Whilst this is a typical Regency
romance in the normal trope – there is an extra fillip to this novel that I
particularly liked. It made the central storyline relate to the political
unrest at this time.
This was a time of rebellions on the
Continent and also minor rebellions and lots of unrest at home in the UK.
The story talks about the lack of
female and universal suffrage and the people who were agitating for the latter
– the former had not yet crossed the men’s minds.. nor that on marriage a woman
lost all right to property and money, not to mention her body.
28 January, 1817: Henry Bankes records that the Prince Regent’s coach
was attacked as he returned after opening a new session of Parliament [https://dcc.dorsetforyou.gov.uk/bankes-archive/attack-on-the-prince-regent/]. It was never clear whether it was a bullet
or bullets shot, or stones that were thrown at the coach, but it certainly
worried the Govt of the time. This was period when the Tories were in power (as
opposed to the Whigs) and who were predominately made up of the aristocracy and those who were more right
wing in political leanings – Whig
was a term applied to horse thieves and, later, to Scottish Presbyterians; it
connoted nonconformity and rebellion, whereas Tory was an Irish term suggesting
a papist outlaw – so both were originally terms of abuse, that were later
taken on board as ways of defining political leanings. [https://www.britannica.com/topic/Whig-Party-England]. Some politicians had hereditary boroughs to
represent whereby one family held the seat for many years, some MPs represented
what were known as Rotten Boroughs as they were in the ‘gift’ of a peer and
rarely had many voters, and thus the MP had little to no work but still
received his pay.
It was during this time that there was a great deal of unrest caused by poverty for instance the Bread Riots of 1800 and 1801 caused by a lack of bread for the poorer classes; lack of universal suffrage; and of course a number of philosophers – or writers of political treatises were being printed and widely circulated. Tom Paine was one such writer and his book, the Rights of Man was considered highly treasonable. [https://spartacus-educational.com/PRspencean.htm]
In response, the Govt decided that Habeas
Corpus – ‘bring me the body’ – that was a Common law writ used when it was
thought that a prisoner had been unlawfully imprisoned without trial and
sentence, and which was generally used to require the prisoner to be brought to
trial, was suspended in 1794. Of course,
if you don’t have any real evidence but just suspicions that this person is a
rebel or is undertaking treasonable acts, then you don’t want to have to
early 1800s Thomas
Spence had established himself as the unofficial
leader of those Radicals who advocated revolution and similarly to current
revolutionary cells, there was no central organisation, merely local groups
which were autonomous. There was an argument that “if all the land in
Britain was shared out equally, there would be enough to give every man, woman
and child seven acres each”. The group of people who followed Thomas
Spence were known as Spenceans. Whilst many who advocated reform at this time
were peaceful, others were not and by 1820 a number of violent events had been
planned – all were foiled by the use of police spies.
political unrest and the use of Govt spies provides a nice ‘spindle’ from which
this story can be spun.