Episode 5 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 5, Series 4 The Plot, we learn the incredible details of the Plot to Assassinate the King, and its connection to our hero.
Written, Produced & Narrated by SternWriter
Audio Production by Samuel Wain
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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 5: The Plot
When receiving the Attorney-General’s reports from his spy network, The Prime Minister’s usual practice was to keep his face straight, and his tone neutral.
Though only 35, it would be hard to find a more urbane, experienced, road-tested man in England than Pitt the Younger.
Born and bred in Politics, prime ministerial son of a prime minister, star barrister in London’s law courts, Pitt was a hard man to surprise, let alone shock.
But as his Attorney-General revealed details of the plot to assassinate the King he’d just uncovered, the Prime Minister’s habitual composure deserted him.
His grip on the pamphlet he’d been reading loosened. As he leaned forward, it slid off his lap, unnoticed, to the floor.
A new revelation provokes an involuntary gesture, knocking the glass of brandy to the floor. This too is left unattended.
The Prime Ministerial mouth, usually fixed in a curve of wry amusement, now forms the shape of the top of an empty pint-pot.
No surprise, as what the Attorney-General is describing is, for Pitt, a literal waking nightmare.
The threat of revolution occupies most of Pitt’s waking hours, and stalks many of his sleeping ones.
The threat of revolt, like the constant challenge presented by his King’s occasional detachments from reality, are what is ageing Pitt the Younger so rapidly.
Despite his urbane manner, the Prime Minister takes his responsibility to steer Britain from imminent disaster very seriously.
One of Pitt’s few pleasures had been to tease his dour Northerner Attorney-General about what he calls Scott’s ‘Eavesdropper Army’.
Despite all the time and effort Scott invests in it, his clandestine network of street hawkers, shopkeepers and tavern staff, has yet to justify any confidence, let alone its considerable expense.
But, it had now exposed a stunning act of treason.
One of John Scott’s moles had blown the cover on a plot to assassinate King George the Third!
So what was the audacious, bizarre plot that had sent the pamphlet to the floor, upset the brandy glass, and turned Pitt’s tight lips into a capital ‘O’?
First, a home-made blowpipe was to be secretly manufactured to deliver a poison dart in a crowded theatre.
An assassin would get close enough that when the King stood – to applaud, or be applauded – this blow-gun could be deployed to deliver its lethal dart.
This, says Scott’s mole, is designed to trigger a co-ordinated uprising throughout the city.
The King’s assassination will trigger a secret network of agitators to uncover hidden caches of pitchforks and other sharp pointy weapons concealed around the capital.
They’d arm the masses, and urge them to revolt.
The violent mob, bristling with sharp pointy weapons, will storm Parliament, topple the Government, install a tyrannous dictator, and so on and so forth.
If this bombshell left Britain’s laconic Prime Minister with his mouth agape, just imagine what the nation’s press made of it.
In 1794, competing newspapers chased sales just as much as they do today, and they went to town on this story.
They quickly dubbed it ‘The Pop-Gun Plot’. Its gory and sensational details, leaked by the Attorney-General, dominated front pages for months – just check any 18th century newspaper archive.
The Attorney-General is delighted. His network of spies has finally come up with the goods.
He quickly arrests the plot’s main ringleaders. A couple are tipped off, and slip away, but he’s confident it won’t be long before they join their co-conspirators in the Tower of London.
The Pop-Gun plotters fester there in chains, awaiting the kind of trial he’d long hoped would focus the public’s minds on the dangers of giving an inch to the Reformers.
The Pop-Gun Plot displaces stories of the French Revolution from the front-pages of the news sheets. They now carry screeds of patriotic outrage, rallying a wobbly nation against weak-willed notions of Reform.
The degree of public interest is hardly surprising. The details are literally incredible, beyond bonkers.
And, in case you were wondering where this is all going, the revolutionary perpetrators of the Pop-Gun Plot were – the London Corresponding Society.
Let’s now try to tease out the facts of the matter.
So far our story has hopped between James’ home and surgery in Hoxton Square, the Shoreditch Tavern meeting-place of the London Corresponding Society, and the Prime Minister’s private chamber at the Palace of Westminster.
Now, like the Attorney-General’s spy network, our story spreads. It forms a complex web linking all levels of London society and all types of people
The Pop-Gun Plot has its origins in an awkward little problem for the London Corresponding Society.
It starts when reliable witnesses inform the Society’s leaders that one of their number, a watchmaker by the name of Thomas Upton, has fallen into debt.
To pay off his creditors, they say. Thomas Upton has deliberately burnt down his house, and claimed the insurance.
Thomas Upton, they say, is a fraud and a liar.
They say it’s the duty of the Society to expel him and expose him as a gambler, a fraudster, and arsonist and a liar.
Now this delivers justice, but it also protects their own under-suspicion Society from guilt by association.
Reformers have to stay squeaky clean, and Upton was a filthy mess.
For this task, the Society needs to entrust the delicate role of investigating this matter to someone of unimpeachable probity.
The Society convenes,to decide how to proceed.
Bookseller John Smith, Chemist Shop Man George Higgins and other founders, turn to the Society’s most honest and reliable member.
James Parkinson, Physician, of No 1 Hoxton Square, agrees to take on this solemn and heavy responsibility, and starts making discreet enquiries.
Before long, Upton feels trapped.
If his criminality is proved, Upton faces certain humiliation, lifelong disgrace, imprisonment, bankruptcy,
It’s at this point that Upton drops his bombshell.
Before the London Corresponding Society makes any move to eject him, the watchmaker reveals to government spies that he’s come across a treacherous plot to assassinate the King. A plot hatched by his London Corresponding Society colleagues.
The details are astonishing.
Upton tells the Attorney-General that the London Corresponding Society has secretly commissioned him and another skilled metalworker to manufacture a blowpipe.
It must be designed to be smuggled into a theatre attended by the King, and capable of delivering a poisoned dart.
Imagine Abraham Lincoln’s theatre assassination, but 150 years earlier, and using a poisoned dart, on thell other side of the Atlantic, and …oh yes…completely fabricated.
But it’s in the nature of humans, even powerful ones, especially powerful ones, to open their ears to lies they want to hear, and close them to inconvenient truths.
The ‘Pop-Gun Plot’ was precisely the kind of Fake News John Scott’s Eavesdropper Army knew the Attorney-General was looking for.
The sensational ‘Pop-Gun Plot’ justifies all the Attorney General’s dark warnings to Prime Minister Pitt the Younger.
Upton names the traitors behind the plot – the leaders of the London Corresponding Society who were about to kick him out, including the bookseller John Smith, and Chemist’s Shop-Man George Higgins.
John Scott, the former coal-broker’s apprentice, throws the accused plotters into the dungeons of the Tower of London.
He then sets a date for their trial – for High Treason – a capital offence – in the Privy Council, the highest court in the land.
By the time of the trial, one plotter remains on the run, hunted down by the Attorney-General’s army of Eavesdroppers.
But this fugitive is not the honest, reliable member deputed to investigate Thomas Upon, the whistleblower whose revelations set the whole trial motion.
The lives of John Smith and George Higgins hang by a thread, while the hang man prepares his noose to finish the job.
But, absent from Thomas Upton’s list of accused plotters, is the name of the person deputed to investigate him.
Who knows why Thomas Upton didn’t include this name on his blacklist of Accused plotters – maybe it’s because he wasn’t a founder member, just an early recruit?
But, the Physician, James Parkinson, my hero’s hero, remains at liberty, unindicted, a free man, at No. 1 Hoxton Square.
In Episode 6, The Physician’s Dilemma, we discover how James reacts to this extraordinary turn of events.