017 election. Under these circumstances, the appeal to the sovereign people would become

increasingly attractive to both sides.

 

That popular sovereignty is now the ultimate arbiter was hinted, in a very tortuous way, by Brexiteer

Michael Gove writing in the pro- Brexit newspaper  The Daily Telegraph. Under a headline  THE

BRITISH PEOPLE WILL BE IN CONTROL IF THEY DISLIKE THE DEAL (9)  he glossed the

agreement reached the previous day discussing the three elements identified by the Conservative Party

as initially important – these are the ones referred to by the Party in the web site entry mentioned in

footnote (2) – but crucially wrote “The British people will be in control. By the time of the next

election, EU and any new treaty with the EU will cease to have primacy or direct effect in UK law. If

the British people dislike the arrangement that we have negotiated with the EU, the agreement will

allow a future government to diverge“. (emphasis added – diverge here presumably means get closer

to the EU as any movement would be to reject the terms of leaving- assuming that there is a treaty –

itself a dubious assumption once Theresa May said No Deal is better than a Bad Deal) However the

British people will have no say over the Deal before it is implemented, which if not accepted by

parliament will lead to a no deal scenario not mentioned by Gove – which would not be an option put to

the people unless there is a referendum. The terms of leaving  the EU will not be referred to the British

people unless the constitutional problems referred to above lead to a General Election before the date of

leaving as defined by the Conservative Party.

 

Gove clearly is not arguing that this would happen, and the next General Election as such is not due till

2022 under the flawed Fixed Term Parliament Act (10). Thus if the Conservatives take Britain out

of the EU in March 2019 there would be over three years till the General Election if the law is followed

and thus it is nonsense to suggest that the British People would be able to control their future. Only a

Referendum would do this, and Gove does not mention the possibility. It may, however, have occured

to Farage that if popular soverignty is to be invoked, as Gove is trying to do, it can only be done

through another referendum. Farage has long argued that on this issue referenda are the only way that

the decision can be made if the sovereign people are to be involved. On the constitutional issue, he and

not Gove appears correct.

 

If parliament has handed over sovereignty on the EU issue to the people via Referenda, as appears to be

the case, parliament would be overruled by government if it voted against the Deal, as the government

has a mandate via the 2016 referendum. Thus to defeat the Deal requires a third referendum. The

constitutional position seems clear. General Elections and parliamentary votes take second place to

referenda. Farage may  well be wrong in contending a new vote would lead to a higher majority for the

Leave camp. That is a political judgement, not an issue of constitutional propriety. What Farage is

concerned about is a Deal which will not be pure Brexit and could leave links with the EU. To defeat

this would need a referendum not a vote in parliament which neither he nor the Remainers can predict.

But on the pure issue of constitutionalism, he appears to be right. Only a referendum can decide the

issue, of the Deal and indeed Brexit itself if. Parliament can debate the Deal, but if it rejects it the

government could use Crown Prerogative to go to a No Deal solution using the referendum result as the

mandate.. Parliament seems to be in a no win situation.

 

At the heart of the issues posed by Brexit is parliamentary sovereignty. If parliament has handed over

its sovereignty to referenda as appears to be the case, then the key principle that the decisions can be

revoked or amended also apply, must now apply to Referenda. The ‘meaningful vote’ promised

parliament over the terms – difficult to see happening if the terms are still being negotiated, though the

deadline can be extended beyond March 29th 2019 – will be subject to the doctrine that No Deal is

Better than a Bad Deal, and parliament would not have a meaningful vote against. Whether this would

lead to a General Election or a tame acceptance of what the executive had negotiated is pure

speculation. But what can be discussed and resolved without waiting is what role popular sovereignty

has in this matter. Parliamentary sovereignty has not been abolished, simply transferred to the poeple

by referenda. The final approval or rejection of the EU deal must therefore lie with the people, and not

with parliament. Parliament can only approve a further referendum and in achieving this it may be

necessary to have a public campaign – best not left to Nigel Farage. However he alone seems to

have grasped the implications for parliamentary sovereignty of constitutional developments. The

implications of this outcome are not the least important of the many issues about sovereignty that the

current debate about Brexit has thrown up.

———————————————————————————————- 22nd January 2018

 

(1) The original Italian version probably written in 1513 though not published till 1532 after Machiavelli’s death, is entitled De Principatibus,(Of Principalities). The dedication was to Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Medici leader, and Machiavelli said (p5, Penguin edition 2004) that he had discussed Republican politics in another work. The principles he describes are however common to different types of government. The other work is probably his book Discourses on Livy.

 

(2) Bernard Donoughue Downing St Diary – with Harold Wilson in #10 Jonathan Cape 2005 p5.

 

(3) https://www.conservatives.com/sharethefacts/2017/12/deliveredthreepromises – recovered 16th January 2018

 

(4) Guardian of 10th November, Independent of 9th November- the Independent article refers to a speech made by Lord Kerr to the Open  Britain group) while other reports refer to comments made on Radio 4.

 

(5) Vol 13 – Sir Llewellyn Woodward Clarendon Press second edition 1962

 

(6) In Twentieth Century British history the Suffragette-Suffragist campaign is popularly belieived to have produced a successful change in statute and policy, but  it did not succeed before the First World War as the Liberals never conceded. In the Nineteenth the Anti Corn Law League was massively successful, though perhaps not anti Establishment. Both relied on extra and internal parliamentary pressure, as did the Maiden Tribute, with the use of mass media. Anti European campaigns were initially internal to the major parties, but the influence of UKIP while not specifically a pressure group as always an electoral project, shows a skilful use of pressure group tactics to challenge cross party government politics.

 

(7) Offences against the Person Act 1861 sections 49 and 52 and Offences against the Person Act 1875

 

(8) Response to epetition by Ann Greaves which will expire on 17th May 2018. Government response dated 17th December 2017

 

(9) Daily Telegraph 9th December 2017, p3

 

(10) The 2011 Act was designed to prevent the Prime Minister calling an early election to protect the Lib Dems in the 2010 coalition. It cannot do this, as was demonstrated in April 2017, as the PM can call an election and the opposition parties must vote for the suspension of the Act or appear to be afraid of the election and suffer electoral damage. Corbyn’s willingness to accept the PM’s decision and vote for suspension was paradoxically the first step to his successful General Election campaign. Theresa May, however, showed that the PM’s power had been enhanced but would then not be able to control events. A future General Election before the term allowed by the FTPA would be an high risk strategy, but it is entirely legal. The FTPA is another failing constitutional muddle from the Westminster bubble.

 

 

Christopher Marlowe’s demise – a continuing mystery

Christopher Marlowe’s demise – a continuing mystery

 

NB For the original talk when given at the Birmingham and Midland Institute on 16 10 17 the audience were given a full copy of the coroner’s report and the statement on Marlowe from the Royal Shakespeare Company website. The key sections of the Coroner’s report were broken down into three subsections, A B and C for the purposes of the talk. Sections in italics in this expanded paper are the talk as given at the BMI. Future talks will follow this format without the RSC documents. Appendix A is a later addition.

 

The disappearance of Christopher Marlowe on May 30th 1593 is a mystery that is not likely to be solved in the current state of play. Indeed, while it was not unusual for playwrights of this era to disappear without trace – the young men writing for Elizabethan theatre tended to live fast and die young while NOT leaving a beautiful corpse –  Marlowe’s demise left enough clues to provoke investigation without there being enough to provide a satisfactory conclusion. Ros Barber’s prize winning verse novel on  Marlowe’s career (2013) is a recent attempt to probe what happened, albeit fictional – successfully keeping the Marlowe mystery in the public eye (1)

 

Most of those who vanished without trace did so leaving little sign they existed. This is not the case with Marlowe, but the sketchy evidence has proved endlessly controversial.  Marlowe’s disappearance happened at a time when he was a  relatively well known figure  in London’s literary world and among religious pamphleteers, the pamphleteers focussing on his ambiguous religious views . The mystery has sparked a great research effort  especially in the last ninety odd years. The search has not however resolved the issues, resulting in a lack of a consensus among experts on what happened to Marlowe that pose  unique problems  in the history of  post Renaissance English Literature.

 

There are two challenges which Marlowe’s disappearance pose for historians. Firstly, though it is now a well established urban myth that he was killed in a brawl in a tavern, more than four centuries of study have failed to provide clinching evidence. This leads to the second challenge,  understanding why it is difficult to do this. Why has it not been possible to establish an uncontentious account of  what happened to him?

 

 Marlowe allegedly  died from a stab wound in a drunken fight in a tavern owned by a Mrs Eleanor Bull in Deptford, on the River Thames. But close examination of the coroner’s report, which we will look at in some detail as it is the only hard evidence on what happened, has generated more questions than answers. To take simplest problem with the urban myth,  the property of Mrs Bull was not a conventional tavern and there is no evidence that the alleged fight was a drunken affair. As you can see from section A,  the inquest report only talks of “the house of a certain Eleanor Bull, widow:”. The allegation of drunkenness predated the inquest  (2), remaining a core assumption to the present day,  but the actual inquest wording  only  mentions that Marlowe  was one of a party of four men – Ingram Frizer, Robert Poley, Nicholas Skeres and Marlowe, which had dinner, and that they later supped, making no suggestion they were drinking to excess.

 

It is reasonable to assume they were drinking some alcohol. They  probably drank the ‘small beer’ which was normal with meals at the time, with low alcohol content but sterilised though boiling as there was little fresh clean water. The coroner’s report suggests this was a quiet meeting of over 8 hours duration. Why then did this end – according to the report – in lethal violence? And why did the inquest report not lead to public discussion of what had happened? Admittedly there were no public media, and the report was written in obscure legal latin, but Marlowe despite vanishing from public view as so many did in that plague year,  was never forgotten. His plays began to be published with his name displayed, with his poetry equally successful. Yet in the aftermath of Deptford there was a profound silence from those who knew him. Marlowe’s friends, who included the writers known at the ‘University wits”, (3) said nothing about his demise. There were  no obituaries and no memorials though a rumour mill began to produce stories about his passing.

 

 The rumours only provided oblique and ambiguous comments, some suggesting  that he died in Deptford.  There was no solid evidence until in 1820 a researcher discovered a note in the Deptford church records that Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard, killed by a named person. But there was no trial for murder that anyone could find despite searches for the named person. The name, we now know, was written down wrongly, leading researchers down a blind alley for over a century.

 

It was three and a quarter centuries after his disappearance, that the Harvard historian Leslie Hotson discovered legal documents giving apparently solid  evidence on what happened to Marlowe explaining why there was no public trial of his killer.

 

Hotson’s brilliance was to recognise the name in the church records was wrong and to step back from searching for a murder trial to look for a Coroner’s report which could pre-empt a murder trial.  He discovered this in the Public Record Office and as this concluded  that the killing was self defence, there was no trial for murder and no public comment. The killing was stated to have been carried out by one Ingram Frizer who was “in fear of being slain”. The legal verdict   was confirmed when Hotson found a Royal Pardon which he published, exonerating Frizer from any criminal charge as Marlowe was the allegedly the instigator of the violence.  Frizer had been set free without the need to face trial. As far as Elizabeth’s government was concerned, the case was closed. 

 

Despite the brilliance of Hotson’s research, which he published early in 1925,  this did not mean the solution was satisfactory. Indeed, the discoveries triggered intensive research which has produced three major theories of what happened, only one of which supports the inquest verdict. All three are elaborated differently by different writers.  And on October 17th 2017 BBC Radio 4 Extra broadcast a 45 minute play on what happened in Deptford, advertised as being about “the mystery surrounding the unsolved killing (my  emphasis) of playwright Christopher Marlowe in 1593. An innovative drama starring Paul Rhys”.

 

 Marlowe has achieved a kind of posthumous celebrity status, but the more we learn, the less we know.   Marlowe studies look increasingly like an exercise in Post Modernism – the stories are different, and become a pick and mix exercise of a limited range of  evidence which has survived and been unearthed in fragments, ad hoc.

 

However as I am a fairly conventional historian, my view is that post modernism does not work. There was only one outcome for Marlowe in 1593. Marlowe only lived one life and had only one death. There must be a narrative which explains all the known facts, and this has eluded historians .  Why this so is what I want to discuss in this talk, looking at the key piece of evidence, the Coroner’s report.

 

A CELEBRITY FIGURE

 

Three main theories  have entered the popular culture, as the Royal Shakespeare Company website showed at the time of their production of Marlowe’s  play  Dido Queen of Carthage this autumn.  The RSC writer made the assumption that Marlowe left little evidence on his life, and that this is not unusual. I  agree. The RSC is right to say that little is known about the playwrights of the era.  The Roaring Boys, as the playwrights were known, did not leave much evidence behind, even for the University wits (3).

 

Playwrights were  poorly paid, low status, and attracted little attention.  Marlowe’s literary career is not unusual in being largely unrecorded. None of Marlowe’s plays were published under his name in his lifetime. His reputation, largely in London, was as a writer who became  a freethinker contributing to the religious unrest of the time.

 

Establishing links between Elizabethan plays and who wrote them is a herculean task, made more so by the current belief in multiple authorship – which while throwing a useful curve ball against the idea that plays were the product of solitary inspiration has opened the pandora’s box of computer analysis.  For Shakespeare, the lack of clinching evidence is sometimes held to be proof he did not write the work under his name. However he worked as part of a company which owned  his playscripts, did not take documents back to Stratford when he retired,  and the First Folio of his plays published in 1623, seven years after his death, came from scripts held by his former colleagues in London. Marlowe also did not own his own scripts, but was more obscure as not part of a company, but probably  was part of a network of writers, operating incognito  – though for Dido, Thomas Nashe is credited on the title page of the 1595 edition as contributor.  

 

 Marlowe was however not merely a literary figure and his extra-curricular activities gave him 

 high visibility at certain points, especially in his  final weeks. It is difficult to substantiate the rumour he was a spy, spies do not advertise, and he attracted attention in ways which were not ideal for espionage. Politicians were watching Marlowe and the record of Marlowe’s  life is filled in for the last weeks before May 30th with a considerable amount of detail in government records (4)

 

The reasons we know much about those weeks is because he was summoned to be interrogated by the Privy Council over suspect religious views. The Council  tracked him down in the house of Thomas Walsingham, a  friend with whom he was staying in Scadbury in Kent. He was in serious trouble, which Hotson did not examine, under scrutiny by the highest authorities in the land. From Scadbury he went to Deptford, meeting the three men who were to claim he died that day. The Council was then meeting at Nonesuch palace near Greenwich, making Deptford inside the Verge  (5), the crucial legal phrase repeated four times in the coroner’s report and giving the legal reason for a court official being the coroner. The Verge, and not the fact Marlowe was under investigation by the Privy Council, is the legal  reason Sir William Danby ran the inquest. Danby was an experienced political and legal operator, but produced a curious Coroner’s report,  particularly as only the three men in the room spoke –  no one else was called to give evidence, least of all Mrs Bull herself.

 

THE THREE THEORIES OUTLINED

 

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The RSC report sees Marlowe as a Secret Agent,  A Heretic, and a Brawler – the writer seeing these as the key aspects of his character.   Marlowe  as a Brawler  defines him as aggressive and pugnacious. It is certainly true  that he had several brushes with the law, and indeed was arrested on a murder charge after a killing in Hog Lane. However he was discharged without trial and the killer, his close friend Thomas Watson pleaded self defence and was set free. Marlowe was never convicted of violence.

 

The comment that the final meeting was with “three government agents who were paid assassins”  is astonishingly inaccurate. None was known to be violent, though Poley had been in prison, and there is no evidence any of the three were paid assassins.  Of the three, Robert Poley was certainly an intelligence operative on government service, but Nicholas Skeres and Ingram Frizer  were employed by Thomas Walsingham – Skeres had also for a decade worked for money lender John Wolfall (see note 3), and  Walsingham was host to Marlowe that week. Neither Frizer nor Skeres  had intelligence links though Walsingham did – through being cousin of spymaster Francis Walsingham, and he was Frizer’s employer and Frizer worked financial tricks with Skeres. No links have been found between Poley and any of the men meeting at Deptford and no involvement with Thomas Walsingham or Marlowe has  been established to explain why Poley was in attendance. There was nothing in the Coroner’s report about what had brought the four men to Mrs Bull’s House. Seeking  links  between the four men meeting at Mrs Bull’s house has led to much inconclusive speculation, but Hotson – as with the inquest – asked no questions even of Poley, who research later found to be on a government mission that day to travel to the continent.

 

However the RSC note merely echoes a garbled version of the urban myth of the Deptford incident. This is rooted in Hotson’s analysis of evidence in the Coroner’s report, which gave no support to the idea there was any link to the state.  Hotson did not probe any such link, assuming the killing to be a random act of violence over who paid the bill, despite having  reasons enough to  mull over possible links with high politics- he knew Poley had been a key player in exposing the Babbington Plot to free Mary Queen Of Scots (pp51-52) for example.

 

Hotson’s failure to explore the political connection is puzzling as he discovered that  Marlowe was known to the Privy Council at Cambridge in 1587 having found the letter to the University certifying absences were due to his being on government service, stating he behaved “orderlie and discreetelie wherebie he had done her Majestie good service”, (p58) Hotson sees this  only as a certificate of good character (p62), though later writers speculate that he was engaged in espionage, which the letter unsuprisingly does not mention. Although Marlowe was  known to the Privy Council six years before Deptford, Hotson naming Lord Burghley as one of the signatories. Hotson  makes no connection with the  Council investigation of 1593, seeing  even the letter of 1587 to Corpus Christi as having no relevance to what had happened.  

 

 Marlowe may not have been in government employment in 1593. Other political factors could  undermine the assumption made at the time of the inquest, and which Hotson embraced that there was no political motive for the killing, the argument being purely commercial –  ie who paid for a meal – which is the core assumption of the lawful killing verdict.  Seeing Marlowe as prone to violence is unhistorical but helps pigeonhole him as a brawler – which  has some scholarly support in the comment of Marlowe biographer Constance Brown Kuriyama in an essay published in 2015  that discoveries in Canterbury suggested that Marlowe can be seen as “a brawler who was somehow connected with intelligence work” (6). The caricature has certainly seeped into the sketches of writers on the fringe of the Marlowe debate, as the RSC document shows, but  while sketchy and inadequately researched  the RSC document does state the three main theories about what happened at Deptford.  They are

 

Theory 1. Justifiable homicide.  Marlowe was in a house of assignation in Deptford and ate two meals, following which he was  killed by one Ingram Frizer in self defence because Marlowe started an argument over who paid the Bill. This is the theory  which has entered urban folklore. The two witnesses who both supported Frizer, were Skeres and Poley.  While Hotson was prepared to admit that it was possible that the three men “concocted a lying account of Marlowe’s behaviour, to which they swore at the inquest, and with which they decieved the jury” (p40) he rejected this. Hotson prefered to believe that the men “Had been drinking deep” and drunkeness was the cause of the argument. This is mere guesswork, but Hotson was impressed by the fact that the legal documents gave a full and plausible account of a killing.

 

The Royal Pardon said little that was not in the inquest report, but proved  that  Frizer’s  claim he acted in self defence was accepted and Frizer was released with remarkable speed, certainly compared to Watson’s months behind bars after his acquittal for the Hog Lane  brawl. Officially the killing was a response to Marlowe’s attack, and  the lethal blow dealt to Marlowe was not planned. Hotson accepted the documents at face value.

 

However the historical documents were queried within weeks of their being published by Hotson. One immediate problem for the validity of the official account was that Marlowe did not have a weapon. He was killed by Frizer’s dagger. How this could happen is an issue we will examine, but it has to be stressed that Marlowe was unarmed as a casual implication that he had a weapon creeps into historical accounts (7).   The fact that an unarmed man was killed by a man who had come to the meeting with a dagger is used to support the second theory, which is that Marlowe was murdered.

 

Theory 2.  The accusation is of deliberate homicide. The killing was not self defence, but a planned and intentional killing, the argument over who paid the bill for a meal  an excuse, or an invention (8) – the case given by the RSC  is the Queen had him murdered but this is only one version (9)  there are others all of which suggest that in some way the killing was intentional. There are so  many versions of the murder theory it is a a specialist topic too detailed for examination today.

 

The RSC statement suggests that Marlowe was meeting with ‘paid assassins’  but while this is not true, Marlowe was certainly  outnumbered three to one and  the explanation of why the three men could not stop his alleged attack is a major weakness of theory 1.  The murder theory is butressed by the fact that Marlowe did not come to the meeting with a weapon. It is accepted that  that he was unarmed, though in the fatal incident involving Thomas Watson, Marlowe had a sword and defended himself with it, though it was Watson who struck the fatal blow.  The fact he was unarmed indicates he was not expecting trouble. Given that he was under interrogation by the Privy Council however he was facing an uncertain future which could be resolved by his death, real or staged, leading to:

 

Theory 3 Which alleges that Marlowe survived and escaped , his death was faked . The ramifications of this theory involve others and usually  court intrigue or a complex government conspiracy, as it is obvious that Marlowe alone could hardly produce a scenario that would convincingly suggest he was dead when he was alive.

 

The  most obvious objection is  that a body was buried in the churchyard as the church records  prove, and this was named as being that of Marlowe. However the body was not identified by anyone who was not involved in the coroner’s report, and this raises questions as to whether the report stands up to forensic examination of its content and procedures.

 

It is this key question that I examine in my pamphlet MARLOWE’S LAST BOW  and it is this that I will discuss in the last part of this talk. Only the inquest report and the pardon, which repeats the inquest, have survived. If Danby made notes of his interrogation – he worked alone – they have not been discovered.

 

As we can see from the Coroners’s report, the account of what happened goes through 3 stages. In the first (Section A),  the meeting is not a noisy or boistrous affair:  the men were together 8 hours, according to the coroner’s words  “in quiet sort”. The account notes that they spent time  walking in the garden. However they ate two meals, so were waited upon, but only the three men in the room were called to give evidence.  This was never checked and there is no independent evidence for their stories.   Mrs Bull should certainly have given evidence.  Although Hotson did not know her significance, it has emerged that Mrs Bull was not a run of the mill hostess. She was connected to the court, being a cousin of Blanche Parry, confidante of Elizabeth 1. She is also said to have had a distant family connection with Lord Burghley, the Secretary of State who was a member of the Privy Council and knew that Marlowe was being called before the Council.  Danby could hardly have been unaware of these factors.

 

However even without linking to Court politics, it was a strange feature of the inquest that witnesses to the day’s events from the household were not called to give evidence. Critics sometimes query Danby’s role, though legally sound,  being ‘within the verge’ meant the role of a court official was accepted practice. However he did not involve a local judge as the law required, and though this appears to have been a common practice he was certainly a political animal, and had been to school with Burghley and was part of the same circle around the Queen. That Danby was involved at this moment in Marlowe’s increasingly precarious career  set up more questions than Hotson saw, but to be fair to Hotson he knew little about the fringe characters and criticism of his analysis rests on factors B and C.

 

Section B describes an argument between Frizer and Marlowe over who pays the bill, the other two men being entirely passive as the following  scenario develops: Marlowe was lying on or sitting near the bed, with the phrase ‘near the bed’ repeated: Marlowe is said to be on  the bed twice. An argument breaks out with Frizer, Poley and Skeres all having their back to Marlowe. The argument does not involve Skeres and Poley but their bodies trap  Frizer “in such a matter that the same Ingram ffrysar could not take flight” according to the report.

 

Section C follows with Marlowe taking Frizer’s dagger from ‘his back’ – possibly his belt – and striking him two blows, giving head wounds – the hilt of the dagger possibly being used as the blade could inflict fatal damage so fighters often held the knife blade upward to strike with the hilt to avoid killing  – and if so this would not be an attempt to inflict a fatal injury. However if Frizer  could not turn round he  would not know that  the knife was being used to injure not kill. But why could he not turn round?

 

The wounds appear to be superficial and slight in extent such as the handle would produce. This suggests the dagger was pointing upwards which fits the rest of the report. While the report is plausible,  and the head wounds would be visible to the  jury, it is possible that the head wounds could have been produced after the event to fake an attack by Marlowe, Hotson accepted this was possible, but dismissed this view of the evidence  because he accepted the verdict.

 

The most controversial aspect of the inquest report is the  statement that Frizer was “sitting in the manner aforesaid” ie pinioned between Poley and Skeres, who are not moving and pressing Frizer so he cannot stand up and turn round.  Frizer gave Marlowe  “then and there a mortal wound over his right eye” which instantly killed Marlowe. The statement that  Poley and Skeres pinioned Frizer so he couldnot move is repeated again with the phrase “the same Ingram could not get away from the said Christopher Morley”;  a point now made three times.

It is this claim that Poley and Skeres remained seated with their backs to Marlowe and pinioning Frizer so he could not stand up or turn round – but could still struggle with Marlowe, get his dagger back and strike a fatal wound with one blow
 – that made criticism of the report inevitable.  The report would have been more credible had the dagger gone into Marlowe’s eye socket, but it is explicitly stated that the knife went through the forehead – a very tough piece of bone.

 

The credibility of the  whole account has become central to the dispute over what happened at Deptford. It is  bizarre  that it is alleged that Frizer was held by the other two men who remained facing away from Marlowe while the struggle developed, as was Frizer, yet Frizer could grasp the dagger and strike a single fatal blow apparently without turning round. There has been some discussion as to whether a blow through the forehead could be instantly fatal, but the bigger issue is how Frizer could have delivered a blow accurately and with force if he had his back to Marlowe. This account despite a superficial plausibility contains too many  inconsistencies to be satisfactory, even without looking at the wider issues of what brought Marlowe to Deptford to meet these three men.

 

A  key question, which the inquest was not required to investigate but Hotson felt, rightly, needed comment , is what brought the four men to Deptford, notably the fact that both Skeres and Frizer had financial dealings  with Thomas Walsingham. Hotson grasped that the link was important, making the assumption that Marlowe was  a servant and that the three men knew each other via working at Scadbury for Thomas Walsingham.  Hotson discovered that Frizer and Skeres were money sharpers on the basis of court evidence, notably with a case for a young man called Woodleff, (notably Appendix  p69-73 giving court documents, and the detailed study of Frizer pp41-51 and the shorter note on Skeres on page 51, but casually  assumed (p42)on the basis of no evidence at all that Frizer and Marlowe were both servants – “in all probability, Frizer was just as much a serving man as Christopher Marlowe, and that they both served the same master”. 

 

It was a bizarre misconception.  Marlowe was a Cambridge graduate and hence gentleman, and was not at Scadbury as a servant – but while Hotson did correctly assess the relationship between the two (p49) – “Thomas Walsingham of Chistlehurst, is the patron of Christopher Marlowe, and Ingram Frizer’s master”, on the same page he argued “Everything then points to an association between Marlow and Frizer at Scadbury as dependants of the same wealthy gentleman”. In fact nothing points to such an association, Marlowe was not a dependant of Walsingham and there is no evidence he had met Frizer before May 30th 1593. Hotson’s  assumptions were not firmly based.

 

THE DISPUTE OVER THE REPORT IN FOCUS

 

The dispute over Hotson’s discovery began immediately he published in 1925. On  May 21st 1925 a Cambridge researcher, Eugenie de Kalb, published a critical review in the Times Literary Supplement which assessed the value of Hotson’s research and was particularly critical of the Coroner’s Report . Her key statement describes the fight  as follows:

“Friser, Poley and Skeres are seated at a table, all close together. Frizer, between the other two, faces the table with his back to Marlowe, who is lying on a bed just behind.
This does not strike one as any ordinary position in which any two men would conduct a dispute over a reckoning  (my emphasis -)  .. is it concievable that any man in mortal earnest would recline on a bed to hack at an antagonist who is sitting upright  and certain to retaliate? Frizer… is able to grapple with Marlowe… to struggle with him for the dagger, and to give him a mortal wound – and this without interference from the other two men who (apparently) waited passive…” (para 13).

 

While Marlowe was lying on the bed initially he is more likely to have risen to attack Frizer, the report has not excluded this and it would make more sense for him to have stood up. But the rest of De Kalb’s  critique is sound.

The immobility of Skeres and Poley is inexplicable. Even if frightened they would have stood up and turned round, to find out what Marlowe was doing and to defend themselves. If they were deliberately holding Frizer down they had to use their arms and to do so would mean that they were aiding Marlowe – which makes no sense at all. And in this case how could Frizer have taken the dagger and hit Marlowe? Even if the two men were scared to move, stopping Frizer moving meant he could not take the dagger.  The inconsistencies of the account make it implausible.  This line of thought contributes to the Second theory by default: de Kalb suggests that the wounds Frizer undoubtedly showed the jury were “such insignificant cuts… as might be self inflicted to corroborate a put-up story” (para 13). De Kalb claimed with less validity that the scenario  is rooted in three of the four men working for  ‘the hidden political machinery of Elizabeth’s reign” (para 9), but only Marlowe and Poley were centrally involved, though she has found Skeres working for the Earl of Essex. She initiated a current of criticism which was to flow abundantly, though she came to no conclusion on how Marlowe was killed.  But by 1929 Frederick Boas concluded surveying then recent scholarship “there is a prevailing impression that he was deliberately murdered” (10). That view has never gone away.

 

 Hotson’s belief that he had solved the problem was supported by the introduction of Professor George Kitteredge of Harvard, who claimed that “the mystery of Marlowe’s death… is now cleared up for good and all on the authority of public records of complete authenticity and gratifying fulness” (11) but far from resolving the problem Hotson had compounded it. The three theories of what happened to Marlowe germinated from the time of his research publication. The murder theory has predominated and the faked death theory has not attracted as much notice, becoming unfortunately linked with  unhistorical speculation that Marlowe wrote the works of Shakespeare.

 

The historical problems are both that the orthodox theory remains recycled with little acknowledgement in academia that they exist (12) and that in part because of this, outside specialist studies and fiction  the problems remain unsolved and all three theories remain in circulation. Marlowe occupies an unquiet grave.  Marlowe, a historical figure, becomes a shape shifter after May 30th 1593. We cannot get the real Christopher Marlowe into focus. Marlovian scholarship no longer simply poses the question of how to establish what happened to him. That is a big enough question. But the bigger  issue is the failure to move forward. The Hotson-de Kalb exchange was 1925, 92 years ago. There is no resolution of this historical question. Why is this still the case in 2017?

 

——————————————————————————————————————————

 

Appendix A. Marlowe and Espionage

 

The assertion that Marlowe was a spy has become particularly controversial, notably in the essay by

Constance Brown Kuriyama (notes 6 and 12 below). Kuriyama is prepared to accept that Marlowe had some intelligence role, suggesting “the government employed Marlowe in some capacity related to intelligence, beginning in 1587 and continuing until his death”, (2015 p332), but denies that he was in a major league of operatives such as Robert Poley (2015 p332), who was clearly a double agent. Kuriyama argues that  “the probability that he was involved in sensitive covert operations is low” (2015 -332), but she ignores  Flushing. However as Marlowe’s apparent attempt at a covert operation ended in disaster and imprisonment, the outcome of Flushing supports  Kuriyama’s position. He was not a seasoned intelligence operative, and calling him a spy overstates his work for the state.

 

However as the RSC document of 2017 has shown, the view that Marlowe was a spy has become as deeply embedded as the proposition he was killed in Deptford. Marlowe lacked the qualities needed for espionage, but was probably an efficient courier. However the inflation of his reputation and the glamour of espionage and is an aspect of the shape shifting persona which makes him seem a major player in the political turmoil of his age.  This  factor  now affects even  studies of late Elizabethan espionage which seemingly must now contain obligatory, innaccurate references to Marlowe as a spy.
This is most clearly shown by the  2012 volume THE QUEEN’S AGENT by John Cooper (Pegasus 2012), devoted to Sir Francis Walsingham, which contains a short summary of Marlowe as spy, (pp178-9) and gives more attention to him than the clearly more significant  players RIchard Baines and Robert Poley.  Cooper cannot resist painting Marlowe as a fighter, stating that Marlowe was involved in the violent incident in Hog Lane, in which Watson intervened “to save the life of Christopher Marlowe”, for which “he served a term in Newgate Prison for manslaughter” (p325) Neither statement is true: Watson was acting in self defence and was acquitted, but image is all.

 

Cooper  knows that the evidence base is thin and makes this very clear, stating,  “We know that Marlowe’s time as a spy was brief: a few months while reading for his MA at Corpus Christi in 1584-85, and a reprise in the Dutch port of Flushing in 1592”. He only comments on the Cambridge period, sketchily, and ignores his own reference to Marlowe in Flushing. However even dealing with Cambridge the likelihood Marlowe was engaged in espionage is weak, the absences suggest at best be was a courier. It is even less likely that he had catholic sypathies.  The note from the Privy Council   dated 29th June 1587  clearly relates to a rumour that he was to go to Rheims after he graduated, not during his college studies. Cooper rightly says Rheims was “Cardinal Allen’s college for missionary priests” (p179)  indicating the College Authorities suspected Marlowe after gaining his MA would travel to France to become a Catholic priest. The Privy Council deny this, but leave obscure what caused his absences. There is no evidence Marlowe went to Europe while at Cambridge.

 

Cooper states that “he reported to Lord Burghley on occasion” (p179), and that “there is circumstantial evidence that Francis Walsingham was his principal paymaster”, but gives  no source. Cooper implies the source is Thomas Walsingham, who as second cousin of the spymaster Francis was a courier “between England and France in the early 1580s”. However there is a substantial time gap before he appears as Marlowe’s host in May 1593 and there is no evidence he was Marlowe’s link. The key sentence (p179) is “If Thomas recruited Marlowe, then he may also have been his handler at Seething Lane” (p179), ie Walsingham’s HQ. This is, alas, the school of “might have been” and underlines that we do not have any evidence on Marlowe’s work for the state while at Cambridge. Thomas Walsingham was known to Marlowe, but we do not have any evidence on an intelligence link.

 

Kuriyama had suggested that Marlowe was probably recruited by Nicholas Faunt, Francis Walsingham’s secretary and a Cambridge man, but in her 2015 essay (p336) follows Irata Ide in thinking Thomas Harris, Marlowe’s tutor and an ex-room mate of Faunt, as the link, but this is speculation. There is no solid  evidence for why Marlowe was known to the PRivy Council by 1587.

 

We are on stronger ground with Marlowe’s relationship with Thomas Walsingham in 1593, but Cooper exceeds the known facts even here. It is true Marlowe was under a Privy Council interdict in May 1593, and was  found at Walsingham’s Scadbury manor in Kent, but Cooper is in error in arguing  “Within the month, Thomas was one of the mourners at Marlowe’s funeral” (p179). The funeral never took place,  Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave unknown till 1820, and while Walsingham’s role may be linked to the event at Deptford,  the silence from Scadbury when Marlowe disappeared tells its own story. Walsingham said and did nothing  after Marlowe left his house that would link him to Marlowe.  Why Cooper thinks Walsingham attended a nonexistent funeral is puzzling.

 

Alas neither clinching evidence nor consistency is obligatory where Marlowe is concerned. Cooper, by no means the most inaccurate writer about Marlowe’s extra literary activities, concludes that Marlowe has two sides – “atheist and spy” – that he is also seen as a brawler is relegated to the footnote on page 367 – until – on the same page (180)  Cooper asserts that “Dogged by rumours of homosexuality and Crypto Catholicism,   Marlowe lay at one end of a spectrum ofagents employed by Walsingham”, (ie Francis).  These rumours have no real substance. Aethist? Cryto-Catholic? Spy? Homosexual? where is the evidence? Cooper defines him  two ways in one page of writing.

 

Cooper uses a small range of literary evidence for his short two page summary of Marlowe’s ‘career’ as a spy (13) and the section is little more than colour for a wider discussion of how Walsingham operated to gain intelligence, without bringing the minor players into focus – an issue that historians need to consider, given the importance even minor characters played in an era of shifting loyalties and few available players.  Cooper has a short section on Richard Baines on p180, (14) but does not grasp his career as a double agent and does not cite Roy Kendall’s work in the text, though he does cite an essay by Kendall in his footnotes – see note (14) below . Cooper dismisses  Baines as ‘a fraud from the start’ (p187), a curious comment to make on  one of the great double agents of the period, rivalling Poley in the Babington Plot.

 

Poley, as is usual, only plays a bit role with only four marginal comments noted in the index.  Poley was critical to breaking the Babbington plot, making him far more important historically than Marlowe who was marginal to  the Catholic-Protestant battle which marked Elizabeth’s reign.  Poley was undoubtedly a spy, but having no later celebrity has not gained recognition. Poley was crucial to exposing the Babbington Plot and probably did earn his living from working for the government.  Marlowe’s role remains unknown, but it did not constitute a full time occupation.  We can conclude  some employment for the government in intelligence work is supported by evidence, but it was not his main business. The lack of evidence is not just a function of espionage being  a secret world, though it is that, but also points up that evidence is perishable.  Cooper is right to point to the way Walsingham privately financed his network, noting the difficulties of tracking more formal payments as “a fire in 1619 consumed many of the privy seal warrants” (p182), and no evidence on Marlowe’s payments if any have survived. But they have survived for Poley in 1593.

 

Marlowe was always a freelance, but others could not be described so loosely. For at least two key characters who knew Marlowe, Richard Baines and Poley, involvement with the state was a career choice, for Poley as a main source of income apparently, for Baines driven by a religious and nationalist agenda. In both cases they were double agents, Baines being a person who did go to Rheims – and was a double agent in the Catholic seminary, while  Poley seems to have played the role of Crypto Catholic in luring Babbington to make his final moves in the Plot to trigger a Catholic uprising.

 

Nevertheless, Marlowe, Baines and Poley were marginal players in the Great Game Walsingham was engaged in before his death in 1590.  Cooper knows that Walsingham does not have a professional, well trained group of operatives. He writes, with only a degree of overstatement, that

 

“Francis Walsingham was not the founding father of MI5 and 6. The Elizabethan secret service was less a formal structure than a web of relationships. Walsingham turned his household into a seat of government, as Thomas Cromwell had done before him. His agents were his own servants and clients, operating as individuals rather than as cogs in a departmental machine. The gathering of intelligence was lubricated by patronage and profit…. Success or failure depended on his ability to…. spot the connections in the avalanche of information and to keep his people loyal.” (15)

 

The opening three sentences are certainly true, and his house in Seething Lane was crucial. But there was an element of system and  while Walsingham financed much activity and lost a fortune due to the penny pinching of the Queen, there were bureaucratic systems in place and we know that Poley was on duty on the day Marlowe disappeared – three years after Francis Walsingham’s death – because state records show what he was paid and when he was paid from the Treasury. Others are less well evidenced, and all occupy a shadowy world. Spies do not advertise.

 

For Cooper and others writing about the world of espionage it is  Marlowe who was significant.

Paradoxically, by giving him more attention than Baines and Poley, Cooper exaggerates Marlowe’s importance in the espionage network, and downgrades that of the other two, both of whom had some role at Deptford – Baines indirectly, Poley directly.   By treating Marlowe as a proven spy – without defining what he means by that description – he clouds the issues. Marlowe was on the fringe of Francis Walsingham’s circle, though known to the Secretary of State, Burghley. He was probably an  efficient courier and had earned some degree of protection from Burghley and possibly Burghley’s son Robert. But how much is  again  speculation.

 

We cannot make progress in understanding what happened to Marlowe without studying what was happening in Court circles around the Privy Council. Focussing  on Marlowe as an intelligence operative ignores what was really happening. Marlowe was part of a religious struggle which encompassed Francis Walsingham but went on after his death in 1590, drawing in Marlowe and those who he knew most closely. The challenge is to see Marlowe not as a spy – whatever that means in the late Elizabethan period – but a man who was not an espionage agent but knew men who were. Marlowe himself had earned some credit from men in power as his treatment shows. But what had led to that we are no nearer telling. Implying that it was as a player in the great espionage game that makes him significant  pushes the evidence beyond what it can reasonably bear.  Marlowe cannot be meaningfully seen as a spy. The issues which led to his disappearance lie outside his limited involvement in the secret world, and the limited evidence available does not yet explain what role he played in the religious struggles which set the context. In this as in so much else, Marlowe remains mysterious.

 

Notes

Lesley Hotson published his researches as Death of Christopher Marlowe, London, the Nonesuch Press, Cambridge, Harvard University Press 1925. My edition is the facsimile published by Kessinger Publishing’s Rare Mystical reprints, www.kessinger.net.

 

(1) Ros Barber The Marlowe Papers, Sceptre 2012. Winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize 2013, Joint Winner Author’s club Best First Novel, longlisted Women’s Fiction prize (formerly Orange Prize).  

 

(2) Before Hotson’s discovery Le Gay Brereton talked of a “tavern in Deptford…the kind of place where they sell bad beer” and this was quoted by Hotson (p19) who went on to allege drunkeness on Marlowe’s part, alleging that the argument  “roused Marlowe’s intoxicated feelings… leaping from the bed, he took the nearest way to stop Frizer’s mouth” (p40)

(3) Park Honan, Christopher Marlowe, Poet and Spy (Oxford 2005),names the following as University Wits, ie university educated writers of the late Elizabethan period, in addition to Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, Tom Watson, George Peele, John Lyly, Robert Greene and Matthew Roydon. The latter was in 1582 fleeced by Nicholas Skeres and John Wolfall in a money lending scam. as Skeres confessed to Star Chamber, in April 1593, a month before Deptford.  – See Honan p347and the index entry on University Wits.

 

(4) These are partly government minutes, and reports from informers. Notably there is a note in government records for early June 1593  which reports Marlowe’s death – with a muddled date – which allegedly went to the Queen herself, contributing to the rumour she ordered Marlowe’s death.

 

(5) The ‘Verge’  was an imaginary circle around the Queen, twelve (Tudor) miles from her person, within  which the court officials could investigate serious crime. The aim was to protect the monarch from assassination plots.

 

(6) Constance Brown Kuriyama Marlowe Biography IN Christopher Marlowe at 450, Ed Sara Munson Deats, and Roberta A Logan, Ashgate 2015, p 329. This section   suggests the image of Marlowe is “at best as a daring iconoclast, at worst as a sociopath with violent tendencies who associated with shady characters engaged in espionage, double dealing, and usury. He operated as a spy and an agent and an agent provocateur, and his death was part of a nefarious plot devised by someone or other, probably as a consequence of his knowing too much about something or other. The coroner’s report was either a deliberate cover up or a reflection of the coroner’s naivety. An endemic twentieth century suspicion of state power underlay many of these freewheeling elaborations of the evidence, along with a taste for melodrama. In defense of Marlowe’s more imaginative biographers, we might concede that biography is always fictitious to some degree….”

 

All quotes p329. The sketch is a deliberate caricature of the modern use of evidence, a polemic against  the tendency to see Marlowe as a heteredox character which makes some valid points. But these are dubious assumptions from an orthodox thinker who in this essay glides over the Hotson pamphlet and its controversial handling of evidence without subjecting it to the same treatment as handed out to more recent Marlovians. Professor  Kuriyama wrote a book of total orthodoxy in 2002, accepting the self defence thesis uncritically.  See note (12) below.  

 

(7) for example, in Thomas Healy’s essay Marlowe’s biography IN Emily C Bartels & Emma Smith Christopher Marlowe In Context, Cambridge 2013, he suggests “a quarrel broke when it came to paying the bill. Daggers were employed, and Frizer killed Marlowe…”. The use of the plural creeps in almost without thought.

 

(8) for example, it is a legal weakness that  no evidence was called from the inhabitants of the house as to whether they heard a quarrel: or to identify the body as that of Marlowe

 

(9)  this theory was put forward  by Professor David Riggs, a Princeton historian  in The World of Christopher Marlowe, Faber and Faber 2005

 

(10) Frederick Boas Christopher Marlowe and his circle Oxford University Press, 1929 p15. 

 

(11) Death of Christopher Marlowe, op cit p7. The bulk of the pamphlet is Hotson and the author attribution for J Leslie Hotson and G L Kittredge is misleading.

 

(12) The two major essay collections of recent years both contain essays which accept that Marlowe was killed in Deptford, for example in the Thomas Healy essay cited in (7) above, though Healy sits on the fence on what the killing amounted to but does state “Marlowe … seems to have died instantly”. The scandalously inadequate biographical sketch the prefaces the collection however, calmly accepts that Marlowe was “Murdered by Ingram Frizer after a fight in a Deptford eating house” (pxvi) which accepts theory 2 but has the killing after the fight, not instantaneously as the inquest report states. Do editors read what their writers are saying?
Constance Brown Kuriyama, in the essay mentioned above (6), in an influential essay collection more likely to be read than her 2002 book,  features extensive critiques of work appearing since her book was written, notably Honan 2005, Roy Kendall (2003) and David Riggs (2005), and extensively the 2002 version of Charles Nicholl’s The Reckoning, and Irate Ide (1966 appeared before any of the above but seems to have been missed by them – see Kuriyama p336). However Kuriyama makes no attempt to consider the critiques of Hotson made since 1925. The only comment on Hotson, after praising his skills in paleography, is that “The discovery of these two errors soon led Hotson to Ingram Frizer’s pardon and the coroner’s report” (328).  In that order, apparently. The issues critics have raised, notably by de Kalb in 1925, are not mentioned.

 

Defenders of the orthodox position must do better than this, by addressing the critiques of Hotson made since 1925.

 

(13) Cooper has no bibliography, but his footnotes give two sets of sources for his statements: the Chapter 5 on Security Services has two notes, #23 and #24 both on page 343: # 23 cites Park Honan 2005 pp 84-5 on the buttery books at Corpus Christi, the Privy council letter, and David Riggs 2004 on Marlowe and Burghley, p181. Honan is cited pp128-32 for the relationship with THomas Walsingham,and the DNB for Thomas Walsingham himself.

 

(14) #24 cites a 1993 version of Nicholl’s THE RECKONING – Cooper does not seem to know there was a later 2002 version which abandons the earlier thesis – and an essay by Roy Kendall in the journal English Literary History (24)  from 1994, but not the book length study by Kendall published by the Farleigh Dickinson University in 2003 which was available to study when Cooper wrote.

 

(15) John Cooper The Queen’s Agent Pegasus 2012, p1636

 

15th November 2017

 

On Knowing Stuart Hall

On Knowing Stuart Hall

As Stuart Hall’s biography, Familiar Stranger, has now been published and I will soon read it, it is time to recall knowing him before memory is overtaken by the text. Though how well a post graduate student can ever know his superviso lefr is questionable,  my first Masters Degree was by research and so face to face meetings were frequent during the two years I was registered at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham. And sometimes thereafter: Stuart was willing to be consulted even though not paid to do so.

I had not planned to study with him initially, the plan being to study with Richard Hoggart having read his Uses of Literacy when in the sixth form. I had identified  strongly with Hoggart’s account of a  working class upbringing and life as a scholarship boy. Having tired of History and Politics despite excellent teaching at Warwick, for my second degree I wanted a new perspective, in a new cutting edge field. The Centre seemed to fit the bill. Perhaps I should have wondered why Hoggart had moved on relatively quickly – only four years  as Director – but the chance to be supervised by Stuart for a history of the folk song movement was too good to miss. Hall knew little about the folk revival, but a lot about the counter culture of the sixties. And he was more left wing than Hoggart.

My  main reasons for wanting to study at the Centre were personal – I needed to get back to Brum to look after my  parents who were struggling  in the dirty little slum house as the area was slum cleared – and academic – I wanted to be in a cutting edge new project for my MA -but  the fact that Stuart had replaced Hoggart was a plus. I knew of him from his co-editorship of the New Left Mayday Manifesto in 1966 with E P Thompson and Raymond Williams. I had already forced my way into Warwick to study with Thompson, so moving to study with his political collaborator in the New Left was attractive. But would Hall be another mandarin like Thompson, whose Oxbridge elitism took me years to counteract? The interview was positive. He was a friendly guy who put effort into making personal contact. We realised we had a bond in loving the music of Miles Davis. He was still only acting director – he did not become director till 1972, when I had already finished my formal study (1970-72), but this did not make any difference to the work we did.

I did not understand the difficult politics of the Centre. Broadly speaking, the university never liked the Centre, and  Hoggart did not get the support he would presumably have been promised when he set it up in 1964. The number of staff was small – Michael Green served all the three directors through the Centre’s history, but there was no major staff funding. Much later,  Stuart’s acceptance of a Sociology Professorship at the Open University reinforced my view that the University outlook was that Cultural Studies was merely a branch  of sociology and wanted to merge the two departments. It was sad that Stuart had to leave Birmingham to be made Professor, sadder still that merger and the closure of the CCCS took place – but well after Stuart left.

 My view of Stuart Hall was positive in all academic areas. As a supervisor he was superb. It is rarely the case that a post graduate supervisor knows in detail what a student is researching, and my subject – the folk song revival and counter culture  – had little academic  literature and few sources. The task was sociological in the sense that it was a study of a grassroots movement, and could only be done by empirical research among singers and audiences. That was a task for which history had prepared me and what I needed was practical  support while finding and sorting evidence. Stuart was on my wavelength politically, sympathetic to popular initiatives   and was supportive when I hit problems. The English Folk Dance and Song Society proved to be useless as a source of information  and it was clear I would take an extra year to find enough evidence for a thesis.

As Stuart is rightly regarded as a black intellectual of stature, it seems odd now that his colour never seemed to to me important.. Although he later said that he was part of Britain but never became an Englishman, his distinctive character as a black academic working in English culture was a great advantage to me, precisely because he was an outsider – though no more so than other immigrant marxists like Eric Hobsbawm and Ralph Miliband. There is a photo on the Stuart Hall Project DVD with him in his twenties wearing a small moustache – but otherwise clean shaven and with a collar, tie and double breasted jacket, a style which the Americans call  ‘preppy’*.  He looked more Oxford than the Oxfordians, easily falling into the pattern of Merton College where he had studied as an undergrduate.  Indeed, had he not come through the English grammar school processes imported into  colonial Jamaica, he would not have been able to cope with Oxford University when he arrived in 1951.  The fact he was a Black Jamaican never posed any problems, partly because he never came over as Black. The big  afro hair cut was popular in America, Angela Davis making it well known in Britain through her Black Power activities, but never took off in England and for Stuart, short back and sides was his chosen style. It was virtually that of a skinhead, though Stuart was modelling himself on the coolest of all the jazzmen of the period,  Miles Davis. By the time I knew him, he was in  his late  thirties and always wore a beard, neatly trimmed and was simply focussed on  taking care of business.  

Hair style was symbolic of other issues.  I was becoming aware of Rastfarianism at that time, a period before the breakthrough of Bob Marley and the Wailers, but that aspect of  Jamaican culture was not part of Stuart’s heritage.. Despite his radicalism, this was the marxism of C L R James not the radicalism of Black Power As a marxist influenced, Oxford educated academic, who had worked with Thompson and Raymond Williams, he fitted into a well known English radical  matrix. It was not until much later I realised his Jamaica was neither England in the Carribean nor a simple issue of a black culture possessing a unified  identity as the US black community was asserting in the late 60s.

Those issues of identity did not surface, and as he was married to a white English woman, Catherine, who I knew from occasional social events in Moseley, I saw only a very good academic worker – but with a distinct style. He was, as one of my colleagues at the time said, the “coolest man on the campus”. Indeed, the only cool man Birmingham University had to offer. Like Miles Davis, Stuart was well dressed though he had abandoned

the preppy image for  the student uniform of   jeans, sweat shirt and sneakers. Not I think as a style gesture, style wars in Cultural Studies came later, but simply to save money: he had a family to support. I never knew how this went down in the Senior Common room, a place post graduates  rarely went to, but I assume that other academics viewed it as odd clothing for an odd person doing odd academic work. It is clear Birmingham never valued Stuart academically, and he did not produce a major book while at the Centre. There was a culture clash  with this old fashioned Redbrick University which was not visible at the time I was there, but could be felt. Certainly Stuart  had to leave to gain a Professorship. It was Birmingham’s loss.

Stuart’s image was controlled, cool and purposive. There was no hint of inner turmoil or discontent, he appeared to be a man for all seasons.  I was very pleased with him as a supervisor, though puzzled by the internal politics of the Centre, and its strained relationship with the rest of the university. I will read the autobiography with great interest to understand more, hopefully gaining  insights into Stuart at Birmingham University,  and Stuart as a man. As an MA supervisor, he was everything I had wished for.

Trevor Fisher
                                                               15 8 2017

* adjective =  typical of a pupil or graduate of an expensive prep school, especially… their neat style of dress.

 

On Knowing Stuart Hall

 

As Stuart Hall’s biography, Familiar Stranger, has now been published and I will soon read it, it is time to recall knowing him before memory is overtaken by the text. Though how well a post graduate student can ever know his superviso lefr is questionable,  my first Masters Degree was by research and so face to face meetings were frequent during the two years I was registered at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham. And sometimes thereafter: Stuart was willing to be consulted even though not paid to do so.

 

I had not planned to study with him initially, the plan being to study with Richard Hoggart having read his Uses of Literacy when in the sixth form. I had identified  strongly with Hoggart’s account of a  working class upbringing and life as a scholarship boy. Having tired of History and Politics despite excellent teaching at Warwick, for my second degree I wanted a new perspective, in a new cutting edge field. The Centre seemed to fit the bill. Perhaps I should have wondered why Hoggart had moved on relatively quickly – only four years  as Director – but the chance to be supervised by Stuart for a history of the folk song movement was too good to miss. Hall knew little about the folk revival, but a lot about the counter culture of the sixties. And he was more left wing than Hoggart.

 

My  main reasons for wanting to study at the Centre were personal – I needed to get back to Brum to look after my  parents who were struggling  in the dirty little slum house as the area was slum cleared – and academic – I wanted to be in a cutting edge new project for my MA -but  the fact that Stuart had replaced Hoggart was a plus. I knew of him from his co-editorship of the New Left Mayday Manifesto in 1966 with E P Thompson and Raymond Williams. I had already forced my way into Warwick to study with Thompson, so moving to study with his political collaborator in the New Left was attractive. But would Hall be another mandarin like Thompson, whose Oxbridge elitism took me years to counteract? The interview was positive. He was a friendly guy who put effort into making personal contact. We realised we had a bond in loving the music of Miles Davis. He was still only acting director – he did not become director till 1972, when I had already finished my formal study (1970-72), but this did not make any difference to the work we did.

 

I did not understand the difficult politics of the Centre. Broadly speaking, the university never liked the Centre, and  Hoggart did not get the support he would presumably have been promised when he set it up in 1964. The number of staff was small – Michael Green served all the three directors through the Centre’s history, but there was no major staff funding. Much later,  Stuart’s acceptance of a Sociology Professorship at the Open University reinforced my view that the University outlook was that Cultural Studies was merely a branch  of sociology and wanted to merge the two departments. It was sad that Stuart had to leave Birmingham to be made Professor, sadder still that merger and the closure of the CCCS took place – but well after Stuart left.

 

My view of Stuart Hall was positive in all academic areas. As a supervisor he was superb. It is rarely the case that a post graduate supervisor knows in detail what a student is researching, and my subject – the folk song revival and counter culture  – had little academic  literature and few sources. The task was sociological in the sense that it was a study of a grassroots movement, and could only be done by empirical research among singers and audiences. That was a task for which history had prepared me and what I needed was practical  support while finding and sorting evidence. Stuart was on my wavelength politically, sympathetic to popular initiatives   and was supportive when I hit problems. The English Folk Dance and Song Society proved to be useless as a source of information  and it was clear I would take an extra year to find enough evidence for a thesis.

 

As Stuart is rightly regarded as a black intellectual of stature, it seems odd now that his colour never seemed to to me important.. Although he later said that he was part of Britain but never became an Englishman, his distinctive character as a black academic working in English culture was a great advantage to me, precisely because he was an outsider – though no more so than other immigrant marxists like Eric Hobsbawm and Ralph Miliband. There is a photo on the Stuart Hall Project DVD with him in his twenties wearing a small moustache – but otherwise clean shaven and with a collar, tie and double breasted jacket, a style which the Americans call  ‘preppy’*.  He looked more Oxford than the Oxfordians, easily falling into the pattern of Merton College where he had studied as an undergrduate.  Indeed, had he not come through the English grammar school processes imported into  colonial Jamaica, he would not have been able to cope with Oxford University when he arrived in 1951.  The fact he was a Black Jamaican never posed any problems, partly because he never came over as Black. The big  afro hair cut was popular in America, Angela Davis making it well known in Britain through her Black Power activities, but never took off in England and for Stuart, short back and sides was his chosen style. It was virtually that of a skinhead, though Stuart was modelling himself on the coolest of all the jazzmen of the period,  Miles Davis. By the time I knew him, he was in  his late  thirties and always wore a beard, neatly trimmed and was simply focussed on  taking care of business.  

 

Hair style was symbolic of other issues.  I was becoming aware of Rastfarianism at that time, a period before the breakthrough of Bob Marley and the Wailers, but that aspect of  Jamaican culture was not part of Stuart’s heritage.. Despite his radicalism, this was the marxism of C L R James not the radicalism of Black Power As a marxist influenced, Oxford educated academic, who had worked with Thompson and Raymond Williams, he fitted into a well known English radical  matrix. It was not until much later I realised his Jamaica was neither England in the Carribean nor a simple issue of a black culture possessing a unified  identity as the US black community was asserting in the late 60s.

 

Those issues of identity did not surface, and as he was married to a white English woman, Catherine, who I knew from occasional social events in Moseley, I saw only a very good academic worker – but with a distinct style. He was, as one of my colleagues at the time said, the “coolest man on the campus”. Indeed, the only cool man Birmingham University had to offer. Like Miles Davis, Stuart was well dressed though he had abandoned

the preppy image for  the student uniform of   jeans, sweat shirt and sneakers. Not I think as a style gesture, style wars in Cultural Studies came later, but simply to save money: he had a family to support. I never knew how this went down in the Senior Common room, a place post graduates  rarely went to, but I assume that other academics viewed it as odd clothing for an odd person doing odd academic work. It is clear Birmingham never valued Stuart academically, and he did not produce a major book while at the Centre. There was a culture clash  with this old fashioned Redbrick University which was not visible at the time I was there, but could be felt. Certainly Stuart  had to leave to gain a Professorship. It was Birmingham’s loss.

 

Stuart’s image was controlled, cool and purposive. There was no hint of inner turmoil or discontent, he appeared to be a man for all seasons.  I was very pleased with him as a supervisor, though puzzled by the internal politics of the Centre, and its strained relationship with the rest of the university. I will read the autobiography with great interest to understand more, hopefully gaining  insights into Stuart at Birmingham University,  and Stuart as a man. As an MA supervisor, he was everything I had wished for.

Trevor Fisher
                                                               15 8 2017

 

* adjective =  typical of a pupil or graduate of an expensive prep school, especially… their neat style of dress.

 

Peteloo – What We Don’t Know Considered

 

PETERLOO – Old Corruption’s Darkest Hour

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW CONSIDERED

 

(i)

(ii) For the Blanketeers. See files – www.hockleyandbeyond- history – Prelude to Peterloo and Remembering the Blanketeers

(iii) No police meant troops were used for crowd control.

(iv) Poole cites ‘the casualties of Peterloo’, Michael Bush, Lancaster 2005

3660

The Peterloo Massacre in Manchester on August 19th 1819 took place in plain sight with abundant eye witness evidence. Yet as Robert Poole has argued in a critical essay, there is much that we do not know about why the massacre took place. He commented “There is… no need for argument about the broad outlines of Peterloo: Whether or not the magistrates were responsible for it, whether the government was implicated, whether there was a massacre or a battle and so on. .. The evidence of the three hundred eye-witnesses and the six hundred or more casualties tells heavily against the authorities… So: what don’t we know about Peterloo?

 

… We have to admit that it remains hard to explain why the magistrates were so set upon confrontation, and why they failed to respond to the Home Office’s late change of stance against Forceful intervention (i). It was a high risk strategy, in some ways out of character for a somewhat jittery and alarmist group of men. In 1817 (ii) they had relied upon police work, informers and the experienced regular troops stationed in the North to frustrate the march of the Blanketeers…. Some of the leading magistrates had a background in the suppression of the 1798 Irish rebellion and its aftermath, …so tended to think in military rather than political terms….

 

William Hay and his collegues seem to have been genuinely convinced that …. as in 1817 serious political disorder had been averted by prompt and forceful action. Even so, to send in amateur local troops …. before any of the expected trouble had materialised, was quite a thing and we still need a full explanation of it.” (1)

 

It has frequently been argued that national politics are crucial in explaining why Peterloo happened . E P Thompson was right to argue that “we can no more understand the significance of Peterloo in terms of the local politics of Manchester than we can understand the strategic importance of Waterloo in terms of the field and the orders of the day” (2). But there is no real evidence that the massacre was ordered by government, and it is clear that the local leadership took the decisions which led to the tragedy, acting on ambiguous signals from Westminster. The government left the operational decisions to the men on the spot, and if they planned violence extensive research has not found evidence which proved premeditation. Military preparations in themselves were standard practice and do not prove intent (iii). What is important is that local politicians were given carte blanche to do what they wanted, once government agreed the event itself was not illegal. However while Westminster politicians could not control events from 200 miles away, they agreed to supply military force and allowed the magistrates to make decisions that this could be used without limits.

 

The authorities and their consciousness

 

The local context is therefore more important than national decisions, and scholarship has discovered much about community tensions in South Lancashire beyond the conventional accounts of working class unrest, for example, the key role of loyalism in Lancashire through the work of Katrina Navickas (3). As Navickas has shown, Loyalism had a life of its own, sustaining a beleagured local elite which was controlled the magistrates in charge of the forces in St Peter’s Fields where the demonstration met. The Manchester elite knew it could rely on the support of the High Tory government in Westminster, whatever operational decisions they made.

 

Thompson argues as if sharing the same thought world means that government was complicit, writing that the rapid endorsement of Peterloo by Westminster suggests that, “If the Government was unprepared for the news of Peterloo, no authorities have ever acted so vigorously to make themselves accomplices after the fact… Demands for a parliamentary inquiry were resolutely rejected… the Lord Chancellor (Eldon) was of the ‘clear opinion’ that the meeting was ‘an overt act of treason’… If the Manchester magistrates initiated the policy of represssion, the government endorsed it with every resource at its disposal” (2 again). The little word ‘if’ plays a crucial role in these sentences. There is no doubt the key decisions were taken locally and on the day, with government in a subordinate role. However all the key players locally and natinally were Loyalists, and shared a European wide narrative of paranoia. This intensified after the end of the French Wars as Adam Zamoyksi has argued (4) despite the triumph of reaction after 1815. Paranoia did not need evidence, only a trigger to set off a reaction, and Peterloo was for those who feared revolution a pile of tinder which only needed a match. While the relationship of the local and national leadership has raised many unresolved questions the magistrates were in their own terms preventing a forest fire.

 

The Magistrates decided to be aggressive, but as Poole has argued, the reasons why they did so have never been satisfactorily explained. Since it is not possible to argue that the massacre was caused by disorder, actual or potential, and the key actors in the tragedy were based in Manchester and Salford and drew on local experiences, the actions of local players were crucial and their reading of the Manchester crowd must be brought into focus. It is clear that the authorities had handled the Blanketeers successfully when they mobilised in St Peter’s Square in 1817, and it is a central issue why the admittedly larger crowd in 1819 produced a violent response which has not been satisfactorily explained.

 

This cannot be explained by a rational calculation by the authorities, nor in the context of the working class movement after the Napoleonic wars. Objectively, while there were revolutionaries they were too few to make a difference and after Pentridge in 1817 the government could not sustain an anti- revolutionary stance. In Manchester, the attempt to argue the Blanketeers led to a revolutionary plot at Ardwick, while not a pure invention, had fallen flat when Bamford and others had been taken to London and cleared of revolutionary intent. The belief that the crowd at Peterloo posed a violent threat rested on a climate of opinion amongst Loyalists which saw no distinction between moral and physical force, ignoring the distinction that the demonstrators themselves made in defining themselves as constitutionalists.

 

The over-riding context which has to be explained is the shared assumptions of the Manchester magistrates and ministers notably Liverpool and Sidmouth, all of whom can be seen as Pittites, a brand of Loyalism confined to the old High Tory party, and then not shared by a new brand of Tory epitomised by the two Robert Peels. But they had no influence on events in 1819. The belief system of Loyalism was shaped by the Revolutionary wars themselves, and it is clear that for Pittite Tories they were still fighting the battles fought by Pitt the Younger years after his death.

 

What has to be explained is why this group of politicians feared working class mobilisation when this posed no real threat of violence. The legal justification for using violence was disorder, amounting to treason, but neither charge stands up to close examination, whatever Eldon claimed. The constitutional right to meet was unquestionable. So what did the High Tory politicians, locally and nationally, fear was happening? To what extent did Pitt the Younger, dead for over a decade, cast a shadow over St Peter’s Field in 1819?

 

The workers and their consciousness

 

It is equally strange that there are questions unanswered about the crowd which gathered in St Peter’s Field in both 1817, both for the Blanketeers, and 1819 for what became Peterloo. The motives of the demonstrators are misunderstood, though their leadership made clear and decisive statements which need close examination.

 

Moreover, there is a wider shift in public attitudes that needs to be established. The old deference was under strain following the wars with France. Though Linda Colley (5) has argued that the national culture was not shaken by the French Wars, this is highly questionable. It is true the reformers wanted reform, not a French Style Revolution, and there were few republicans outside the small group of Spenceans. But this was a period in which the legitimacy of the rulers to rule was challenged, and by democrats who were not Jacobins. The nature of the challenge was far from obvious and the assumption by the Loyalist community that this was revolutionary and needed strong measures to combat was an a priori statement of faith. But the movement was extensive and growing. The crowd in 1819 had grown in numbers since the Blanketeers in 1817. The Loyalists were afraid and felt they had to act.

 

Nevertheless the belief that mobilisation was created by the emergence of working class politics has to be questioned. Poole rightly argues that “Activists on the left, who have (with justification) embraced Peterloo as part of the ‘making of the English working class, often think in terms of a continuing progressive movement…. But in what ways was the radical movement actually a product of the industrial revolution or an accessory of ‘progress’? Taking place as it did in the capital of the factory system, Peterloo has naturally been incorporated into narratives about the effects of the industrial revolution….. The authorities however saw the march … as an invasion of ‘strangers’ from the ‘country districts’ … and the evidence from the casualty lists for once bears them out. It was carried principally by handloom weavers…. though Manunians from the inner industrial districts… were also well represented among the casualties” (6) (iv). The role of Peterloo and the mobilisations of 1817 and 1819 were indeed represented by Thompson as part of the ‘Making’, though he underestimated the importance of the Blanketeers*. However it is questionable whether either the aims or methods of the protestors were part of a modern anti-capitalist movement. The major aim was Old Corruption, which was seen to be rooted in the Unreformed Parliament, and suprisingly given the abysmal consequences of industrialism, the main enemy was perceived as the High Tories who controlled Manchester and the government, not the factory owners. Indeed if there was a clear political line devised by the Reformers, arguably it was class collaborationist.

 

This is suggested by the declarations made in Manchester and Oldham in early 1819, in which factory owners are conspicuous by their absence. Both are published in Donald Read’s 1957 book on Peterloo, (7) and are heavily focussed on parliamentary reform, and the relief of distress which was believed to follow from this. Read comments that “the radical programme in 1819 rested on two basic and logically connected points. First, it was a protest against distress – against low wages, high prices, and unemployment; and second, it was the assertion of a theory of fundamental rights”. (8) The three key slogans on the banners in Manchester were Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage and Repeal of the Corn Law, with Vote by Ballot almost as popular – though the area had no M Ps, the reformers were aware of corruption at elections and wanted a secret ballot to prevent bribery and intimidation. The Oldham statement prioritises Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage and Election by Ballot, but also stresses the Corn Law and high prices for ‘agricultural products’ was the ‘proof that the interests of a few Land Proprietors, preponderates in our Legislative Assemblies, over the interests of millions of labourers. (9)

 

There is no mention of the employers in either document, though the more extensive Manchester document attacks the standing army – calling for a militia force – echoing radical demands going back to the late C17th, and fear of a Cromwellian or Monarchical absolutism based on armed force. The document states fundamental rights going back to Magna Charta and a (largely imaginary) ancient constitution, and attacks the Bank of England for issuing paper money. A lengthy appeal to the Prince Regent, as in 1817 thought to be a guardian misled by parliamentary advisors, shows a trust in that individual hard to equate with his known High Tory Politics. The Manchester document argues that the system oppresses all the urban classes, including the manufacturers, stating that the government employs spies to “foment and excite disturbances amongst the oppressed and starving manufacturers and labourers of the united kingdom’, using ‘corrupt and sinister influence to gain over the majority of votes of a venal senate, composed of the agents of the great Borough pensioners …. to pass cruel and oppressive laws, – to starve the honest and industrious labourers, manufacturers and mechanics, and to rob the wretched peasant of the hard earnings wrung from the sweat of his brow” (10). Exactly how the manufacturers can be regarded as starving is unfathomable, and if this word refers to the factory owners then the reformers had not been studying the careers of men like Arkwright and the Peels.

 

The attempt to build a broad class alliance including the Factory Owners, if these are the manufacturers mentioned, and the farming interest, here defined as ‘peasants’ though peasants had long since vanished, made much of the wealth of the landowners who benefitted from the Corn Laws, shows that the grasp of economics was limited and did not fully how poverty was generated, though Joseph Johnson showed a more sophisticated grasp of rural issues in a letter to the Manchester Observer of June 19th 1819. But radicals were drawing on the polemical literature of the time, notably the papers produced by William Cobbett and other radical journalists.

 

These rightly saw taxation and food prices as crucial to exploitation, though low wages were a vital part of the generation of poverty. But radicals targetted the obvious venality of the governing classes, defined as Old Corrupton by William Cobbett. It was clear that the Tory Interest had gained from the French wars, though the wars were not fought to make them rich. However the taxes levied to pay for the wars were of benefit to the Tory Interest, and arguably to no one else. As the burden of the war continued after Waterloo, the Reformers could and did made this a major target. The increasing use of paper money Cobbett made an issue in 1819 by his pamphlet Paper Against Gold, arguing for a gold standard and popularising fiscal issues. The tax burden and the national debt arising from the French Wars were certainly a working class interest, which Read suggests was made more topical by a three million pound increase in taxation in 1819.

 

This pointed toward the larger question of Old Corruption. Certainly in 1819 the radical Manchester Observer argued for Cheap Land and Cheap Government, and an Ashton meeting of June 14th 1819 complained at £22,000 spent on snuff boxes as presents to government allies, and an extra £10,000 voted to the Prince Regent for looking after his father (11). There was a continuing attack on a standing army: though after 1815 as a move towards precisely the Cheap Government some radicals were campaigning for, the services had been savagely reduced at the end of the wars, causing massive unemployment and misery and fuelling protests, notably in London. Peace, Retrenchment and Reform would be a slogan for Gladstonian liberalism. It was not devised till well after Peterloo.

 

Read suggests “the banners on the hustings at Peterloo reflected no empty platitudes: ‘Annual Parliaments’, ‘Universal Suffrage’, ‘No Corn Laws’, ‘No Borough Mongering’, and the rest of the slogans which they carried were the outward expressions of a coherent and highly developed programme of reform”. (12). Up to a point. There is no doubt that for a poorly educated and largely illiterate labouring population, the radicals had developed a high level of political debate. But it was confined to addressing constitutional issues, and was weak on economics. It was not class conscious as a socialist would see issues, and the elements which suggested that an alliance of factory owners and labourers was possible, were not tenable in the reality of the Factory System of the time. Peel the Elder’s attempt to limit child labour in the factories in 1802 passed as it was only limited to apprentices, historically a concern of parliament as apprentices tended to riot, while Peel’s more significant 1819 Cotton Mills and Factories Act was seen by contemporaries as an extension of the Statute of Artificers of 1562, paternalistic legislation which relied on the master to regulate his own workforce and was a failure. A Robert Peel and his son could have successful parliamentary careers, but they could not convince the Tory Party they supported that factory legislation had to be enforced to be effective. Shaftesbury would face the criticism that a limitation to the working day would wipe out the profits of the factory owners, and this was a generation after the ending of the Regency. The Younger Peel initially opposed Shaftesbury as initially did Cobden, the high priest of Manchester Laissez Faire.

 

The political realities of Manchester in 1819 argued against there being an alliance for reform by middle and working class interests. Even though it was in the interests of the manufacturers to secure an MP for the city and other industrial cities they did not support reform as it was tied to working class interests. But it was not until the 1832 Reform Bill that class politics would become clear, with the working class left in the cold. In 1819 Reformers still believed that the alliance was possible and that cheap government was a slogan that would provide such an alliance.

In the fraught conditions of the Long Regency**, it was not anti-capitalist politics which brought masses of people onto the streets to support reform in this period, but a less class oriented and more wide spread campaign which did have the potential for a cross class alliance – the Campaign against the objective Cobbett and every other radical journalist had in their sights in this period: Old Corruption. The objections to Old Corruption were widespread and rooted in a widely held sense that government in the Long Regency was run to benefit aristocrats and a limited group of wealthy and a-moral exploiters of public revenue. This was a widely felt objection to the state of the country particularly after the wars with France. Yet it did not provide a cross class alliance in the towns where the glaring absence of political rights for those not in the High Tory elite was obvious.

 

The most difficult question to answer about Peterloo is why this was the case – and why instead of a successful campaign against Old Corruption, the reformers failed to draw in the middle classes in numbers. The old guard felt their interests were served by violent repression as Old Corruption operated to crush the reform movement. In doing so they confirmed what a correspondent to the conservative Manchester Mercury wrote a week before the demonstration: “the Constitution’s become rotten at the core: there’s foul play at headquarters: the Parliament! Sir, the Parliament! Corruption’s at the very helm of the State…” (13)

 

Of all the questions which arise from Peterloo, why it was not possible to bring about a broad movement for reform is at the core. Peterloo was undoubtely class politics. Class politics are unavoidable in answering the question, but they are not the full answer. Even some Whigs and a mass of journalists and polemicists attacked brutality which showed the unacceptable face of the status quo. Yet overall there was no backlash and the Liverpool government move to even more Pittite Repression. They were playing to a script which saw revolutoin on the streets of Manchester, and this conception remains at the heart of the controversy, underpinning both left and right wing interpretations. But the shock waves generated by Peterloo gained their force from the unreality of this view, making the politics of this demonstration a clash of misconceptions. As the two hundreth anniversary of Peterloo, the key factors can now be teased out as mixing rational and irrational motives which make Peterloo a poisoned chalice which remains as tipping point historical event which lit up the dark background of Regency politics with a flash that has never been forgotten.

 

21 6 17

 

*On Thompson and the Blanketeers, see Hockley and Beyond, History Section, E P Thompson, Manchester and 1817. Personal essay by the author.

** The Regency was 1811-1820, but the Madness of King George meant the political climate changed earlier, and the start of the French Revolution in 1789, or perhaps the events of 1792 which alarmed British opinion, make the era run most logically from the start of the political earthquakes in France.

 

(1) Robert Poole What don’t we know about Peterloo pp14-15, IN Robert Poole Ed, Return to Peterloo, Manchester Centre for Regional History 2014

 

  1. E P Thompson The Making of the English Working class, 1963/68, Penguin classics 2013, p750

 

(3) Katrina Navickas, Loyalism and Radicalism in Lancashire, Oxford University Historical Monographs, 2009

 

(4) Adam Zamoyski, Phantom Terror,

 

  1. Linda Colley, Britons, 1707- 1837, 1994, 3rd Ed Yale 2009.

 

  1. Poole op cit p15-16

 

  1. Donald Read, Peterloo The Massacre and Its Background, Manchester University Press 1957, MUP and August M Kelley, Clifton New Jersey USA 1973. The Manchester Statement of January 18th 1819 is on pp 210-216, the Oldham Statement of June 7th 1819 is on pages 216-217, Signed John Knight..

 

  1. Read op cit p40

 

  1. Read op cit p216

 

  1. Read op cit p214

 

  1. Read op cit pp 42-43

 

  1. Read op cit p46

 

(13) Manchester Mercury, August 10th 1819, quoted Read op cit p41

 

 

 

 

PETERLOO – Old Corruption’s Darkest Hour

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW CONSIDERED

 

(i)

(ii) For the Blanketeers. See files – www.hockleyandbeyond- history – Prelude to Peterloo and Remembering the Blanketeers

(iii) No police meant troops were used for crowd control.

(iv) Poole cites ‘the casualties of Peterloo’, Michael Bush, Lancaster 2005

3660

The Peterloo Massacre in Manchester on August 19th 1819 took place in plain sight with abundant eye witness evidence. Yet as Robert Poole has argued in a critical essay, there is much that we do not know about why the massacre took place. He commented “There is… no need for argument about the broad outlines of Peterloo: Whether or not the magistrates were responsible for it, whether the government was implicated, whether there was a massacre or a battle and so on. .. The evidence of the three hundred eye-witnesses and the six hundred or more casualties tells heavily against the authorities… So: what don’t we know about Peterloo?

 

… We have to admit that it remains hard to explain why the magistrates were so set upon confrontation, and why they failed to respond to the Home Office’s late change of stance against Forceful intervention (i). It was a high risk strategy, in some ways out of character for a somewhat jittery and alarmist group of men. In 1817 (ii) they had relied upon police work, informers and the experienced regular troops stationed in the North to frustrate the march of the Blanketeers…. Some of the leading magistrates had a background in the suppression of the 1798 Irish rebellion and its aftermath, …so tended to think in military rather than political terms….

 

William Hay and his collegues seem to have been genuinely convinced that …. as in 1817 serious political disorder had been averted by prompt and forceful action. Even so, to send in amateur local troops …. before any of the expected trouble had materialised, was quite a thing and we still need a full explanation of it.” (1)

 

It has frequently been argued that national politics are crucial in explaining why Peterloo happened . E P Thompson was right to argue that “we can no more understand the significance of Peterloo in terms of the local politics of Manchester than we can understand the strategic importance of Waterloo in terms of the field and the orders of the day” (2). But there is no real evidence that the massacre was ordered by government, and it is clear that the local leadership took the decisions which led to the tragedy, acting on ambiguous signals from Westminster. The government left the operational decisions to the men on the spot, and if they planned violence extensive research has not found evidence which proved premeditation. Military preparations in themselves were standard practice and do not prove intent (iii). What is important is that local politicians were given carte blanche to do what they wanted, once government agreed the event itself was not illegal. However while Westminster politicians could not control events from 200 miles away, they agreed to supply military force and allowed the magistrates to make decisions that this could be used without limits.

 

The authorities and their consciousness

 

The local context is therefore more important than national decisions, and scholarship has discovered much about community tensions in South Lancashire beyond the conventional accounts of working class unrest, for example, the key role of loyalism in Lancashire through the work of Katrina Navickas (3). As Navickas has shown, Loyalism had a life of its own, sustaining a beleagured local elite which was controlled the magistrates in charge of the forces in St Peter’s Fields where the demonstration met. The Manchester elite knew it could rely on the support of the High Tory government in Westminster, whatever operational decisions they made.

 

Thompson argues as if sharing the same thought world means that government was complicit, writing that the rapid endorsement of Peterloo by Westminster suggests that, “If the Government was unprepared for the news of Peterloo, no authorities have ever acted so vigorously to make themselves accomplices after the fact… Demands for a parliamentary inquiry were resolutely rejected… the Lord Chancellor (Eldon) was of the ‘clear opinion’ that the meeting was ‘an overt act of treason’… If the Manchester magistrates initiated the policy of represssion, the government endorsed it with every resource at its disposal” (2 again). The little word ‘if’ plays a crucial role in these sentences. There is no doubt the key decisions were taken locally and on the day, with government in a subordinate role. However all the key players locally and natinally were Loyalists, and shared a European wide narrative of paranoia. This intensified after the end of the French Wars as Adam Zamoyksi has argued (4) despite the triumph of reaction after 1815. Paranoia did not need evidence, only a trigger to set off a reaction, and Peterloo was for those who feared revolution a pile of tinder which only needed a match. While the relationship of the local and national leadership has raised many unresolved questions the magistrates were in their own terms preventing a forest fire.

 

The Magistrates decided to be aggressive, but as Poole has argued, the reasons why they did so have never been satisfactorily explained. Since it is not possible to argue that the massacre was caused by disorder, actual or potential, and the key actors in the tragedy were based in Manchester and Salford and drew on local experiences, the actions of local players were crucial and their reading of the Manchester crowd must be brought into focus. It is clear that the authorities had handled the Blanketeers successfully when they mobilised in St Peter’s Square in 1817, and it is a central issue why the admittedly larger crowd in 1819 produced a violent response which has not been satisfactorily explained.

 

This cannot be explained by a rational calculation by the authorities, nor in the context of the working class movement after the Napoleonic wars. Objectively, while there were revolutionaries they were too few to make a difference and after Pentridge in 1817 the government could not sustain an anti- revolutionary stance. In Manchester, the attempt to argue the Blanketeers led to a revolutionary plot at Ardwick, while not a pure invention, had fallen flat when Bamford and others had been taken to London and cleared of revolutionary intent. The belief that the crowd at Peterloo posed a violent threat rested on a climate of opinion amongst Loyalists which saw no distinction between moral and physical force, ignoring the distinction that the demonstrators themselves made in defining themselves as constitutionalists.

 

The over-riding context which has to be explained is the shared assumptions of the Manchester magistrates and ministers notably Liverpool and Sidmouth, all of whom can be seen as Pittites, a brand of Loyalism confined to the old High Tory party, and then not shared by a new brand of Tory epitomised by the two Robert Peels. But they had no influence on events in 1819. The belief system of Loyalism was shaped by the Revolutionary wars themselves, and it is clear that for Pittite Tories they were still fighting the battles fought by Pitt the Younger years after his death.

 

What has to be explained is why this group of politicians feared working class mobilisation when this posed no real threat of violence. The legal justification for using violence was disorder, amounting to treason, but neither charge stands up to close examination, whatever Eldon claimed. The constitutional right to meet was unquestionable. So what did the High Tory politicians, locally and nationally, fear was happening? To what extent did Pitt the Younger, dead for over a decade, cast a shadow over St Peter’s Field in 1819?

 

The workers and their consciousness

 

It is equally strange that there are questions unanswered about the crowd which gathered in St Peter’s Field in both 1817, both for the Blanketeers, and 1819 for what became Peterloo. The motives of the demonstrators are misunderstood, though their leadership made clear and decisive statements which need close examination.

 

Moreover, there is a wider shift in public attitudes that needs to be established. The old deference was under strain following the wars with France. Though Linda Colley (5) has argued that the national culture was not shaken by the French Wars, this is highly questionable. It is true the reformers wanted reform, not a French Style Revolution, and there were few republicans outside the small group of Spenceans. But this was a period in which the legitimacy of the rulers to rule was challenged, and by democrats who were not Jacobins. The nature of the challenge was far from obvious and the assumption by the Loyalist community that this was revolutionary and needed strong measures to combat was an a priori statement of faith. But the movement was extensive and growing. The crowd in 1819 had grown in numbers since the Blanketeers in 1817. The Loyalists were afraid and felt they had to act.

 

Nevertheless the belief that mobilisation was created by the emergence of working class politics has to be questioned. Poole rightly argues that “Activists on the left, who have (with justification) embraced Peterloo as part of the ‘making of the English working class, often think in terms of a continuing progressive movement…. But in what ways was the radical movement actually a product of the industrial revolution or an accessory of ‘progress’? Taking place as it did in the capital of the factory system, Peterloo has naturally been incorporated into narratives about the effects of the industrial revolution….. The authorities however saw the march … as an invasion of ‘strangers’ from the ‘country districts’ … and the evidence from the casualty lists for once bears them out. It was carried principally by handloom weavers…. though Manunians from the inner industrial districts… were also well represented among the casualties” (6) (iv). The role of Peterloo and the mobilisations of 1817 and 1819 were indeed represented by Thompson as part of the ‘Making’, though he underestimated the importance of the Blanketeers*. However it is questionable whether either the aims or methods of the protestors were part of a modern anti-capitalist movement. The major aim was Old Corruption, which was seen to be rooted in the Unreformed Parliament, and suprisingly given the abysmal consequences of industrialism, the main enemy was perceived as the High Tories who controlled Manchester and the government, not the factory owners. Indeed if there was a clear political line devised by the Reformers, arguably it was class collaborationist.

 

This is suggested by the declarations made in Manchester and Oldham in early 1819, in which factory owners are conspicuous by their absence. Both are published in Donald Read’s 1957 book on Peterloo, (7) and are heavily focussed on parliamentary reform, and the relief of distress which was believed to follow from this. Read comments that “the radical programme in 1819 rested on two basic and logically connected points. First, it was a protest against distress – against low wages, high prices, and unemployment; and second, it was the assertion of a theory of fundamental rights”. (8) The three key slogans on the banners in Manchester were Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage and Repeal of the Corn Law, with Vote by Ballot almost as popular – though the area had no M Ps, the reformers were aware of corruption at elections and wanted a secret ballot to prevent bribery and intimidation. The Oldham statement prioritises Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage and Election by Ballot, but also stresses the Corn Law and high prices for ‘agricultural products’ was the ‘proof that the interests of a few Land Proprietors, preponderates in our Legislative Assemblies, over the interests of millions of labourers. (9)

 

There is no mention of the employers in either document, though the more extensive Manchester document attacks the standing army – calling for a militia force – echoing radical demands going back to the late C17th, and fear of a Cromwellian or Monarchical absolutism based on armed force. The document states fundamental rights going back to Magna Charta and a (largely imaginary) ancient constitution, and attacks the Bank of England for issuing paper money. A lengthy appeal to the Prince Regent, as in 1817 thought to be a guardian misled by parliamentary advisors, shows a trust in that individual hard to equate with his known High Tory Politics. The Manchester document argues that the system oppresses all the urban classes, including the manufacturers, stating that the government employs spies to “foment and excite disturbances amongst the oppressed and starving manufacturers and labourers of the united kingdom’, using ‘corrupt and sinister influence to gain over the majority of votes of a venal senate, composed of the agents of the great Borough pensioners …. to pass cruel and oppressive laws, – to starve the honest and industrious labourers, manufacturers and mechanics, and to rob the wretched peasant of the hard earnings wrung from the sweat of his brow” (10). Exactly how the manufacturers can be regarded as starving is unfathomable, and if this word refers to the factory owners then the reformers had not been studying the careers of men like Arkwright and the Peels.

 

The attempt to build a broad class alliance including the Factory Owners, if these are the manufacturers mentioned, and the farming interest, here defined as ‘peasants’ though peasants had long since vanished, made much of the wealth of the landowners who benefitted from the Corn Laws, shows that the grasp of economics was limited and did not fully how poverty was generated, though Joseph Johnson showed a more sophisticated grasp of rural issues in a letter to the Manchester Observer of June 19th 1819. But radicals were drawing on the polemical literature of the time, notably the papers produced by William Cobbett and other radical journalists.

 

These rightly saw taxation and food prices as crucial to exploitation, though low wages were a vital part of the generation of poverty. But radicals targetted the obvious venality of the governing classes, defined as Old Corrupton by William Cobbett. It was clear that the Tory Interest had gained from the French wars, though the wars were not fought to make them rich. However the taxes levied to pay for the wars were of benefit to the Tory Interest, and arguably to no one else. As the burden of the war continued after Waterloo, the Reformers could and did made this a major target. The increasing use of paper money Cobbett made an issue in 1819 by his pamphlet Paper Against Gold, arguing for a gold standard and popularising fiscal issues. The tax burden and the national debt arising from the French Wars were certainly a working class interest, which Read suggests was made more topical by a three million pound increase in taxation in 1819.

 

This pointed toward the larger question of Old Corruption. Certainly in 1819 the radical Manchester Observer argued for Cheap Land and Cheap Government, and an Ashton meeting of June 14th 1819 complained at £22,000 spent on snuff boxes as presents to government allies, and an extra £10,000 voted to the Prince Regent for looking after his father (11). There was a continuing attack on a standing army: though after 1815 as a move towards precisely the Cheap Government some radicals were campaigning for, the services had been savagely reduced at the end of the wars, causing massive unemployment and misery and fuelling protests, notably in London. Peace, Retrenchment and Reform would be a slogan for Gladstonian liberalism. It was not devised till well after Peterloo.

 

Read suggests “the banners on the hustings at Peterloo reflected no empty platitudes: ‘Annual Parliaments’, ‘Universal Suffrage’, ‘No Corn Laws’, ‘No Borough Mongering’, and the rest of the slogans which they carried were the outward expressions of a coherent and highly developed programme of reform”. (12). Up to a point. There is no doubt that for a poorly educated and largely illiterate labouring population, the radicals had developed a high level of political debate. But it was confined to addressing constitutional issues, and was weak on economics. It was not class conscious as a socialist would see issues, and the elements which suggested that an alliance of factory owners and labourers was possible, were not tenable in the reality of the Factory System of the time. Peel the Elder’s attempt to limit child labour in the factories in 1802 passed as it was only limited to apprentices, historically a concern of parliament as apprentices tended to riot, while Peel’s more significant 1819 Cotton Mills and Factories Act was seen by contemporaries as an extension of the Statute of Artificers of 1562, paternalistic legislation which relied on the master to regulate his own workforce and was a failure. A Robert Peel and his son could have successful parliamentary careers, but they could not convince the Tory Party they supported that factory legislation had to be enforced to be effective. Shaftesbury would face the criticism that a limitation to the working day would wipe out the profits of the factory owners, and this was a generation after the ending of the Regency. The Younger Peel initially opposed Shaftesbury as initially did Cobden, the high priest of Manchester Laissez Faire.

 

The political realities of Manchester in 1819 argued against there being an alliance for reform by middle and working class interests. Even though it was in the interests of the manufacturers to secure an MP for the city and other industrial cities they did not support reform as it was tied to working class interests. But it was not until the 1832 Reform Bill that class politics would become clear, with the working class left in the cold. In 1819 Reformers still believed that the alliance was possible and that cheap government was a slogan that would provide such an alliance.

In the fraught conditions of the Long Regency**, it was not anti-capitalist politics which brought masses of people onto the streets to support reform in this period, but a less class oriented and more wide spread campaign which did have the potential for a cross class alliance – the Campaign against the objective Cobbett and every other radical journalist had in their sights in this period: Old Corruption. The objections to Old Corruption were widespread and rooted in a widely held sense that government in the Long Regency was run to benefit aristocrats and a limited group of wealthy and a-moral exploiters of public revenue. This was a widely felt objection to the state of the country particularly after the wars with France. Yet it did not provide a cross class alliance in the towns where the glaring absence of political rights for those not in the High Tory elite was obvious.

 

The most difficult question to answer about Peterloo is why this was the case – and why instead of a successful campaign against Old Corruption, the reformers failed to draw in the middle classes in numbers. The old guard felt their interests were served by violent repression as Old Corruption operated to crush the reform movement. In doing so they confirmed what a correspondent to the conservative Manchester Mercury wrote a week before the demonstration: “the Constitution’s become rotten at the core: there’s foul play at headquarters: the Parliament! Sir, the Parliament! Corruption’s at the very helm of the State…” (13)

 

Of all the questions which arise from Peterloo, why it was not possible to bring about a broad movement for reform is at the core. Peterloo was undoubtely class politics. Class politics are unavoidable in answering the question, but they are not the full answer. Even some Whigs and a mass of journalists and polemicists attacked brutality which showed the unacceptable face of the status quo. Yet overall there was no backlash and the Liverpool government move to even more Pittite Repression. They were playing to a script which saw revolutoin on the streets of Manchester, and this conception remains at the heart of the controversy, underpinning both left and right wing interpretations. But the shock waves generated by Peterloo gained their force from the unreality of this view, making the politics of this demonstration a clash of misconceptions. As the two hundreth anniversary of Peterloo, the key factors can now be teased out as mixing rational and irrational motives which make Peterloo a poisoned chalice which remains as tipping point historical event which lit up the dark background of Regency politics with a flash that has never been forgotten.

 

21 6 17

 

*On Thompson and the Blanketeers, see Hockley and Beyond, History Section, E P Thompson, Manchester and 1817. Personal essay by the author.

** The Regency was 1811-1820, but the Madness of King George meant the political climate changed earlier, and the start of the French Revolution in 1789, or perhaps the events of 1792 which alarmed British opinion, make the era run most logically from the start of the political earthquakes in France.

 

(1) Robert Poole What don’t we know about Peterloo pp14-15, IN Robert Poole Ed, Return to Peterloo, Manchester Centre for Regional History 2014

 

  1. E P Thompson The Making of the English Working class, 1963/68, Penguin classics 2013, p750

 

(3) Katrina Navickas, Loyalism and Radicalism in Lancashire, Oxford University Historical Monographs, 2009

 

(4) Adam Zamoyski, Phantom Terror,

 

  1. Linda Colley, Britons, 1707- 1837, 1994, 3rd Ed Yale 2009.

 

  1. Poole op cit p15-16

 

  1. Donald Read, Peterloo The Massacre and Its Background, Manchester University Press 1957, MUP and August M Kelley, Clifton New Jersey USA 1973. The Manchester Statement of January 18th 1819 is on pp 210-216, the Oldham Statement of June 7th 1819 is on pages 216-217, Signed John Knight..

 

  1. Read op cit p40

 

  1. Read op cit p216

 

  1. Read op cit p214

 

  1. Read op cit pp 42-43

 

  1. Read op cit p46

 

(13) Manchester Mercury, August 10th 1819, quoted Read op cit p41