Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

The Green Bag Rebellion: Guisborough’s 1820 Guy Fawkes Night

This morning’s images of politicians’ effigies being paraded and set ablaze in Lewes reminded me of a tale from 1820 in Guisborough. After Guy Fawkes’s infamous plot in 1605, the King and his government had started a public day of thanks by an Act of Parliament (which wasn’t repealed until 1859) and was taken up eagerly by anti-Catholic Puritans. On Guy Fawkes Night in 1820, Guisborough became a hotspot for a radical protest backing Queen Caroline.

Just like in 2023, in 1820, Guy Fawkes Night fell on a Sunday, but then all the festivities got pushed back to the Monday. Folks were told that they’d be an enormous bonfire in the Market Place in the evening and a Green Bag would be ‘filled with rubbish and combustibles,’ and tossed into the flames. This was their way of expressing their disgust with the Green Bag system of ministerial notoriety. They did it in style, with a large fire, people parading the streets, a Green Bag with “Perjury and Conspiracy” on one side and “Pains and Penalties” on the other, carried on a long pole by a veteran of Waterloo. There was a band playing martial tunes, and the folks cheered when they set that bag ablaze to the tune of “Rule Britannia.

On the surface, it was a protest in support of Queen Caroline, the Royal Consort. But beneath it all, it was a boiling pot of grievances against the King and his Tory Government. Back then, green bags were used to transport government papers to the Lords, so it had quite a significance.

The year before, in 1819, there had been the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, followed by the notorious Six Acts, strict laws limiting free speech and the right to assemble for peaceful protests. A year of unrest in London and the North of England followed. Then, in January 1820, George IV took the throne and quickly asked for a divorce from Queen Caroline, who had been living on the Continent for 14 years. She was a popular queen, though. By July, parliamentary business was halted as the Lords discussed a “Bill of Pains and Penalties” accusing the Queen of adultery. MPs crowded into the galleries, hoping for some juicy gossip. Meanwhile, the public outside Parliament showed their support for Queen Caroline and their disdain for the government.

So the good folks of Guisborough decided to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night with a unique display of loyalty to the Queen. The “Bill of Pains and Penalties” was dropped on November 9 by the Government, but not before various other spontaneous demonstrations had erupted throughout the country. Guisborough was the first, though.

News of the Bill’s withdrawal, effectively clearing the Queen, reached Guisborough on the following Sunday. On Monday, they posted notices for a collection to buy a service of plate for the Queen. On Wednesday, there would be a “general illumination,” where those supporting the Queen would light up their windows with as many lamps and candles as they could afford. Lord Gisborough lit up his place, Gisborough Hall and Lord Dundas did the same at Marske Hall. They paraded a Tory newspaper and another green bag through the town, blowing it to bits with a bunch of firearms. A “large party of gentlemen” toasted the Queen’s health at a dinner at the Cock Inn. Quite the jubilant show of support for the Queen, I’d say.


Chase, MS (2015) Caroline fever, Robert Chaloner and the North Riding Whigs. Northern History: a review of the history of the north of England and the borders, 52 (1). 85 – 100 (16). ISSN 0078-172X [Available online at https://doi.org/10.1179/0078172X14Z.00000000079]






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