Conspirators, or Delegates in Council.png
Conspirators, or Delegates in Council.png


In 1816-17 a series of events, linked to the Spa Fields Meetings in London, and in Nottingham, Lancashire and Yorkshire (respectively the Pentridge rising, the Manchester 'plot' to free the arrested 'blanketeers', and the aborted rising in Huddersfield), were all in part prompted by, encouraged, or infiltrated by government spies.  Most notoriously, Castles in London, Oliver (W. J. Richards) in the North, and Reynolds in Ireland.

The case against the London 'conspirators', Dr Watson, Arthur Thistlewood, Thomas Preston, and John Hooper - for high treason relating to the Spa Fields demonstration on December 2 1816- collapsed after the evidence given by Castle was undermined by revelations about his past nefarious activities. 

The Manchester Blanketeers scheme - to march to London to protest against the exclusion of their petitions (only 13 of the 600 submitted had been deemed to meet accepted standards) - was forestalled by the arrest of the first marchers and their imprisonment without trial for the next eight or nine months. THat further encouraged talk of a more general rising. On 9 June 1817, there was a gathering of several hundred workers near Huddersfield, which dispersed before military intervention. In Derbyshire, near Nottingham, a contingent marched on Notingham only to be overpowered by the military. Fourteen men were sentenced to transportation and Jeremiah Brandreth, Isaac Ludlam, and William Turner were hanged and beheaded - the defence having failed to call Castle to the stand.

George Cruikshank's caircature, published on 1 July 1817, satirises the entrapment of poor and needy working men.
Three Ministers sit at a council table along with three rough-looking agents or spies. On the extreme left sits Sidmouth and opposite is Thomas Reynolds, who was active in Ireland, indicated by a paper beside him: 'Reynolds Ireland'. The bag beside him is labelled 'Blood Money'. At the right sits Castlereagh, with a paper 'To Mr Reynolds'. To his right is George Canning, who says, "Don't you think my Lord that our friends, Castle & Oliver should be sent to Lisbon or somewhere as Consul Generals, or Envoys?" Castlereagh replies: "Can't you negotiate for some boroughs—" The two men have papers addressed respectively to 'Oliver Leeds' and 'Castle Spafields'; in the latter's hat is a bundle of 'Forged notes' . Papers in the green bag are labeled: 'An Oath to be Proposed to the distressed'; 'Plan for the Attack on the Regents Carraige' [see No. 12864]; 'Treasonable papers to be sliped into the pockets of some duped artisans'; 'Plans for a General Row'. On the table: 'Toast to be given in the Company of moderate men & then Swear they drank them' [Castle's evidence]; 'Every means to be taken to implicate Sr F. Burdett Ld Cochrane & —'. Beside Sidmouth lie: 'Instructions for Entrapg the poor & needy', and 'under santion [sic] of Government'. Beside Castlereagh areflags and favours labelled 'Tricolord Flags &c &c for Spa Fields', and a stocking labelled: 'A Waggon Load of Ammunition!!! Vide Mr Cannings Speech in ye House of Coms'. At a window on theright, behind Castlereagh, John Bull, exclaims: "Oh! Oh I have found out the Conspirators at last, poor Starving John is to be enslaved into Criminal acts & then the Projectors & perpetrators are brought forward as principal evidences! This is another Vaughan, Brock & Pelham business, and I suppose they are to be made Consuls too, the high road to Ld Castlereigh's particular favor—Canning travelled it."

The print exemplifies the deep mistrust that existed between those agitating for reform and the government, who were suspected of fabricating evidence of conspiracy and sedition in the increasingly febrile atmosphere of British popular politics following the hardships faced by the British people at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Suspicion of conspiracy is turned on its head and directed against a government that was seen as increasingly insouciant to the problems of the public. There was, nonetheless, some evidence of more insurrectionary attitudes in the winter of 1816-17, especially around the Spa Fields Meetings (qv).