Rebecca Riots

“Rebecca had won a substantial victory! I t had succeeded in removing most of the under lying grievances. ” How valid is this assessment of the Rebecca movement in west Wales? The assessment above, written by historian David Williams, is fair and somewhat accurate in my opinion. The Rebecca rioters, in West Wales between the years 1839-1843, did manage to resolve the main issue of tax for use of the toll roads. The rioters also proved to be somewhat more than a disorganised rabble due to publicity from International and national newspapers at the time. This could have been a key issue in why the government decided to reform the toll gate tax.

However other historians, such as Graham Longster, do not agree with the above statement. Although the tax was reformed, the issues of poor living conditions and the wide spread poverty were not resolved or improved by the actions of the rioters. Historians who disagree with the statement that quotes the riots were a success, like Graham Longster, argue that the majority of welsh people were trapped in poverty by the mainly English land owners like the owners of the Turn Pike Trust, and that the riots should have been the beginning for wide scale change and improvement in living conditions.

Wales as a whole in the 19th century was largely reliant on its coal and iron production which was a very lucrative business, however almost all of the profits went to the land and company owners such as Marquess of Bute. Due to this the workers were paid very low amounts, decreasing the overall living standards of welsh people. Early on in the 1830s, there were wide spread movements similar the Rebecca riots, proving that the riots were not an isolated incident. Movements like Chartism were popular, calling for bigger wide spread change, and in many cases this ended in violent protests Such as the Newport rising I 1939.

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I believe that this uprising captured the mood of the majority of people living in Great Britain at the time. The fact that a whole town held its own miniature revolution showed that the people and the times were beginning to get increasingly dispread for change. Society had changed and people of Britain wanted fast improvements by any means. At the time there were different views on the riots and how successful they were. The view by the Marxists (communist) was and is that the riots were a joke and so did not take them seriously; they promoted the idea that the only way for change was full political revolution.

This believe is shadowed in the writings of modern day historian G A Williams and writing of Fredrich Engles (co-author of the communist manifesto), Who support the view that the Rebecca riots were unsuccessful and revolution is the only way to get political change. The other side of the argument is with the liberals and their views. The liberal view of the Rebecca riots is and was that they were a complete success as they achieved their goal in gaining an enquiry which ended in the reform of the toll gate tax, as appose to the chartists who did not achieve anything of significance.

A modern day historian who supports this liberal view is David Williams, he argues that the reason the Rebecca riots were a success was due to the fact that the rioters got their goal as a result of peaceful means. To allow my final answer to the question to be accurate I will organise this essay in to two categories, which will allow me to find clear information. The first category will consist of sources that support the view that the riots were a success, and the second category will consist of sources that disagree with the main question and argue that the riots were a failure.

I thought that I would start with a source written at the time to allow me to quickly understand the views held by Rebecca followers. I wish to give you notice, especially to those sworn in as constables in order to catch Becca and her children. I can assure you that it will be too hard for Bullin and company to finish the job that they began – to keep the gates up at Llanfihangel and [? ]. Now take these few lines as information for you to watch yourselves, you that had any connection with Bullin, Messrs M. C. Lics, Mr Thomas Blue Boar.

All your property shall be burned in one night if they will not obey this notice. Send away those vagabonds which you are favourable to. I always like to be plain in all my dealings with people. Is it a reasonable thing that they impose so much on the country, only picking the pockets of poor labours and farmers? All the gates that are on these small roads shall be destroyed. I am willing for the gates on the Queens Road to stand. It is a shameful thing for us Welshmen to have the sons of Hengist rule over us. Do you not remember the long knives which Hengist invented to kill our forefathers?

You may depend on it, you shall receive the same if you will not give up when I visit you, and that shall be in a short time. Now I give an order to leave the place before I come, for I am determined that I will have my way. As for the constable and the policemen, Becca and her children pay no more attention to them than the grasshoppers which fly in the summer. There are others who are marked by Becca. They shall not be named now, but if they will not obey this notice, she shall call on them in a short time. Faithfull to Death with the county Becca & children Rebecca letter, 16 December 1842 Source1 ———————————————— The first source I have chosen to examine is a letter written at the time in 1842 by members of the Rebecca riots perhaps even Rebecca himself. The first point I would like to make is that the letter was actually written at all, during this time the vast majority of the population were very poorly educated most had no education at all, due to this not many people could read let along write, this tells me that the letter must have been written by a educated man, probably from a wealthy background as they were the only people who could afford an educated.

It is not very likely in my opinion that a normal welsh farmer could have written this letter without help as the majority of them did not have the skills to do this. The letters content is mainly words of intimidation towards as the letter states “to those sworn in as constables in order to catch Becca and her children”. Also included in the letter is a reference to Hengist who was a Saxon king who in this context is used to describe the English. The name is used to tell of the welsh displeasure of a foreign power in this case England ruling over them. It is a shameful thing for us Welshmen to have the sons of Hengist rule over us” This is an excellent quote from the letter as it describes the hatred of the English rule over the welsh, the men writing this letter do not class the landowners as native to the land and class them more as invaders who should have no control over the people. The source is obviously biased towards the Rebecca rioters and therefore not very reliable, although it does give me a good sense of the mood of the rioters.

This source would be useful to both Marxist and liberal viewed historians, but I have chosen the next source to continue from the last one as I believe the differing dates at which they were written will allow them to contrast each other and allow me to see what the views were at the time and now. Source 2 Document 6 in WJEC source booklet, John Davies a history of Wales, 1991, an academic general survey ————————————————- The source written by the modern day historian John Davis discusses the view that the “hatred of tollgates was the spark which ignited the protests”.

This quote is in my opinion an accurate assumption of the overall protests, the vast majority of welsh people at this time were extremely poor and held farming as their full time occupation, in most cases farming was a families only source of income. English landowners and business men had increasingly taken advantage of the welsh people mainly through taxation and as quoted by John Davis the increase on the toll gate tax was the last straw, people wanted change as the taxation was crippling their life style as they had less money to improve or sustain their living conditions.

The increase on the toll gates hit farmers hard financially as they need to use the roads to transport their goods to market and if they didn’t get to market no produce would be sold and no money brought in. The source seems to have no overall opinion of the riots, it has neither a liberal or Marxist view to it, and this is good as the source is unbiased. The reliability of this source is excellent as the writer is a professional modern day historian who would have researched the topic and looked at many sources to come to his view and what content he included.

I have noticed a link between this source (source 2) and the previous one (source 1). Both sources argue about the increasing frustration and Source3 Document 3 in WJEC source booklet, the evidence of Mary Thomas, a tenant farmers wife, to the commission of enquiry, 1844. ————————————————- The next source was evidence given by a Welsh farmer’s wife to the commission of inquiry in 1844. In extract the woman tells of her families hardship due to the large tithes she and many others like her have to pay.

The woman states figures and prices and proves them with receipts showing the rate of increase in tithes, she tells the enquiry that eleven years ago her family paid ? 2. 50 and now they pay ? 8. 82 gives receipts as evidence. This alone tells me why these people were drove to violent means in the hope of reforming the taxation system that was being impressed on them and that had been for so many years. I believe this source to be very useful as it is of the time, and reliable as it is evidence in a government enquiry where everything said would have been professional and the truth.

Although the source is likely to be biased in favour of the rioters views as this woman has suffered due to the taxation, she may have also been told what to say by other members on the side of the rioters in a bid to gain sympathy but also show the inquiry that the taxation was effecting modest families badly, the woman even goes as far as to say her husband does not drink beer and yet their family is still struggling to survive.

The tone of her voice is heard at the end of the source “I am very sorry to trouble you” this is showing me that the woman was not enraged with anger but simply asking for help as her family are struggling and this is the impression that the people campaigning for change wanted to portray, they were not brutal thugs that went about burning toll gates but just simple average people asking for help. I have noticed a link between this source (source 3) and the previous one (source2).

Both sources argue about the increasing frustration held by the people as tax rates increased and as more tax’s were imposed on them, Source 3 is good evidence of this and backs up the views held in source 2 written by modern day historian John Davis. Another point I would like to make is that the historian john Davis may have well used source 3 in his research that allowed him to come to his conclusion stated in source 2 as it is very good evidence of why people at the time turned to rioting.

Also I believe the words and opinions of source 3 are echoed in the writings of source 2 which again backs up the idea of John Davis using source 2 in his research. The previous sources now lead into the next source that again backs up the view Rebecca was a success but also again links in with the previous sources, arguing that the riots were caused due to increasingly higher taxes that upset the traditional way of life for the Welsh people. Source 4

Document 9 WJEC source booklet, Graham Longster, 1987, a school history textbook. “Rebecca had been a protest against those hardships that seemed to have interfered with the traditional order of life in West Wales. It was a reaction against what was regarded as injustice and following the traditional custom of Ceffyl pren” ————————————————- Ceffyl pren is referred to in this source; this was the traditional way of solving problems in Wales back when there was no police force.

If the welsh people had a problem more often than not there was no one they could turn to, so the Welsh took matters into their own hands and held pretend trails aimed to embarrass and humiliate who ever was doing them wrong. The source describes the Rebecca riots as a fight against foreign ideas and even people who have interfered with the “traditional order of life in West Wales”. The view I get from reading this source is that Rebecca was the only way the welsh people could resolve the problem of the toll gates, They’re believe was the rich would help each other and would ignore any attempt to get reform through legal means.

An important point I have noticed is that the Rebecca’s had stayed mostly peaceful during these protests reflecting the times of Ceffyl pren where the dealings were designed to disrepute and humiliate rather than kill, whether the leaders knew if they turned violent they would fail in their attempt for reform or it was just in their mentality is a another question but I believe that the leader of the Rebecca riots was an educated man who knew how to gain support and ultimately achieve their goal. ———————————————— This source is written by a well know historian Graham Longster in 1987 this tells me that the source is very reliable as he would have studied many sources and views before finalizing his view, Although the source in my opinion would be biased as he had written this when Margret Thatcher was in power imposing tough reforms for the UK and Wales in particular, this could cause some small resentment towards the government and upper classes.

Graham Longster is a socialist viewed historian which is reflected in much of his work but in this segment his socialist view is not reflected, the reason for this is that it is out of context. From this source I have gained a good understanding of why the rioters took the methods they did in seeking their goal, They did what had been done for centuries, taking their problems into their own hands as no one else would help.

There was a reason the rioters took matters into their own hands, this is because it had been proved that it worked in the years prior to the riots and therefore in their minds would work again, It was their tradition, for the majority of people it was the only way they knew to solve their problems, most people did not understand politics and resorted to methods that they understood and had been used successfully before. Source 5 A drawing of the Rebecca riots as depicted in the Paris magazine L’illustration 1843

Unlike the image depicted in source 2 this is not a cartoon, but an accurate drawing designed to replicate the feel and look of the Rebecca riots to the reader of the magazine, but what is important about this source is the fact it is taken from a French magazine at the time which instantly gives the impression of success. The riots had become international news and this could only have been the case if the riots were becoming more and more of a disruption to the government and even to daily life.

The image depicts a strong sense of violence, for example there are many men with weapons engaging in conflict with what appear to business men or landowner, these examples in my opinion are making the rioters out to be barbaric like criminals where as the riots were largely peaceful. Another aspect I have spotted is the portrayal of Rebecca himself, he is depicted as a Napoleon like figure as he sits on his white horse inspiring his men, waving his sword. Another point to this drawing is it seems to display a woman laying on the ground who I believe to be a symbol of liberty, thus telling the eader that liberty is at threat of has been slain, What I cannot tell from the picture is whether or not the rioters are trying to save or avenge liberty or it is the other way round and liberty is at threat due to the riots. The source in my opinion is very useful as it is of the time and gives a different view of the riots from another country, but I would argue that the source is very pro revolution and therefore is biased against the upper classes and the illustrator might have over exaggerated some points like the violence.

I believe that this source would be very useful to historian R T Jenkins as he describes the riots as “Becca was a commotion” which links in with this picture, the chaos of the picture backs up his statement, the use of this picture would be good evidence that would back up his statement. Source 5 is a hard one to place in respects of success of failure as it depicts some bad features of the riots next to successful ideas and views, the same can be said about source 6.

For example the depiction of liberty in source 5 is outlined with a violent background consisting of armed men fighting thus showing the good and bad methods and views of the riots. Source 5 and 6 are closely linked as the fact that the riots became national and international news hits success but the violence featured on the images could be viewed and subsequently used as evidence for the riots becoming viewed as a failure. Source 6 A cartoon from the magazine Punch in 1843 ————————————————- The next source I have chosen to analyse pictured above, is a cartoon representation of the Rebecca rioters.

The cartoon was first published in 1843 by the popular magazine punch. This immediately gives me the impression that the Rebecca movement was now rising from a disorganised rabble that had little effect, to an organised group who were being more noticed and talked about. This single cartoon is evidence that the Rebecca movement was becoming national news and this would only have happened if the riots were causing considerable disruption to the toll gate companies. As a result the Rebecca movement were growing in strength of numbers and popularity among the welsh people.

The cartoon features many underling issues such as tax’s and laws, but the picture also displays the prominent feature of the cause of the riots, this being the toll gates, the impression I get from deciphering this picture is that the people have been growing angry due to increasing laws and tax’s pilling up and the increase in tax on the toll gates was the last straw. As depicted on the cartoon the people are expressing their anger for all the issues that have built up over the years and are hoping to use the riots to abolish them.

The creator of the cartoon has been very clever in adding details that are not very obvious, one of these being the faces one the gate supports. The faces are representing the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the home secretary. The message that the cartoonist is trying to portraying with these faces on the gate polls is that they are the men who are supporting all of these taxes especially the toll gate tax, they are the driving force behind them, and without them supporting the taxes and laws their belief is that the system would fall apart.

This source is very biased towards the opposition to the Rebecca riots; it was printed at the time in England to portray the riots as barbaric and ghastly, the cartoon is trying to expel any sympathy for the rioters. Reliability is an issue as it is biased but it does give me a good insight of what people thought of the riots in 1843 as it was published at this time.

Now the last two sources have hinted both the view Rebecca was a success and a failure, but the next source has a very negative view of the Rebecca riots which is unusual as the same historian John Davis had hinted towards the riots being a success in source 2. I believe this is due to the sources being taken out of context and also John Davis portraying both sides of the argument in order to get an accurate opinion of the riots. Source 7 John Davis, A History of Wales, 1991, an academic general survey. It is sometimes claimed that the Rebecca riots was a rural version of Chartism, There is some substance to the claim. Bitterness cause by the poor law amendment was a significant factor in both” “yet as R T Jenkins argued “Chartism was a truly political movement inspired by theory, Chartism was a plan, Becca was a commotion” John Davis discusses the similarities between the Rebecca riots and Chartism but in my opinion does tell some good points. The two were caused largely due to upset involving the poor laws and the fact nothing was being done, no one would stand up and help these people.

But after this he compares his theory with that of another historian R T Jenkins, Who describes the Rebecca riots as a commotion and Chartism as a political movement with a plan. I n my opinion this couldn’t be any further away from the truth as Chartism was a complete mess, There was the charter that included six points yes, but the way in which Chartism was run and organised is more like a commotion, for example there was no one true leader rather a number of leaders who fought, squabbled and would not work together.

Now on the other hand Rebecca was organised with a true leader/figure head, someone that the rioters could connect with and admire. Sure the methods may have looked or even been a commotion, Burning gates, dressing up as women etc but these methods worked, the dressing up not only caused a mythical theme to the rioters but also kept the identities of the rioters a secret, saving many lives. The source is reliable as it was written by an academic historian who would have studied numerous sources, but the source does come across as very biased to the view that the Riots were a failure.

I have found the next source very useful as it was written by Fredrich Engles who was the co-author of the communist manifesto, therefore given me a insight into how Marxists viewed the riots at the time instead of how they view the riots today, and I think it would be interesting to see if the same view was carried by Marxists both today and at the time. Source 8 “ In 1843 disturbances broke out amongst the welsh peasantry, The men dressed in woman’s clothing fell in armed crowds upon the toll gates, destroyed them amongst great rejoice and firing of guns, wrote threatening letters and once so far as to storm the work house of Carmarthen.

The poverty of the peasantry continues and will one day produce more serious manifestations than these humorous Rebecca masquerades” Fredrich Engles, condition of the working class in England 1845 An important factor of this source is who it was written by. Fredrich Engles was a co-author of the communist manifesto alongside Karl Marx in 1848, although the source was written before he co-authored the communist manifesto he still would have held a Marxist view and subsequently thought the only way to get reform was trough total political revolution.

The tone of his writing suggests that he is looking down on the rioters; the way in which he describes the events “The men dressed in women’s clothing fell in armed crowds upon the toll gates” almost brings a snigger to my mouth. It is like he is picturing a ramble of children instead of a group of grown men. Another point he makes is that the riots didn’t change anything in his mind; he goes on to tell of the continuing poverty of the peasants but does not mention the success they had with reforming the toll gate tax which was their goal from the start.

He believes that one day a more serious organisation or cause will pick up what the Rebecca riots sparked, total revolution due to poverty, and he was right looking at Russian during the early 20th century. The last point I would like to make is his use of the word “humorous” he has no respect for the rioters in my opinion and does not acknowledge their problems and the way in which they solved them as a beginning to what he so desperately craves, revolution, the abolishment of upper-class rule.

I believe this source to been of great use to an historian and me in answering the question stated at the begging of the essay. I find it useful to see what people who held Marxists views thought of the riots at the time and now in modern day, and if they saw them as a success or failure. In conclusion, after deciphering these numerous sources, it is my opinion that the Rebecca riots as a whole were a complete success as they achieved the goal they set out for. This goal, a modest one at that, was the reform of the toll gate tax.

After the riots had come to an end due to the famers of West Wales turning from violent to more peaceful forms of protests and strong punishments meted out by the authorities the government at the time 1843 issued a full commission of enquiry to tackle the grievances put forward by the Welsh people. The enquiry quickly found many grievances that were unjust and need to be tackled, such as the miss management of funds by the turn pike trust. The enquiry came to its results in 1844 and issued a number of recommendations to the government which included the introduction of equal tolls.

In august 1844 the government accepted these recommendations and past them as laws. As a result the roads in south Wales were some of the best in Britain. The question stated at the start of the essay included the statement Rebecca succeeded because it solved many of the under lying grievances which it did, but the opposition to this view argue that Rebecca didn’t go far enough, living conditions and poverty went unchanged and the way in which the government or authorities were run went unchanged.

I believe that this “Rebecca didn’t go far enough” is totally wrong as Rebecca only achieved its goal due to the fact it didn’t ask too much, too soon. If this was the case then I believe that Rebecca would have failed as Chartism did, Chartism wanted quick, extensive change and this was too much, although Chartism was asking for the morally correct system that we use today, They wanted it all at once, which I believe is the main reason Chartism failed. Rebecca was successful as they were well organised and wanted effective change that was gradual.

All the historians that I have researched and quoted during the answering of the first question have all made compelling arguments and put forward good idea’s, backed up with evidence but the historian I agree with the most and have researched to come to my final conclusion is John Davis, he argues in source two that “hatred of tollgates was the spark which ignited the protests”. I link this statement to Chartism as well as the Rebecca riots, the sense I get from it is all these large protests were born out of a common hatred held by many, towards a common goal.

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