Petitioners and Rebels: Petitioning for Parliamentary Reform in Regency England

Poole, Robert orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-9613-6401 (2019) Petitioners and Rebels: Petitioning for Parliamentary Reform in Regency England. Social Science History, 43 (3). pp. 553-579. ISSN 0145-5532

[thumbnail of AAM]
PDF (AAM) - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.


Official URL:


The national petitioning campaign for parliamentary reform in 1816-17 was the biggest popular petitioning campaign before Chartism. It generated over 700 local petitions with perhaps three quarters of a million signatures, representing 20-25% of adult males and extending the political nation well into the working classes. It was particularly strong in the Lancashire manufacturing districts and especially in the Manchester region, where economic grievances such as hunger and low wages were converted by petitioning into arguments for political reform. The moving figure was Major John Cartwright, a veteran reformer who emerges as a more radical figure than usually supposed. The rejection of so many petitions by parliament provided a legitimation for more remonstrance, mass action and even rebellion. All this provides the context for a better understanding of the mass platform movement of 1816-19, from the Spa Fields meetings through the march of the Blanketeers to Peterloo and beyond. The research combines a study of the petitions themselves and the radical press with a close examination of the Home Office material, yielding important insights into both grassroots organisation and the strategies of the authorities, local and national. The work of Vernon and Joyce on popular constitutionalism is revised and that of Belchem and Epstein on the mass platform extended. Petitioning emerges as a radical strategy, and constitutionalism as an acknowledged arena of class conflict.

Repository Staff Only: item control page