Regency Spies (Hardcover)

Secret Histories of Britain's Rebels and Revolutionaries

By Sue Wilkes

Pen and Sword History, 9781783400614, 224pp.

Publication Date: February 19, 2016

List Price: 39.95*
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Sue Wilkes reveals the shadowy world of Britain's spies, rebels and secret societies from the late 1780s until 1820. Drawing on contemporary literature and official records, Wilkes unmasks the real conspirators and tells the tragic stories of the unwitting victims sent to the gallows. In this age of Revolutions, when the French fought for liberty, Britain's upper classes feared revolution was imminent. Thomas Paine's incendiary Rights of Man called men to overthrow governments which did not safeguard their rights. Were Jacobins and Radical reformers in England and Scotland secretly plotting rebellion? Ireland, too, was a seething cauldron of unrest, its impoverished people oppressed by their Protestant masters. Britain's governing elite could not rely on the armed services even Royal Navy crews mutinied over brutal conditions. To keep the nation safe, a war chest of secret service money funded a network of spies to uncover potential rebels amongst the underprivileged masses. It had some famous successes: dashing Colonel Despard, friend of Lord Nelson, was executed for treason. Sometimes in the deadly game of cat-and-mouse between spies and their prey, suspicion fell on the wrong men, like poets Wordsworth and Coleridge. Even peaceful reformers risked arrest for sedition. Political meetings like Manchester's Peterloo were ruthlessly suppressed, and innocent blood spilt. Repression bred resentment and a diabolical plot was born. The stakes were incredibly high: rebels suffered the horrors of a traitor's death when found guilty. Some conspirators secrets died with them on the scaffold... The spy network had some famous successes, like the discoveries of the Despard plot, the Pentrich Rising and the Cato St conspiracy. It had some notable failures, too. However, sometimes the war on terror descended into high farce, like the Spy Nozy affair, in which poets Wordsworth and Coleridge were shadowed by a special agent.REVIEWS The book is, as one would expect from an experienced historian and author, skilfully written, covering a range of cases whilst never seeming disjointed or convoluted. For those with little knowledge of the area, there is valuable background about the role of the local magistrate in recruiting spies, and a helpful appendix of who the key Regency conspirators were, when they were active, and who the politicians and magistrates were who were charged with dealing with them were.Your Family History - Spring 2016.