14 Oct. 2015, Senate House, London: ‘Trust the people’: the English approach to arming and training the ‘mob’ 1779-1805

This hour-long talk is now available as a podcast.

It can be freely downloaded from the Institute of Historical Research website. The accompanying slides can be accessed via the link to the PowerPoint presentation from that web page.

Three of the slides are pictured on this page and on the websites for Burnham Press and Mary Hardy and her World.

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This, below, is the original notice advertising the talk:

How did it happen that the English authorities placed such trust in the artisan and labouring class as to arm them with muskets? This was a time of bread riots and anxiety over treason and sedition at home. Further, that same class across the Channel had risen and helped to precipitate the French Revolution.

Norwich Mercury,17 Oct. 1807

Advertisement for a Militia Society, a means of insurance so that balloted men could pay for a substitute and escape service [Norfolk Heritage Centre]

 A strong centralised system of government, resolute local leadership and a determination across all classes to repel the invader form topics for discussion in Margaret Bird’s illustrated presentation on resistance to foreign invasion during the American and French wars.

It will be held at the Institute of Historical Research’s base in the Senate House of London University on Wednesday 14 October 2015 at 5.30 pm as part of the IHR ‘s long-established series of seminars on 18th-century British history. Details are at the foot of the page; please note the revised time and seminar room.

The talk will analyse the recruitment and role of armed civilians in the reconstituted Militia and in a new organisation, the Volunteers. These were the forerunners of the Territorials (reservists) and the Home Guard.

The backdrop of war

Margaret Bird is an Honorary Research Fellow in the History department of Royal Holloway, University of London. She is the editor of Mary Hardy’s diary, which came out in four volumes in 2013, and is working on a further four volumes of commentary and analysis entitled Mary Hardy and her World.

The fourth volume, subtitled Under sail and under arms, will examine the mobilisation of the population and civilian resistance to invasion. As the wife of a farmer and brewer in Norfolk, on the invasion coast, much of the diarist’s 75-year-life was played out against the backdrop of war. In the period of the talk, 1779–1805, one-fifth of the male population of Mary Hardy’s home county aged 17–55 was armed and engaged in home defence—not including those serving as Regulars in the Royal Navy and in the Army.

The social tensions involved in this protracted struggle were immense, and the Militia ballot sometimes saw rioting and tumult. Those who could afford the considerable cost paid for substitutes to serve in the Militia on their behalf; some took out insurance.

There is more about the talk on the link at the top of the page to Burnham Press, publishers of The Diary of Mary Hardy 1773–1809.

Finding the Institute of Historical Research (IHR)

The seminars are open to members of the public free of charge. There is no need to book in advance. The seminar room is the Bedford Room, G37, on the ground floor of the south block of the Senate House. However the room may be changed nearer the time, so please check the IHR website shortly before the event.

The Senate House is the tall white building in Bloomsbury on the north side of the British Museum in Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU. Details of public transport links and a map are online.

The IHR website lists all the subject areas for their wide range of seminars.