Recorded Webinar: Britain's eighteenth-century tradition of popular riot and protest

By Professor Penelope Corfield, published 20th March 2024

Eighteenth-century Britons were ruled by a restricted oligarchy of landowners and plutocrats. Yet the wider population had a proud tradition of assertiveness and readiness to protest. ‘Britons never will be slaves!’ as the chorus of 'Rule Britannia' (1740) announced pointedly (if somewhat ironically, in view of Britain’s role in the international trade in enslaved Africans). In this presentation, Penelope Corfield explores the range of popular riots and protests in this period - from the carnivalesque to the orderly to the outright anarchic - and discusses their long-term implications. In effect, a form of ad hoc bargaining between rulers and ruled was emerging, both in the towns and countryside. Sometimes rioters succeeded fully in their aims; sometimes partially. Often too they failed, at least in the short term. But both protestors and the powers-that-be were able to learn from these dynamic confrontations (as remains the case to this day).

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