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Electoral battles

English and Welsh election violence, 1832–1910
9th December - 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

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Speaker: Dr. Patrick M. Kuhn, Associate Professor of Politics, Durham University

Victorian elections were notoriously violent, with events ranging from minor assaults to mass riots involving tens of thousands. This lecture will explore the phenomenon of English and Welsh electoral violence, and the weapons employed to both commit and suppress violent acts at elections.

Taking place in an atmosphere of wild celebration, political corruption, and mass unrest, Victorian elections were dangerous for participants and bystanders. Crowds of non-voters used a dizzying variety of weapons; paid thugs or ‘Bludgeon-Men’ harassed voters on behalf of candidates; and the police and military authorities often intervened with deadly results. This lecture will explain the aims of the ‘Causes and consequences of electoral violence’ project, and reveal just how surprisingly commonplace violence in Victorian elections was. Exploring the main causes of electoral violence, it will then look at specific cases of violence and the role that different weapons played in these events – from knives tied to the end of broken broomsticks, to broken gravestone pieces used as missiles, to the rifles, bayonets, and cutlasses employed by the authorities. It will highlight hitherto-undiscovered cases of everyday and not-so-everyday violence, and show how Britain’s transition to mass democracy was not nearly as peaceful as might be supposed.

Attendees will learn what electoral violence was, how diverse it could be in terms of type and intensity, and what its main causes were. They will also discover some of the different weapons which were used and the context in which they were used.


Please register in advance for this lecture. A link to the online presentation will be sent in due course.


This is a free event but we would welcome donations to support our work as guardians of the national collection of arms and armour. The Royal Armouries is a charity and you can boost your donation by using Gift Aid.

Please note: Fees are payable on donations made on Eventbrite. Donations can be made directly to Royal Armouries here.

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