Episode 4 of The Quiet Revolutionary: the heroic role played in a Plot to Assassinate the King by someone you’ve all heard of, Series 4 of our ‘The Truth Lies in Bedtimes Stories from See Through News’ podcast
In Episode 4, Series 4 The View From Westminster, we shift perspective from a Shoreditch tavern to the apex of the Establishment, and visit the private chambers of the Prime Minister himself.
Written, Produced & Narrated by SternWriter
Audio Production by Samuel Wain
Next: Episode 5, The Plot
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- Series 1: The Story of Ganbaatar: the only deep sea navigator in Mongolia
- Series 2: Betrayed: a tale of Christmas spiritual pollution
- Series 3: Life on the Edge: Taiwan, China, America and the Moment I Realised Mrs. Wang Was Mostly Guessing What Her Husband Said
- Series 5: A Classical Chinese Dirty Joke, Told Thrice
- Series 6: Teetering – how a Hawaiian beach bum held my career in the balance
Episode 4: The View From Westminster
Let’s leave the huddled wigs of our three concerned citizens.
Let’s leave the Shoreditch Tavern, and rise above the world of James Parkinson and his patients, John Smith and his books, George Higgins and his.. Well whatever concerns a Chemist’s Shop-man…
Let’s swoop above the clattering hovels of the weavers of Hoxton.
Let’s escape the malodorous fumes oozing from the furniture workshops of Hackney.
Soaring higher, in the shadowy side-streets of the multiplying theatres of Shoreditch, we glimpse the Ladies of the Night, as they pursue their trade.
Inside the theatres, actors, famous and infamous, perform for the feathers and cummerbunds of the capital’s fashionable set.
But our sights are set even higher.
Let’s head south to the river, and follow the twinkling lights of the ferry boats and barges upstream until we spy – the Palace of Westminster.
Let’s alight at the pinnacle of Parliament, the apex of the Establishment, no less a perch than the private chamber of the Prime Minister himself, William Pitt the Younger!
If we peek in his window, what do we see?
Pitt sits by a fire, whose flickering flames illuminate deepening lines on his face. He sips a glass of brandy, and reads a pamphlet.
They call him Pitt the Younger to distinguish him from his father, and predecessor as Prime Minister, Pitt the Older.
Pitt the Younger is still only 35, but starting to look older.
With the King bouncing between sanity and …and the opposite… with every bout of his monarch’s malady, the fate of the nation weighs heavier on Pitt’s shoulders.
What a time to have a weak King!
By the time George the Third has appointed his second Pitt as Prime Minister, revolution has already cut adrift Britain’s American colonies.
Will Pitt the Younger be remembered as the man at the helm when England herself is sunk by its own Jacobin revolutionaries?
What course can the Prime Minister steer?
John Scott, his Attorney-General and spymaster, keeps bringing him reports of the plots of those chattering artisan classes.
In meetings, Scott brandishes the pamphlets they publish under bizarre names, warning of their efforts to sway the masses with their upstart nonsense.
Pitt has one such pamphlet open on his lap, by someone calling themselves Old Hubert.
Pitt said nothing at their morning meeting, when the Attorney-General, puce with outrage, had thrust it across the table at him.
A knock at the door, and speak of the Devil.
The servant’s announcement dies on his lips, as the Attorney-General himself barges past him. Scott waits to hear the door click shut, and gives his Prime Minister a perfunctory bow.
For months now, John Scott, the most senior lawyer in the land, the spider at the centre of his web of spies and informers, has been bringing Pitt reports of plots and conspiracies.
This Attorney-General doesn’t see his job as merely executing the law – John Scott has a higher purpose – resisting Revolution, at any cost.
As his Prime Minister, a lawyer himself, likes to dryly remark, Scott has proved himself to be as capable of Making up Laws, as of Making them.
Scott retorts that if he does so, it’s only because he feels The Nation Is In Peril.
Which, these days, is all the time.
These two men, now at the peak of the Establishment, arrived there via very different routes.
Pitt was born into power and privilege, Scott was not.
As an apprentice to a coal-broker in Newcastle, young John Scott was impetuous and rebellious.
He defied the wishes of not one, but two families, when he eloped with his heiress sweetheart Bessie, by means of a close friend, a ladder, and a midnight flit.
But that was 22 years ago.
Now 56, Scott is a barrister at the top of his profession. Ennobled, just elected to the Royal Society, Scott has taken to the Establishment like…like a coal-broker to coal.
Any empathy Scott may once have felt for his fellow Geordie workers is long extinguished.
This Attorney General has become as crusty and stubbornly inflexible as the most adhesive and re-ribboned barnacle of the landed gentry.
And this tribe is up in arms.
In the House of Lords, Dukes and Earls, robed in ermine, are baying for an iron fist.
In the House of Commons, those with lesser titles from the rotten boroughs are calling for blood.
Britain’s landed gentry is urging their Attorney-General to show no mercy in his campaign of violent repression against any hint of sedition. No mercy has he shown.
Pitt has become used to his Attorney-General’s urgent late-night visits to his private chambers.
The Prime Minister asks Scott what news he brings this time that couldn’t wait until morning. He shows no surprise as Scott delivers it.
‘The Jacobins continue their filthy work unabated, Prime Minister’, intones the Attorney-General, adopting his courtroom stance. ‘They spread their poison, skulking in the Capital’s taverns and coffee houses’.
‘I am, however, pleased – I will never say happy – I am pleased to report that my efforts to infiltrate the London Corresponding Society have finally brought success’.
The Prime Minister raises his eyebrows, and leaves a brief pause before he speaks.
‘At last, Attorney-General’, he says,’maybe your web of spies, sneaks and squealers has finally come up with something tangible. Let’s hope – for your sake if not The Nation’s – that any prosecution proves more successful than your attempts last year to crush that lot of seditious Scots in Edinburgh.’
Scott winces at this sly barb. A few months before, the Scottish courts had thwarted the Attorney-General’s plans to focus minds in the north of the Union by means of some judicious hanging.
Judicious, maybe, but judicial, no, ruled the Scottish judges, and Scott’s case collapsed.
‘Those silky-tongued barristers can twist any truth into lies’. The Attorney-General rises to the Prime Minister’s bait as obligingly as a trout in one of Pitt’s chalk-stream rivers at home in Wiltshire.
‘Attorney-General!’, chides Pitt. ‘You appear to forget that you are just such a barrister! Indeed, are you not the General of all Attorneys? Is your tongue not as silky, your twisting as dextrous as any in the Union?‘.
‘Touché, Prime Minister,’ scowled John Scott. ‘A nice point, nicely won by a lethal courtroom swordsman. Our Profession’s loss has indeed been our Government’s gain’.
An idea appears to occur to the Attorney-General. ‘Indeed, Prime Minister, should you wish, you may have the opportunity to practise your courtroom skewering in the Privy Council, no less, in the prosecution of the very matter of which I speak’.
The Attorney-General’s frown disappears, and is replaced by a sly smirk.
‘If you have so little faith in my ability to send these traitors to the Tower’, he continues, ’why not lead the cross-examination yourself, to ensure they suffer just retribution for their crimes?’.
Wary of flattery, The Prime Minister betrays no enthusiasm at the prospect of resuming his legal career.
Undaunted, the Attorney-General continues to lay it on with a trowel.
‘The Prime Minister’s wit, guile and reason will ensure that when these treacherous scum leave the court, they’ll soon feel some British rope around their necks’.
If Scott hoped this would rouse his Prime Minister into righteous fury, he’s disappointed. His ruse provokes no more than a wry smile.
‘Your language has become coarse of late, Attorney-General’, says Pitt. ‘I fear you’re too long in the company of your gutter-scuttling squealers. Surely even your ingenious interpretation of our Laws can’t stretch to beheading timorous pamphleteers, and Reforming speech-makers!’
When rehearsing his revelation on the way up to the Prime Minister’s chambers, Scott imagined a better reception, but the Attorney-General has yet to play his trump card.
‘Maybe not, Prime Minister’ – he paused, a grim grin on his lips, before delivering his coup de grace, ‘but would you be so lenient with traitors from the London Corresponding Society, if you knew they plot to Assassinate the King!
In Episode 5, The Plot, we learn what the Attorney General now reveals to the Prime Minister.