Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Manchester 1821: a toast to the Immortal Memory of Napoleon Bonaparte

The Plaque Commemorating Peterloo

The Smithfield meeting in July 1819 passed a resolution opposing the British Government's imprisonment of Napoleon on St. Helena. Although Henry Hunt was the main speaker at both meetings it is perhaps unlikely that the Manchester meeting, held a few weeks later, would have passed the same resolution had it been allowed to proceed peacefully. The meeting at St. Peter's Fields took place under very threatening circumstances, and had been postponed a week because it was declared illegal. So those who organised it were determined to show that it was an orderly, peaceful meeting, solely concerned with a legal campaign to reform the House of Commons.

Within a week though it was given the name "Peterloo," an ironic reference to the "killing fields" of Waterloo which had toppled Napoleon and put the hated Bourbons back on the throne of France.

Two years later, on Thursday August 16th 1821, with Hunt still serving a thirty month prison sentence for his part in the meeting, "Peterloo" was commemorated in Manchester with a march to St Peter's Fields, and then to a chapel in Hulme where 9 children were christened with the name "Henry Hunt"!(1)

The following Monday, the day on which the meeting had been held, some 300 people attended a dinner in the Union Rooms at George Leigh Street. As well as toasts to Hunt and a number of radical leaders including Sir Charles Wolseley, Major Cartwright and William Cobbett, there was one to Thomas Paine, one to the late Queen, "Caroline of Brunswick, the injured Queen of England", and one to the "immortal memory of Napoleon Buonaparte." (2)

From prison, Hunt addressed a letter to his supporters, noting with satisfaction this commemoration of the bloody, never-to-be-forgotten, never-to-be-forgiven, SIXTEENTH OF AUGUST 1819.

A Contemporary account of Peterloo, with a portrait of Henry Hunt

Hunt began his account by linking Napoleon and Queen Caroline, whose attempted marriage annulment by the Government and then exclusion from her husband's coronation made her a very popular symbol of resistance to the Government of Lord Liverpool in 1820-1821.

"It is scarcely two months since, in the Seventeenth Number of My Memoirs, I had to record the death of one of the bravest men that ever lived - Napoleon Buonaparte, late Emperor of France. I have now the melancholy task of recording the death of one of the bravest women that ever breathed, "CAROLINE OF BRUNSWICK, THE INJURED QUEEN OF ENGLAND." Napoleon's remorseless gaolers were Caroline's implacable persecutors, even to death! His gaolers and her persecutors are our never-ceasing deadly enemies; the enemies of rational Liberty; the enemies of all that is praiseworthy, amiable and noble in human nature!"

1. The chapel they attended was Christ Church in Hulme, one of a small local sect known as the Bible Christian Church, which was founded in Salford by William Cowherd. Out of this church began the vegetarian movement in the UK and later the US. Church members also had to abstain from alcoholic drink. The pastor at Hulme was Dr Scholefield, who on this occasion spoke to the large congregation on the 94th Psalm: The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth. Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve. How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant?
2. Apparently only water was drunk at this dinner Hunt, who seems to have been rather egotistical, assumed it was a result of his advice not to drink highly taxed liquors. Letter to the Radical Reformers, Male and Female, of England, Ireland and Scotland; August 24th 1821.