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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

The 1820 Anniversary


It was two hundred years ago – in April 1820 – that Scotland’s last attempted uprising took place. While you have no doubt heard of the Jacobites, of the 1745, and Bonnie Prince Charlie, you’ve probably never heard of this one. The 1820 Rising, also known as the Radical Rising or Radical War, was for long airbrushed out of Scotland’s history and only in recent decades has the story begun to receive the attention it deserves. Long over shadowed by the publicity given to events in neighbouring England, the 1820 Rising combined a number of elements including class struggle, electoral reform, early socialism, and Scottish national identity. And it is this last factor – Scottish national identity – that led many in some schools of history to play down or even ignore the events of 1820.

The recent film Peterloo (2018) directed by Mike Leigh, which tells the story of the attack on peaceful demonstrators in Manchester, England, in 1819, and the earlier film Comrades (1986), about the Tolpuddle Martyrs of Dorset, transported to Australia in 1834 for trying to establish a trade union, are both fine, lovingly made examples of the recreation of events in England’s popular history. And yet, both of these pale in comparison with the significance of the events that took place in Scotland during 1820 when an attempted uprising led to open clashes with the military, the occupation of parts of our country, the state trials of 88 people, violations of the Treaty of Union, and the grim public executions of Baird, Hardie and Wilson – the 1820 Martyrs.

This feature brings together articles telling the story of the rising and some poetry and writings from John Goldie, Alexander Rodger, and Janet Thomson who lived through those events. Also, the well known song Scots, Wha Hae is reproduced here as the favoured anthem of the Scottish Radicals.