St. George's Field Riot

St. George's Field Riot

In June 1762 the MP, John Wilkes, established The North Briton, a newspaper that severely attacked George III. After one article that appeared on 23rd April 1763, the king and his ministers decided to prosecute Wilkes for seditious libel. He was arrested but at a court hearing the Lord Chief Justice ruled that as an MP, Wilkes was protected by privilege from arrest on a charge of libel. His discharge was greeted with great popular acclaim and Wilkes left the court as a champion of liberty.

In November, the House of Commons voted that a member's privilege from arrest did not extend to the writing and publishing of seditious libels. Before Wilkes could be detained by the authorities, a group of his friends arranged for him to be taken to Paris.

John Wilkes returned to England in 1768 and stood as Radical candidate for Middlesex. After being elected Wilkes was arrested and taken to King's Bench Prison. For the next fortnight a large crowd assembled at St. George's Field, a large open space by the prison. On 10th May, 1768 a crowd of around 15,000 arrived outside the prison. The crowd chanted 'Wilkes and Liberty', 'No Liberty, No King', and 'Damn the King! Damn the Government! Damn the Justices!'. Fearing that the crowd would attempt to rescue Wilkes, the troops opened fire killing seven people. Anger at the behaviour of the military led to disturbances all over London.

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