Lord Byron and Lording of Ludd: Luddite Literature in 19th Century Texts

Illustration of the Fictitious Leader of the Luddites, General Ludd.

Illustration of the Fictitious Leader of the Luddites, General Ludd.


Luddites and Literature

The Luddites were known as a group of individuals, machine workers, primarily textile workers, that retaliated against the introduction of advanced industrialization as machinery increasingly advanced and dissolved jobs. Otherwise known as a guild or secret society, the Luddites were sworn to secrecy of their uprisings that had political ramifications and influences, using the alias King Ludd to write their proclamations and demands in letters to their government (of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, and Lancashire). As such, a majority of the literature procured from these Luddites was retrieved via government spies whom would listen in on Luddite songs and chants and transcribe what they heard. Thus, many of the poems, songs, and pieces of literature are written by Anon., and only few are given credit to a specific writer that were primarily those that supported the movement. Of such was Lord Byron, the swaggering poet and novelist of the 19th century whom was, in large, a supporter of the Luddites and what they were fighting against.

(King) Nedd Ludd

Per political purposes, the Luddites were in conversation with the high Lords of government to voice their purpose, threats, and demands for jobs. However, due to their institution of secrecy, the Luddites adopted a leader of their society and deemed him (King) Nedd Ludd. Though not a real person, the influence behind King Ludd is found in songs, chants, and the literature of the Luddites and reciprocated by supporters of the movement. Political letters would be signed by King Ludd and the leader would be compared to godly proportions with powers that could control elements, of incredibly influence, and unnaturally mighty. The figure was created in lieu of a figure and to signify the might of the Luddites as a political movement and guild. 

Lord Byron

Lord Byron was an influential poet and novelist of the 19th century, and known for his support of the Luddites. In "Letter from Lord Byron to Lord Holland, Feb. 25 1812," Byron is addressing Lord Holland on the subject of  the frame-work bill meant to pass through parliament that would "drive [the Luddites] into actual rebellion." This would be in comparison to the acts already committed on the machinery that has taken the jobs of the Luddites (though often with an Enoch sledgehammer and rebellious). 

Byron makes the argument for the work of hands versus the work of autonomous machines by stating the latter is "far inferior in quality, hardly marketable at home, and hurried over with a view to exportation." He argues that the work by hands is far better in quality and product than that spit out by the autonomy and power of industry. Furthermore, his argument fights for the purpose of the Luddites in stating that they should be pitied rather than punished: "Condemning, as every one must condemn, the conduct of these wretches, I believe in the existence of grievances which call rather for pity than punishment."

In his letter "Debate on the Frame-Work Bill, In the House of Lords, February 27, 1812," Byron continues to further his argument in support of the guild of Luddites and the retaliating actions of these workers now out of jobs. In part of his letter, he makes the argument against the negative interpretation of mob nature as shown by the Luddites in the destruction of these machines. He states that "[the Lordships on the Frame-Work Bill] call these men a mob, desperate, dangerous, and ignorant; and seem to think that the only way to quiet the 'Bellua multorum capitum' is to lop off a few of its superfluous heads. But reduced to reason by a mixture even a mob may be better of conciliation and firmness, than by additional irritation and redoubled penalties. Are we aware of our obligations to a mob?" He continues on to state, "[the Lordships on the Frame-Work Bill] may call the people a mob; but do not forget that a mob too often speaks the sentiments of the people." Byron is refuting the idea of a mob in negative contexts as desperate and ignorant and displacing these common conceptions by the Lordships of government with an understanding that a mob often speaks on behalf of the people as a whole, or a majority of the working class in the case of the Luddites.

Satire. Rhetoric. Satirical Rhetoric.

The use of satire as a rhetorical device by Byron and the Luddites in song and chant is evidently apparent. Specifically looking at Lord Byron's works, we can use terminology meant to be satirical and prove a purpose for incitement of the reader. Such as the poem he included at the end of his letter to Thomas Moore entitled "Song for the Luddites, 1816," he uses terms that correspond with textile work such as "web that we weave" and "winding-sheet" (9-11). He uses the word dye in line 13 to perform as both a nod to the Luddites themselves but also to infer the blood spilled by King Ludd, the fictitious leader of the Luddites. 

The use of satire and clever humor goes beyond this poem, however, and used by anonymous writers in titles and writing of Luddite poetry. Many of the rhetorical purposes of these poems were intended for the easy remembrance of the words to recite. Intended humor in the title or poems themselves (as Lord Byron also uses) were used as a rhetorical device as well (i.e., by anon. "An Ode to the Framers of the Frame Bill" which eludes to the framing of the poem). Suggestions to the ambitions and capabilities of King Ludd also lend to satirical writing such as the poem "General Ludd's Triumph" by anon.. In this poem, imagery is used for symbolic purposes, such as the General Ludd's "conquering Sword" that eludes to an executioner and the beheading of Luddites (38). Such imagery is commonplace throughout the contents of Luddite literature and influential figures that supported Luddite rebellion.



Byron, Lord. "Debate on the Frame-Work Bill, In the House of Lords (Lord Byron's Speech)," 1812. Retrieved from http://www.luddites200.org.uk/LordByronspeech.html.

Byron, Lord. "Letter from Lord Byron to Lord Holland," 1812. Retrieved from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/9921/9921-h/9921-h.htm#L226.

Anonymous, "Luddite Poetry and Songs." Retrieved from http://www.luddites200.org.uk/documents/Ludditesongs.pdf.