Saturday, 17 August 2019

Peterloo 2

I have been to a lecture on Peterloo from the perspective of the military; not of course the story as it is usually told. Entitled '15th Hussars: From Waterloo to Peterloo' it was the product of some detailed research into the officers and men present from that regiment, and also to some extent from the various other units present.

Despite being a military historian the speaker really had no alternative but to avail himself of the same type of class based analysis that all other commentators on the event employ. His thesis was that the divide between the working men in the ranks and the aristocratic officers didn't matter so much because the latter would have frequently come into contact with and therefore understood the equivalents of the former while managing their agricultural estates. He didn't stretch his hypothesis too far by claiming that the same officers also had any particular sympathy with the radical protesters, but he did the blame for what happened on the day firmly on the bourgeois members of the Manchester Yeomanry. To add to the usual accusations of panic and drunkeness he added one I hadn't heard before, namely that being shopkeepers and lawyers they couldn't ride sufficiently well to control their horses.

He told an anecdote which made it clear that the protesters were lucky it was the 15th Hussars and not the 7th who were on duty. Apparently the officers of the 7th were the Bullingdon Club of their day and on one occasion beat up 'Orator' Hunt while he was watching a play in Manchester, a criminal act for which - just like their modern day successors - they were never brought to account. Among the aggressors on that occasion was the Earl of Uxbridge, who of course had lost his leg at Waterloo (*). It is well known that Uxbridge had different false limbs for different occasions (riding, walking etc) so it rather begs the question as to whether he had a prosthetic leg specifically to wear when attacking people on a night out at the theatre.

* "By God, sir, I've lost my leg!", "By God, sir, so you have!"

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