In 2017, we find ourselves bombarded with “post-factual” untruths and “fake news”. Back in 1817, Henry Bankes’ journals appear to provide a simpler, more accurate account of political life and daily events. Or do they?

28 January, 1817: Henry records that the Prince Regent’s coach was attacked as he returned after opening a new session of Parliament. (D-BKL/H/H/1/99)

But, Dr Marjorie Bloy’s Age of George III website tells us: The Prince Regent had been driven to Westminster. Unfortunately, on his way there, his carriage had been mobbed and either a stone or a bullet (it was never identified precisely) had broken the glass of his coach window.

So, “alternative facts”, in this case a mistake by a modern historian, who has actually repeated an error in R.J.White’s “Waterloo to Peterloo” (1957). She corrects herself in a later blog entitled Riots, Disaffection and Repression, 1811-19.

From the diaries…

Fortunately, Hansard fully corroborates Henry Bankes’ version of events. Henry opens his account with a summary of the speech from the throne and then writes that the subsequent debate was interrupted by news that ‘an attack had been made upon his Royal Highness on his return from Parliament, with other acts of outrage and violence‘. There was a hasty conference between ministers from both Houses before business was suspended.  ‘Lord Murray [in the coach with the Prince Regent] stated that the glass of the coach nearest the Mall had been perforated by two bullets, as he believed, shot from an airgun or air pistol (the round form of the holes made appearing to be occasioned by bullets rather than stones).  Several stones were, however, thrown soon after at the same glass, but no bullets or stones fell within the coach. Great signs of tumult and riot had been manifested afterwards; the mob collected in vast numbers about the entrance to St James’s Palace from the Park and [it] was found difficult for the military to clear a passage for the return from St James’s to Carlton House.’

Before the shooting or “attempted assassination”, as it was portrayed, the Prince Regent’s speech had referred to ‘attempts made to take advantage of the distress’ and ‘to promote sedition and violence‘. Lord Liverpool, as PM, had concluded by asserting his Government’s ‘determination to counteract the designs of the disaffected‘.  The “Gagging Acts” and the Suspension of Habeas Corpus in 1817 soon showed this was no idle threat.

Coming so soon after the Spa Fields Riots in 1816 and the assassination of the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, in 1812, this attack, on January 28th, 1817, was bound to lead to further repression. Henry’s journals of 1817 and those for the following years continue to give graphic evidence of severe distress throughout the country and of popular demands for reform. Meanwhile, Henry Bankes and his fellow Tories, who had seen a reform movement in France escalate into revolution, retaliated with repression to preserve their country and their class.

Two hundred years on, project volunteers will continue to explore themes and key events such as these within the Bankes Archive.

Author: Roger Lane

Published: 06/12/2017

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