Picture of author.

George Rudé (1910–1993)

Author of Revolutionary Europe, 1783-1815

26 Works 1,455 Members 9 Reviews

About the Author

George Rude was Emeritus Professor of History at Concordia University, Montreal.

Works by George Rudé

Revolutionary Europe, 1783-1815 (1964) 317 copies, 2 reviews
Captain Swing (1968) 249 copies, 1 review
The Crowd in the French Revolution (1967) 169 copies, 2 reviews
The Crowd In History (1964) 142 copies, 1 review
Hanoverian London (1971) 52 copies
Wilkes and Liberty (1962) 48 copies
Robespierre: Portrait of a Revolutionary Democrat (1967) — Editor — 33 copies
Robespierre (1967) — Editor — 25 copies, 2 reviews
The eighteenth century (1965) 24 copies


Common Knowledge



"The Duke of Wellington later boasted of having hunted down Hampshire rioters like game or cattle:

I induced the magistrates to put themselves on horseback, each at the head of his own servants and retainers, grooms, huntsmen, game keepers, armed with horsewhips, pistols, fowling pieces and what they could get and to attack, in concert, if necessary, or singly, those mobs, disperse them, and take and put in confinement those who could not escape. This was done in a spirited manner, in many instances, and it is astonishing how soon the country was tranquillised, and that in the best way, by the activity and spirit of gentlemen"

Lord Melbourne said:

"[Threshing] machines are as much entitled to the Protection of the Law as any other Description of Property and... the course which has been taken of prescribing or recommending the Discontinuance of them is, in fact, to connive at, or rather to assist in the Establishment of a Tyranny of the most oppressive Character"

paints a really clear and depressing picture of the sufferings of the agricultural labourer by 1830 through a combination of higher prices, enclosed common land, a drive to rationalise and economise on the part of the farmers, the stripping of customary rights, the moving of wages onto a weekly, daily or even hourly payment.

talks about how many of the rebels still believed in higher authority and thought that the king and parliament might be on their side against their problems and local gentry. their demands were generally for restoration of rights and never went as radical as demands for land. they also made use of traditional rituals and were often part revel, including requests for the rich to give money which was twisted into "extortion" by prosecutors.

it's funny also how there was a desperate search for agitators to explain the revolt rather than looking at the actual awful conditions experienced which made people rise up independently

the poor law which subsidised wages is shown as contributing by making employers pay next to nothing and forcing labourers into only having whatever subsistence wages the gentry thought best, which was usually tiny.

Probably the big thing about this book is it's very focused on using statistics and describing specific incidents - it's not a "narrative" history. It's divided into
- a section describing the economic and social conditions of labourers in the years leading up to 1830 along with a potted history
- a section that describes the spread of the riots in each region and each incident that happened on what date
- an analysis of what factors correlated with riots, what social classes were on which side, who was responsible for things like arsons, machine breakings and the threatening Swing letters
- a section detailing what sort of repression was involved, the punishments meted out, what happened to those transported to Australia, and what the aftermath was

One of the interesting things is how often farmers stood tentatively on the side of the farm labourers, trying to turn their demands into attacks on rents/taxes/tithes, sometimes directly supporting attacks on the clergy in their homes. It's also mentioned that many farmers were happy for the general smashing of machines - threshing machines were expensive with a small increase in profitability and made the poor rates more expensive for everyone because of the reduction in labour yet it was hard to stop their use because 1 single farmer might gain an advantage from it, so stopping any voluntary agreement. It's very Marx-like. The generalised smashing of the machines provided a neat solution.

There is a LOT of data given and attempted analysis of it, although the analysis feels pretty limited? They admit in the introduction that they couldn't do as much as they wanted, if only for manpower reasons because there's so much to sift through for even parts of counties, and it was written in 1969 so obviously there was far less access to data analysis tools etc. It'd be very interesting to read something that also was aimed at an audience like this one that took the data much further. The data is definitely interesting, just harder to make something of when there's so much of it and not necessarily always in the most useful form.

Still, there's enough narrative to make sense of it all - there's no attempt to like "liven it up" but the details of the specific events mentioned are often really interesting and fascinating and give it depth/character because these are often named people with some details about their lives. Reading details of people from Kintbury confronting the local grandees is inspiring - one of the leaders says

You and the gentleman have been living upon all the good things for the last ten years. We have suffered enough, and now is our time, and we will now have it. You only speak to us now because you are afraid and intimidated

The section on Australia provides some interesting detail about how the transportation system worked, although it's a bit too heavy on just dates and numbers for me. The conclusion is interesting - suggesting that the rebellions pushed forward the reform act through the fear by the ruling classes that a link up between the countryside and towns could cause a revolution. The labourers were also very effective at stopping the use of machines, destroying more than the Luddies and stopping their use for decades. They conclude that the rioters were far more powerful than most have given them credit for, just hamstrung by their own inhibitions and lack of better organisation. They make a convincing argument for looking again at the countryside in history as a source of discontent and rebellious activity when it has too often been ignored for just the towns - with history drawing a complete veil over country life for the average person.

One thing I'll complain about - they say that some people have seen it as accelerating "the decline of their class into that slow moving, ox like, passive and demoralized mass, a sort of native southern Negro community, which was all that so many of their Victorian superiors saw in the English villages". Even though it's partially describing other people's views, it still talks about race in what is to me a pretty crappy way and it glosses over the long history of slave revolts in the USA, which is crappy/racist and also a shame in a book looking at another group of people often presented as passive.

Still, overall it's a great book about an interesting and little-talked about topic that deserves more attention. Apologies for any incoherence
… (more)
tombomp | Oct 31, 2023 |
I was frustrated at first since this is as much analysis as history and I wanted straighter history. Rude tends to assume the reader’s already familiar with the general history of the revolution. But I warmed to it - the French Revolution’s confusing enough; without general European social and economic context prior, and assessment of its various and widespread impacts during and after, a straight narrative of facts primarily within France from 1789 to 1815 would probably leave a reader pretty unenlightened (bad pun – couldn’t help it). So this is a good analysis; now I have to find a more substantial history.… (more)
garbagedump | 1 other review | Dec 9, 2022 |
Some historians write books for the general public, others only for fellow historians. This book clearly falls in the latter category. The author assumes that his readers are so well acquainted with both French and English 18th and early 19th century history that he skips the background context entirely and just goes back and forth between various riots, picking up supposedly interesting details here and there. He records in what order riots spread from one city to another, how the price of bread developed, what was written and said about the riot at the time, and who the leading characters were.

I don't know how much value other specialists find in this bundle of details, but for a non-specialist they are just tedious. The only thing you really learn is that riots could easily erupt from food shortage and structural unemployment. Crowds were more motivated by these immediate concerns than by abstract ideas or general resistance against the prevailing political system. But you more or less have to draw these conclusions on your own because the author shows very little interest in spelling them out. Even in the final chapters, which bear some resemblance to a summary, you really have to look closely to find a few generalizing statements among all the minute details that he lists.

From the perspective of a layman this book would have been much more informative if the author could have focused his study on just four or five different riots and presented their political, economic and social background clearly. Other examples could have been brought in for comparative and generalizing purposes. But instead of taking that course, the author discusses about thirty or forty different riotous events and skips between them so restlessly that it becomes very difficult to understand anything about their historical context. He could still have saved this fragmented presentation if he had possessed a keen eye for comparison, but his talents seem to lie only in collecting details. He leaves it for the reader to study the background context - or just assumes that they are experts like himself.
… (more)
thcson | Jun 2, 2019 |
A bit flat. Too short to cover such a big canvas adequately. Whole countries just appear like chess-pieces. the reader loses the sense of perspective and motive: "Russia did this Prussia did that". Despite Rudé's interest in the crowd and the underdog, they get little look-in.Scurr's book on Robespierre gives a much better picture of the effects of the mob and of the ideals that ran through the Revolution. Schama too, in a longer work, gives the atmosphere and the ideology due weight.
vguy | 1 other review | Jun 26, 2015 |


You May Also Like

Associated Authors

Harvey J. Kaye Contributor


½ 3.6

Charts & Graphs