The period of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars was also a golden age of political cartoons.
This cartoon, by George Cruikshank, of the reckless behaviour of the Manchester Yeomanry at Peterloo, is a pertinent example of the cartoonist’s ability to make telling political points.
The head at the top of the image represents a magistrate, ordering the soldiers to “Cut them down, doan’t be afraid, they are not armed, courage my boys, and you shall have a vote of thanks, & he that Kills most shall be made a Knight errant, and your exploits shall live for ever…”.
The county yeomanry was originally raised during the Revolutionary War to serve as a land-based line of defence against the threat of invasion. As this threat declined, the yeomanry was increasingly used by the civil authorities to deal with riots and other serious disturbances.
On the 18th March 1817 a meeting took place in St Peters Field, Manchester, as a prelude to a mass march on London. Although the march never took place, the authorities were sufficiently disturbed to feel that a body of yeomanry cavalry was needed to keep the peace in the Manchester and Salford area. As a result, the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry was formed in August 1817, its members being local landowners, industrialists and others with a vested economic interest in maintaining the status quo.
The Manchester Yeomanry was stationed in Portland Street, conveniently close to St Peters Field. When, on the 16th August 1819, the magistrates panicked at the sight of the huge crowd assembled to hear Henry Hunt and other radical orators, this body of yeomanry was the first military unit sent in to arrest the speakers.
They are reported to have galloped to the task, swords in hand. There is certainly no doubt that when the crowd tried to stop them reaching the speakers, chaos ensued. The yeomanry horses were untrained and were soon trampling people in their panic. The riders also seem to have panicked and began to wield their sabres indiscriminately. This set the mood for the 15th Hussars and the Cheshire Yeomanry, who arrived soon afterwards, with the result that eleven people were killed, and over six hundred injured.
By 1819 the charge of the Household and Union Brigades at Waterloo were common knowledge. Cruikshank lampooned this glorified event in his depiction of the troopers, possibly drunk and certainly out of control, attacking defenceless civilians rather than the soldiers of the French army. The title, Manchester Heroes, emphasises the point.
Find it here
This object is in the collection of National Army Museum