Cato Street Conspiracy
The Cato Street Conspiracy was an attempt to murder all the British cabinet ministers and Prime Minister Lord Liverpool
Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool
Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool KG PC was a British politician and the longest-serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since the Union with Ireland in 1801. He was 42 years old when he became premier in 1812 which made him younger than all of his successors to date...

 in 1820. The name comes from the meeting place near Edgware Road in London. The Cato Street Conspiracy is notable due to dissenting public opinions regarding the punishment of the conspirators. While some supported the high-ended attempts to ensure that the Spencean Philanthropists were found guilty, others remained conflicted due to the demand of parliamentary reform.


The conspirators were called the Spencean Philanthropists, a group taking their name from the British radical speaker Thomas Spence
Thomas Spence
Thomas Spence was an English Radical and advocate of the common ownership of land.-Life:Spence was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England and was the son of a Scottish net and shoe maker....

. The group was known for being a revolutionary organization, involved in minor unrest and propaganda.

Some of them, particularly Arthur Thistlewood
Arthur Thistlewood
Arthur Thistlewood was a British conspirator in the Cato Street Conspiracy.-Early life:He was born in Tupholme the extramarital son of a farmer and stockbreeder. He attended Horncastle Grammar School and was trained as a land surveyor. Unsatisfied with his job, he obtained a commission in the army...

, had been involved with the Spa Fields riots
Spa Fields riots
The Spa Fields Riots were mass meetings that took place at Spa Fields, Islington, England on 15 November, 2 and 9 December 1816 between revolutionary Spenceans against the British government. The Spenceans had planned to encourage rioting at this meeting and then seize control of the British...

 in 1816. Thistlewood came to dominate the group with George Edwards as his second in command. Most of the members were angered by the Six Acts
Six Acts
In the United Kingdom, following the Peterloo Massacre of August 16, 1819, the British government acted to prevent any future disturbances by the introduction of new legislation, the so-called Six Acts which labelled any meeting for radical reform as "an overt act of treasonable conspiracy"...

 and the Peterloo Massacre
Peterloo Massacre
The Peterloo Massacre occurred at St Peter's Field, Manchester, England, on 16 August 1819, when cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 that had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation....

, as well as with the economic and political depression of the time. They planned to assassinate a number of cabinet ministers, overthrow the government and establish a "Committee of Public Safety
Committee of Public Safety
The Committee of Public Safety , created in April 1793 by the National Convention and then restructured in July 1793, formed the de facto executive government in France during the Reign of Terror , a stage of the French Revolution...

" to oversee a radical revolution, similar to the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

. According to the prosecution at their trial, they had intended to form a provisional government headquartered in the Mansion House
Mansion House, London
Mansion House is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of the City of London in London, England. It is used for some of the City of London's official functions, including an annual dinner, hosted by the Lord Mayor, at which the Chancellor of the Exchequer customarily gives a speech – his...


The Governmental crisis

The introduction of industrialization in the early 1800s created heavy social unrest, disrupting the peaceful agricultural society that the British were accustomed to. This evolution from rural to urban and the complications that arose from it - such as inflation
In economics, inflation is a rise in the general level of prices of goods and services in an economy over a period of time.When the general price level rises, each unit of currency buys fewer goods and services. Consequently, inflation also reflects an erosion in the purchasing power of money – a...

 and shifts in employment needs - created an environment conducive to radicals such as the Cato Street conspirators. The culmination of the Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

 in 1815 further disturbed the delicate situation by returning job-seeking soldiers to the homeland. Then, King George III
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

's death on January 29, 1820 created a new governmental crisis. In a meeting held February 22, one of the Spenceans, George Edwards, suggested that the group could exploit the political situation and kill all the cabinet ministers. They planned to invade a cabinet dinner at the home of Lord Harrowby
Dudley Ryder, 1st Earl of Harrowby
Dudley Ryder, 1st Earl of Harrowby, PC, FSA was a prominent British politician of the Pittite faction and the Tory party.-Background and education:...

, Lord President of the Council
Lord President of the Council
The Lord President of the Council is the fourth of the Great Officers of State of the United Kingdom, ranking beneath the Lord High Treasurer and above the Lord Privy Seal. The Lord President usually attends each meeting of the Privy Council, presenting business for the monarch's approval...

, armed with pistols and grenades. Thistlewood thought the act would create a massive uprising against the government. James Ings, a coffee shop keeper and former butcher, later announced that he would have decapitated all the cabinet members and taken two heads to exhibit on the Westminster Bridge
Westminster Bridge
Westminster Bridge is a road and foot traffic bridge over the River Thames between Westminster on the north side and Lambeth on the south side, in London, England....

. Thistlewood spent the next hours trying to recruit more men for the attack. Twenty-seven men joined the effort.


When Jamaican-born William Davidson
William Davidson (conspirator)
William Davidson was an African-Caribbean radical executed by the British government-Early years:Davidson was the illegitimate son of the Jamaican Attorney General and a local black woman. At age fourteen he travelled to Glasgow to study law. In Scotland he became involved in the movement for...

, who had worked for Lord Harrowby, went to find more details about the cabinet dinner, a servant in Lord Harrowby's house told him that his master was not home. When Davidson told this to Thistlewood, he refused to believe it and demanded that the operation commence at once. John Harrison rented a small house in Cato Street as the base of operations. However, George Edwards was working for the Home Office
Home Office
The Home Office is the United Kingdom government department responsible for immigration control, security, and order. As such it is responsible for the police, UK Border Agency, and the Security Service . It is also in charge of government policy on security-related issues such as drugs,...

 and had become an agent provocateur
Agent provocateur
Traditionally, an agent provocateur is a person employed by the police or other entity to act undercover to entice or provoke another person to commit an illegal act...

; in fact, some of the other members had suspected him but Thistlewood had made him his aide-de-camp
An aide-de-camp is a personal assistant, secretary, or adjutant to a person of high rank, usually a senior military officer or a head of state...

. Edwards had presented the idea with the full knowledge of the Home Office, who had also put the advertisement about the supposed dinner in The New Times. When he reported that his would-be-comrades would be ready to follow his suggestion, the Home Office decided to act.


On February 23, Richard Bimie, Bow Street
Bow Street Magistrates' Court
Bow Street Magistrates' Court was the most famous magistrates' court in England for much of its existence, and was located in various buildings on Bow Street in central London close to Covent Garden throughout its history.-History:...

 magistrate, and George Ruthven, another police spy, went to wait at a public house
Public house
A public house, informally known as a pub, is a drinking establishment fundamental to the culture of Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. There are approximately 53,500 public houses in the United Kingdom. This number has been declining every year, so that nearly half of the smaller...

 on the other side of the street of the Cato Street building with 12 officers of the Bow Street Runners
Bow Street Runners
The Bow Street Runners have been called London's first professional police force. The force was founded in 1749 by the author Henry Fielding and originally numbered just six. Bow Street runners was the public's nickname for these officers, "although the officers never referred to themselves as...

. Bimie and Ruthven waited for the afternoon because they had been promised reinforcements from the Coldstream Guards
Coldstream Guards
Her Majesty's Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards, also known officially as the Coldstream Guards , is a regiment of the British Army, part of the Guards Division or Household Division....

, under the command of Lieutenant FitzClarence
Lord Frederick FitzClarence
Lt.-Gen. Lord Frederick FitzClarence, GCH was an illegitimate son of King William IV and his mistress, Dorothea Jordan...

, the late king's grandson. Thistlewood's group arrived during that time. At 7:30 pm, the Bow Street Runners decided to apprehend the conspirators themselves. In the resulting brawl, Thistlewood killed a police officer, Richard Smithers, with a sword. Some conspirators surrendered peacefully, while others resisted forcefully. William Davidson failed to fight his way out. Thistlewood, Robert Adams, John Brunt and John Harrison slipped out the back window but they were arrested a few days later.


"1. Conspiring to devise plans to subvert the Constitution. 2. Conspiring to levy war, and subvert the Constitution. 3. Conspiring to murder divers of the Privy Council. 4. Providing arms to murder divers of the Privy Council. 5. Providing arms and ammunition to levy war and subvert the Constitution. 6. Conspiring to seize cannon, arms and ammunition to arm themselves, and to levy war and subvert the Constitution. 7. Conspiring to burn houses and barracks, and to provide combustibles for that purpose. 8. Preparing addresses, &c. containing incitements to the King's subjects to assist in levying war and subverting the Constitution. 9. Preparing an address to the King's subjects, containing therein that their tyrants were destroyed, &c., to incite them to assist in levying war, and in subverting the Constitution. 10. Assembling themselves with arms, with intent to murder divers of the Privy Council, and to levy war, and subvert the Constitution. 11. Levying war."


During the trial, the defence argued that the statement of Edwards, a government spy, was unreliable and he was therefore never called to testify. Police persuaded two of the men, Robert Adams and John Monument, to testify against other conspirators in exchange for dropped charges. Most of the accused were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered
Hanged, drawn and quartered
To be hanged, drawn and quartered was from 1351 a penalty in England for men convicted of high treason, although the ritual was first recorded during the reigns of King Henry III and his successor, Edward I...

 for high treason
High treason
High treason is criminal disloyalty to one's government. Participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state are perhaps...

 on April 28. All sentences were later commuted, at least in respect of this medieval form of execution, to hanging and beheading. The hangman was John Foxton
John Foxton
John Foxton was an English hangman of the early 19th century, a position he held for forty years....

 who was assisted by Thomas Cheshire in this high profile execution and an unnamed person who actually cut off the conspirators' heads.
John Brunt, William Davidson, James Ings, Arthur Thistlewood and Richard Tidd were hanged
Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain...

 at Newgate Prison
Newgate Prison
Newgate Prison was a prison in London, at the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey just inside the City of London. It was originally located at the site of a gate in the Roman London Wall. The gate/prison was rebuilt in the 12th century, and demolished in 1777...

 on May 1, 1820; the death sentences of Charles Cooper, Richard Bradburn, John Harrison, James Wilson and John Strange were commuted to transportation
Penal transportation
Transportation or penal transportation is the deporting of convicted criminals to a penal colony. Examples include transportation by France to Devil's Island and by the UK to its colonies in the Americas, from the 1610s through the American Revolution in the 1770s, and then to Australia between...

 for life.


The British government used the incident to justify the Six Acts
Six Acts
In the United Kingdom, following the Peterloo Massacre of August 16, 1819, the British government acted to prevent any future disturbances by the introduction of new legislation, the so-called Six Acts which labelled any meeting for radical reform as "an overt act of treasonable conspiracy"...

 that had been passed two months prior. However, in the House of Commons, Matthew Wood
Sir Matthew Wood, 1st Baronet
Sir Matthew Wood, 1st Baronet was a British Whig politician.-Life:Matthew Wood was the son of William Wood, a serge maker from Exeter and Tiverton, and his wife Catherine Cluse . He was educated briefly at Blundell's School, before being obliged to help his ailing father...

 MP accused the government of purposeful entrapment of the conspirators to smear the campaign for parliamentary reform. The otherwise pro-government newspaper The Observer
The Observer
The Observer is a British newspaper, published on Sundays. In the same place on the political spectrum as its daily sister paper The Guardian, which acquired it in 1993, it takes a liberal or social democratic line on most issues. It is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper.-Origins:The first issue,...

ignored the order of the Lord Chief Justice
Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales
The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales is the head of the judiciary and President of the Courts of England and Wales. Historically, he was the second-highest judge of the Courts of England and Wales, after the Lord Chancellor, but that changed as a result of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005,...

 Sir Charles Abbott
Charles Abbott, 1st Baron Tenterden
Charles Abbott, 1st Baron Tenterden PC SL , was a British barrister and judge who served as Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench between 1818 and 1832. Born in obscure circumstances to a barber and his wife in Canterbury, Abbott was educated initially at a dame school before moving to The King's...

 not to report the trial before the sentencing.

The conspiracy is the subject of many books, as well as one play, Cato Street
Cato Street
Cato Street is a play by the British actor and writer Robert Shaw. The play's subject matter is the Cato Street Conspiracy of 1820. The play was first produced in London in November 1971, at the Young Vic, and the cast included Vanessa Redgrave, James Hazeldine, Bob Hoskins, George Innes,and...

, written by the actor and author Robert Shaw
Robert Shaw (actor)
Robert Archibald Shaw was an English actor and novelist, remembered for his performances in The Sting , From Russia with Love , A Man for All Seasons , the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three , Black Sunday , The Deep and Jaws , where he played the shark hunter Quint.-Early life...

. The conspiracy was also the basis for a 2001 radio drama, Betrayal: The Trial of William Davidson by Tanika Gupta
Tanika Gupta
Tanika Gupta, MBE is a British playwright of Bengali origin. Apart from her work for the theatre, she has also written scripts for television.-Background and education:...

, on BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...



• In the text of the court decision, instead of using the words damn and damned, the text uses d - n and d - d respectively.

• In popular culture, there is a British punk-rock band that takes its name from the Cato Street conspiracy.

External links and other sources

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