“A reformer’s wife ought to be an heroine”: gender, family and English radicals imprisoned under the Suspension of Habeas Corpus Act of 1817

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Abstract

In 1817, the British government reacted to the rise of popular agitation for
parliamentary reform by passing the Suspension of Habeas Corpus Act and
arresting the leaders of the new working-class radical societies. The
imprisonment of these men was a severe blow to the democratic
movement. Despite the recent revival of scholarly interest in early
nineteenth-century popular politics, historians have treated the events of
1817 as a brief interlude before the better-known Peterloo Massacre of
1819. This article argues that the development of the post-war democratic
movement cannot be understood without examining the impact of the
imprisonments on the radical leaders and their families. It analyses a
previously un-studied series of letters confiscated from the radical
prisoners and kept in the Home Office files. The correspondence
demonstrates the essential role of letter-writing within radical culture, and
how radical thought and self-expression was mediated through the
pressures of both government surveillance and financial difficulty. This
article secondly offers new evidence about the gender politics of radicalism
in this period. It shows how women’s experience of separation from their
husbands, and male attitudes towards their role in 1817-18 crucially
shaped the emergence of female radicalism in public for the first time in
1819.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-264
Number of pages19
JournalHistory, The Journal of the Historical Association
Volume101
Issue number345
Early online date21 Mar 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2016

Keywords

  • HISTORY
  • GENDER
  • radicalism

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