Radical Rogues and Blackmailers in the Regency Period
Iain McCalman discusses how politically motivated was the blackguarding by low life of high society in the Regency period.
On March 14th 1813, the prosperous Charing Cross tailor and moderate political reformer, Francis Place, addressed an anonymous letter to the Treasury Solicitor's office claiming to have become the latest victim of a 'gang' of fellow radicals who were running a blackmail and extortion racket. He alleged that the gang had launched a smear campaign against him in muckraking radical newspapers like the Independent Whig and in pothouse cellars all over London. They accused him of having taken bribes from the government as a spy on fellow-Jacobins during the 1790s and, more recently, as foreman of a coroner's jury which had quashed information potentially devastating to a member of the Royal Family. In 1810 Joseph Sellis, valet to the unpopular royal prince, the Duke of Cumberland, had died from a razor cut to the throat. The official verdict was suicide, but neither opposition circles nor the truculent 'crowd' was satisfied.