Join Prism Book Alliance® as KJ Charles goes Outside the Margins today.
I’m writing a Regency m/m trilogy at the moment. When you say Regency, most people think Jane Austen, dukes, fans, the ton. Ladies and gentlemen whirling round a ballroom, trying to get into one another’s bodices or breeches, depending on taste. The glorious, gilded, indulged past. It’s wonderful stuff; I love it as much as anyone. Well, just look at my (fabulous) cover.
But the Regency was very, very far from a golden age for most people.
Britain’s population was suffering from the combined effects of years of war, the industrial and agricultural revolutions that led to huge unemployment, and punitive taxation that hit the poor hardest. People were starving, they were voiceless, and they were angry.
On 16 August 1819 a crowd of perhaps fifty thousand people assembled in St Peter’s Field in Manchester to demand a Member of Parliament for Manchester. (Context: The tiny hamlet of Old Sarum had two MPs, elected by eleven voters, all of them rich landowners who didn’t live there and had bought the votes. Manchester, a huge industrial city, had none.)
It was, unquestionably, a peaceful protest. There was no violence. It was loud and it was huge, but nothing had happened. Remember that.
Because they didn’t have to be rioting to be a threat. With the French Revolution in living memory, and a shockingly reactionary government in charge, there was a general sense among the ruling classes that any popular movement was an uprising, and any reform would mean the collapse of the existing order. The riot, the rebellion, the revolution had to be stopped before it started.
The local magistrates sent militia, on horseback, armed with sabres, into the peaceful crowd. Children were trampled by horses’ hooves. Protestors were hacked down. As far as we can tell now, over six hundred people were seriously injured and eighteen people died on the field or later of their injuries; one was a two-year-old child, and four of them were women. Eye-witnesses believed that the militia were deliberately targeting female demonstrators.
Eighteen deaths may not sound a lot to modern ears. But put the numbers in context of the much lower population. Imagine the Government now sending in tanks and machine guns on a peaceful crowd, killing maybe 250 people, and wounding literally thousands with indiscriminate fire. This, the Peterloo Massacre, was England’s Tiananmen Square.
There were howls of outrage across the country, as working people realised that the upper classes would literally rather see them dead than let them vote. By December 1819 the anger and outcry of the people was such that the Government had to do something. And they did. They passed the Six Acts, a set of measures that prevented public meetings, made the punishment for writing against the State vastly harsher (up to fourteen years’ transportation), restricted the freedom of the press. These were some of the most repressive measures ever put in place by a British government, all about silencing the people who wanted a vote, and they worked. By the end of the next year, most of the working-class radical leaders were in prison.
That’s the context of my Society of Gentlemen trilogy, set over 1819-20 and involving radicals, both reluctant and firebrand, as well as the most privileged people in the country.
I wanted to include working-class radicals because they have been written out of the general Regency narrative, both in fiction and in general history, very much like queer people have and people of colour still are. They suffered, and were jailed, and didn’t win, and history isn’t interested in losers. But they paved the way for the next generation of reformers, and for the electoral reform and freedom of the press that were to come. They’re as much part of the Regency story as any of the people who lived glittering lives.
And I hope that their story, the story of brave, passionate people, resonates with readers as much as the stories of the privileged few. I hope that it’s a small reminder that democracy used to be a dirty word, and that the vote is not a natural God-given right, but a thing that people fought and died to have. I hope people agree that radicals’ stories need telling as much as those of the aristocracy, and that my reformers damn well deserve their happy endings.
And when your next election comes around, I hope you vote. Because it might seem a pretty small thing to many of us now, but to the people at Peterloo, it was a matter of life and death.
Title: A Fashionable Indulgence
Author: KJ Charles
Publisher: Random House
When he learns that he could be the heir to an unexpected fortune, Harry Vane rejects his past as a Radical fighting for government reform and sets about wooing his lovely cousin. But his heart is captured instead by the most beautiful, chic man he’s ever met: the dandy tasked with instructing him in the manners and style of the ton. Harry’s new station demands conformity—and yet the one thing he desires is a taste of the wrong pair of lips.
After witnessing firsthand the horrors of Waterloo, Julius Norreys sought refuge behind the luxurious facade of the upper crust. Now he concerns himself exclusively with the cut of his coat and the quality of his boots. And yet his protégé is so unblemished by cynicism that he inspires the first flare of genuine desire Julius has felt in years. He cannot protect Harry from the worst excesses of society. But together they can withstand the high price of passion.
About KJ Charles
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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