1715 England riots
In the spring and summer of 1715 a series of riots occurred in England, protesting against the first Hanoverian king of Britain, George I and his new Whig government. The rioters often attacked Dissenting chapels (the Dissenters were allied to the Whigs). The riots occurred on symbolic days: 28 May was George I's birthday, 29 May was the anniversary of Charles II's Restoration and 10 June was James Francis Edward Stuart's birthday.
Upon the death in August 1714 of the last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne, Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, ascended the throne in accordance with the terms of the Act of Settlement 1701 that excluded Anne's half-brother James Francis Edward Stuart. After his arrival in Britain in September, George promptly dismissed the Tories from office and appointed a Whig-dominated government. His coronation in October led to rioting in over twenty towns in England.
The 1715 general election was also accompanied by riots and resulted in a Whig majority in the House of Commons and the proscription of the Tories from office, with some former Tory ministers being impeached by the new government.
On 8 March, the anniversary Queen Anne's accession day and William III's death, was met in London with bell-ringing, flag-waving and closed shops. On 23 April, the anniversary of Anne's coronation, a mob met at Snow Hill and made a bonfire under the banner with Anne's picture and the words: “Imitate her who was so Just and Good, / Both in her Actions and her Royal Word” (the latter may have hinted at her supposed promise to restore James Stuart to the throne). The mob burned a picture of William of Orange, broke windows which were not illuminated in celebration near St Andrew's, Holborn and proposed "to sing the Second Part of the Sacheverell-Tune, by pulling down [Dissenting] Meeting Houses". They were persuaded not to do so, however.
On George I's birthday, 28 May, there occurred large demonstrations in Smithfield, Cheapside and Highgate, where the Dissenting chapel was attacked. In Smithfield according to Abel Boyer "a large mob burnt Cromwell (some say Hoadly) in effigy". In Cheapside the rioters shouted “No Hanoverian, No Presbiterian government”. The next day was Restoration day and the mob shouted: “A Restoration, a Stewart, High Church and Ormonde”, “A Stewart, a second Restoration” and “No King George, King James the third”. When a coachman called for King James he "was hollowed through the Mob" and the windows of Whig-supporters were broken. In Queen Street a battle occurred between the rioters and trained bands. At the London Stock Exchange the crowd shouted “High Church and the Duke of Ormonde”. Stock jobbing was seen as the parasitical and immoral growth from Whig principles. When one passer-by shouted “Long live King George” he was beaten up by the mob.
In Oxford on 28 May a rumour spread that Queen Anne, Lord Bolingbroke, Ormonde and Sacheverell were to be burnt in effigy. Undergraduates and townsfolk in response attacked those celebrating George's birthday and broke into the Presbyterian meeting-house, made a bonfire of its pulpit, pews and windows along with an effigy of its minister. The mob chanted “An Ormond, an Ormond, a Bolingbroke, down with the Roundheads, no Constitutioners [members of the Whig Constitutional Club], no Hanover; a new Restoration”. The next day a Quaker and Baptist meeting place were also attacked.
On 10 June Anglican churches in Clerkenwell and St Dunstan-in-the-West rung bells to celebrate James Stuart's birthday, a Dissenting meeting place in Blackfriars was gutted and James's declaration was nailed to the door of the former Dissenting chapel in Lincoln's Inn Fields which had been destroyed five years previously during the Sacheverell riots. Similar disturbances on James's birthday happened at Cambridge, Leeds and several Somersetshire villages; in Norton St Philip near Bath James was proclaimed king. At Frome the mob was reluctantly persuaded not to destroy the local Dissenting chapel. At Marlborough, Wiltshire the mob broke into the church and rang the bells, despite the parson objecting.
In the Midlands in late June and early August, similar riots against Dissenters took place, starting in Wolverhampton during St. Peter's fair and ending at Kingswinford in Worcestershire on 1 August. In Wolverhampton a bucklemaker was heard shouting “God damn King George, and the Duke of Marlborough” and a suspected spy was forced by the mob to get on his knees and bless King James III. Robert Holland of Bilston urged the mob: “Now boys goe on we will have no King but James the third & he will be here in a month and wee will drive the old Rogue into his Country again to sow Turnipps”. Similar expressions of loyalty to James were heard in Walsall and Leek.
In Warrington on 10 June bells were rung and the mob shouted “Down with the Rump”. However they were prevented from attacking a Dissenting meeting house. In Leeds a bonfire was made and a man was later indicted for threatening a Dissenting meeting place.
In Manchester in early May James Stuart had been proclaimed James III. Between 28 May and 23 June there was a spate of rioting, with the Dissenting chapel in Cross Street ransacked and destroyed. Lord Cobham's dragoons eventually restored order but the rioting had by then spread to Monton and Houghton where Dissenting chapels were attacked on 13 June; a week later the Dissenting chapels in Blackley, Greenacres, Failsworth and Standing were attacked; by 25 June the Dissenting chapels in Pilkington and Wigan were attacked.
In the West Midlands and Lancashire over thirty Dissenting chapels were attacked. In Shrewsbury during the riots a paper was posted:
We Gentlemen of the Loyal Mob of Shrewsbury, do issue out this Proclamation to all Dissenters from the Church of England, of what Kind or Denomination soever, whether Independent, Baptists or Quakers: If you, or any of you, do encourage or suffer any of that damnable Faction called Presbyterians, to assemble themselves amongst you, in any of your Conventicles, at the time of Divine Worship, you may expect to meet with the same that they have been treated with. Given under our Hands and Seals the 11th Day of July 1715. God save the King.
Around 500 people were arrested for rioting in Shropshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire with around 2,000 people taking part in the riots in these counties with several hundred more in Birmingham.
In response to these riots, the new Whig majority passed the Riot Act to put down disturbances like these. This law strengthened magistrates powers and allowed Justices of the Peace to disperse demonstrations without fear of prosecution.
- Rogers, p. 78, p. 81.
- Rogers, p. 78.
- Monod, pp. 180-181.
- Rogers, p. 76.
- Monod, p. 181.
- Monod, p. 182.
- Rogers, pp. 76-77.
- Monod, p. 183.
- Rogers, p. 77.
- Monod, p. 191.
- Monod, pp. 191-192.
- Monod, p. 192.
- Monod, pp. 183-185.
- Monod, p. 185.
- Monod, pp. 187-188.
- Rogers, p. 80.
- Paul Kleber Monod, Jacobitism and the English People. 1688-1788 (Cambridge University Press, 1993).
- Nicholas Rogers, ‘Riot and Popular Jacobitism in Early Hanoverian England’, in Eveline Cruickshanks (ed.), Ideology and Conspiracy: Aspects of Jacobitism, 1689-1759 (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1982), pp. 70-88.