You Luddite! + Excerpt

You Luddite! + Excerpt

Most of us have never heard the word Luddite unless it’s been used as an insult to those who hate progress and technology. Paperback lovers may be derided as Luddites for their dislike of ereaders. The historical truth of the Luddites is much more complex. They fall somewhere between insurrectionists, homeland terrorists and early labor union activists.

I recall being a freshman in college and learning about a strange group of radicals from the 1790-1820s who were opposed to the progress of technology in Great Britain. The advent of what we now call the Industrial Revolution was replacing the need for their jobs with machines, affecting their livelihood. Riots and violence ensued. The course was a global history survey from 1500 to present and so we spent about ten minutes on the subject. The year was 2004 and I did not yet own a cell phone…or a functioning car but that’s a story for a different time.

Although things have definitely progressed and moved forward just in my life, it’s really hard for me to try and comprehend a world where something like the image below was earth shattering and revolutionary. When was the last time my entire life was revolutionized by a piece of technology and it threatened my job and ability to provide for my family? Well, for me never. It’s only made things easier as I sell most of my books as digital copies instead of print. The print I have sold are easier and, therefore, cheaper to distribute and sell as an independent publisher now than they would have been twelve years ago.

Perhaps that is what made my most recent research on those early 19th century radicals, called Luddites, so interesting for my upcoming release. All I had really intended was that I could have George Wickham and the Militia leave Meryton and fight the Luddites in the North earlier than they moved to Brighton in the original. Instead, the more I researched, the more I wanted to understand this world.

William Lee invented the stocking frame in 1589, which had parts that copied the movements of hand knitters. He showed it to Elizabeth I, who refused to grant a patent for it as she worried about its affects on the knitter community. A decade later he had made several improvements to the machine which could also knit silk stockings. He applied to King James I for a patent and was declined. Lee then moved to France, found it unprofitable and died there. His workers were mostly French Huegonots who then went to London, with their new frames. An assistant of his made another improvement to the frame and finally in 1663 a Charter was granted at last. The 1720-1750s saw many other small inventions and improvements in the textile industry but it was the Spinning Jenny in 1764 and Richard Arkwright’s water frame in 1769 that really began the revolution. Additionally, the frames were growing so expensive individuals could not afford them. Instead, wealthier men bought them and provided knitters with the goods, then bought the materials and sold them. It was only a matter of time before they left working in the cottages and worked on even larger equipment in factories.

As you’ll see in the images below, they sought to broke into the factories and at the very least break the machines. Legend had it that a young man in a fit of rage named Ned Ludd broke the first one and others followed suit, calling themselves part of General Ludd’s Army. History doubts such a man ever existed, but rumor at the time said that Ned Ludd evaded capture by hiding in women’s clothing. Not all of the attacks had guards present to defend the factories, but in the situations where there were true battles, the Luddites always sustained heavier losses than they managed to inflict, which was typically none.

Alas, matters continued to escalate. On February 14, 1812, several Members of Parliament along with the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval submitted a bill that would make stockframe breaking executable- the severest punishment until then being transportation to a colony. In April, a group of Luddites assassinated a mill owner on the road. They were executed in January 1813 and attacks dwindled.

The politics and economics behind the motivations of the Luddites were complex, made all the worse by the Napoleonic Wars. I hope I do them justice while not losing the heart of my story. Here’s an excerpt from Sufficient Encouragement which should release in February. Darcy is at his club in London and having a rousing political discussion.

“Well, transportation for the crimes is not nearly enough. These are mad men! They are not satisfied with merely breaking the machinery. They want to kill the owners.”

“You would have compassion on them if you saw what their life has become with factories stealing their livelihood,” a young man about Bingley’s age that Darcy did not recognize said.

“Be silent, Byron,” Lord Peters said and Darcy understood the man to be Lord Byron, who although he had inherited his barony at age ten, had spent years traveling. “Your soft heart will be the ruin of us all. Do you want to encourage rebellion like in France? There must be rule and order.”

Rather than continuing to listen to insults, Lord Byron left and Darcy considered his tenants. Many of them contributed to their income with crafting textile goods. He sold the wool from the sheep on his home farm to mills he invested in with Bingley, and had a keen interest in their welfare, but many of his tenants harvested their wool and spun it in their homes. Even more, he knew of many estates that were losing farmers as young people increasingly chose to live in the cities and hoped to work their way up in the factories.

Bingley’s great-grandfather had been the son of a small freeholder and weaver but became a manufacturing inventor. He was among many and managed to patent his creations through money won in a card game. From there his innovations proved invaluable. His son moved from the factory floor to an overseer and invested in several successful mills. Bingley’s father removed himself from daily overseeing the functions and intended to purchase his own estate but did not live to do it. The task now fell to Bingley.

The Bingley success story, and several like it, filled the imaginations of many ambitious factory workers. For them, this was an exciting era to live in and full of opportunity. However, for the men before Darcy, they only felt the fear of changing winds. Fewer tenant farmers meant less rental income for the landowners. Many attempted to adapt by investing in industry and yet dissatisfied cottage workers could destroy all of that with the toss of a match. Loss income always equated to a loss of power and there would always be men desperate to keep their scrap of it.

“To you it is a matter of pounds and pence,” Darcy said, “but you forget that to the workers on both sides it is a matter of the ability to live. We must learn to live in harmony. Consider why the frame breakers feel the loss of income so acutely. They are not living in the lap of luxury.” His eyes drifted to the buttons that strained against Lord Peters midsection. It was an expensively made suit and yet the man would soon need a new wardrobe, again, if he did not restrain his gluttony.

What happens with Darcy, Bingley, Wickham and the Luddites? Well, you’ll have to read to find out!


20 Responses to You Luddite! + Excerpt

  1. Emma Thompson won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility. She is also a confirmed Luddite. I did not know this until I watched the special features or bonus features on my S&S DVD. In her interview she discussed being a Luddite. She said she actually used a quill to write while they were making the film.

    • OOPS! I just rewatched S&S along with the special features and could not find that interview…and I listened to the commentary with her and she didn’t mention it. I must have seen her on one of those TV interview shows. I just wanted to clarify this before someone called me on it. You can Google her and find her quote about being a luddite. Sorry.

  2. Hey Rose, this reminds me of a trip to Lowell Mass which was an industrial area for making cloth. Very fascinating. Not to mention they had a fabulous quilt museum. Thanks. Jen

  3. I enjoyed reading this bit of history, as well as the novel’s section. As someone “at one with the computer,” I was able to do anything I needed to on a DOS machine, including my programming; I went kicking and screaming to Windows. While I now use Windows and it’s offspring, I still believe that “letting the machine do all the thinkin’ for you” has actually lessened the user’s ability to actually think.

    • Oh, I’m definitely one of those letting the computer think for me people. Computer programming and the actual ins and outs of most software I use may as well be Hieroglyphics. And yet I have no interest in finding a Rosetta Stone. 🙂

      But you have an interesting point that I don’t address here and only vaguely so in the book. Once technology arrives, it’s constantly revised and improved upon. Something that happens after the Napoleonic Wars end is that there is an increase in cotton coming into the market. During the wars America had an embargo against trading with England for most of the time and Napoleon had instituted the Continental system. You could not trade with both France and England. You can imagine most of England is not very conducive to cotton growing and couldn’t compete. Oh, and then the increased cotton demand had quite the affect on America. Surely we see it all much more clearly 200 years later than they did at the time!

  4. Sorry it took me so long to comment, Rose. I accidentally lost consciousness while banging my head against the desk. Love your article and the timing of it. Glad to see Darcy has the sympathy I would expect of him.

    • I’m so sorry you’re still having coding problems! I have all manner of secret theories about Darcy. He was fictional and written by Austen. Why couldn’t he be so liberal? I’m convinced he believed in equal education for ladies, which was rather unusual for the era.

    • Haha. Mission accomplished! I didn’t find a lot of books on the topic, actually. If I ever finish that PhD then maybe I’ll focus on this area. I did find some pretty neat primary documents!

    • Is the historical legacy of the Luddites something more common place in the UK? I think knowing this kind of history puts other things into perspective. Why didn’t the unions of Gaskell’s North and South rise up more? Because their grandfathers were beaten down in 1812 and in Peterloo in 1819. This is an era of British government that was really effective at squashing rebellious tendencies on their home land. They tolerated the Americans little temper tantrum (not sending their best troops) so much better than when the Irish wanted independence, as an example.

  5. I did just read your latest chapter but this was additionally educational. I don’t remember ever studying the Industrial Revolution in my school or college days. But I do remember talking about its significance. I am even older than you and have to laugh when people talk about changes in their lifetimes. I believe it is the same for every generation, be it the moral code, the wars or inventions, etc. I saw Civil Rights, Feminist Rights, the Anti-War movement, Drug usage and then computers and cell phones and iPads and IPods, etc. in my day. And I love my kindle as it allows me to purchase and read so many more books. Thanks for the post.

    • In Western history for the modern era (historians classify this as generally post 1650) it does seem like there is a new “Revolution” for every generation. What is incredible to consider is life before this became common place. One new thought on theology sparked widespread war. Most people never left their villages. it’s amazing to think about.

  6. Rose, what an amazing, fascinating post. You provide a deeper look at the practical side of Regency life. Thank you!

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