Yorke, Henry Redhead (1772–1813), political writer
by J. G. Alger, rev. Peter Spence

Yorke, Henry Redhead (1772–1813), political writer, seems to have been a native of the West Indies, but was brought up at Little Eaton, near Derby. In 1792, under his paternal name of Redhead, he published a pamphlet against the emancipation of slaves, but speedily changed his views on that subject, and while on a visit to Paris at the end of the same year wrote, but did not publish, a refutation of his pamphlet. In Paris he witnessed the king's appearance before the convention, and was closely connected with the brothers Robert and John Sheares and other members of the British club. He seceded from the club, however, in opposition to an address inviting the convention to liberate Britain from tyranny. This caused him to be denounced as a spy by Robert Rayment, and led to the issue of a warrant for his arrest. Assuming the surname Yorke, he left France and returned to Britain via Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Yorke's radical sympathies, however, had not diminished. Upon his return he joined the London Corresponding Society and published a letter to John Frost entitled These are the Times that Try Men's Souls (1793). He also joined a radical society at Derby, and in 1793 was sent by it to assist the Sheffield branch of the Society for Constitutional Information. On 7 April 1794 he addressed a large outdoor meeting at Sheffield, during which he was alleged to have exclaimed:
You behold before you, young as I am, about twenty-two years of age, a man who has been concerned in three revolutions already, who essentially contributed to serve the revolution in America, who contributed to that in Holland, who materially assisted in that of France, and who will continue to cause revolutions all over the world.
He was arrested, and at the York spring assize of 1795 true bills were found against him for conspiracy, sedition, and libel.

On 23 July 1795 Yorke was tried before Sir Giles Rooke at York for conspiracy, but his co-defendants—Joseph Gale, printer of the Sheffield Register, and Richard Davison, compositor—had absconded. Yorke, while continuing to advocate parliamentary reform, repudiated the boastful words imputed to him, and declared himself opposed to violence and anarchy. His speech in self-defence, however, was believed to have aided in his conviction. On 27 November 1795 he was sentenced by the king's bench to two years' imprisonment in Dorchester Castle, fined £100, and required to give sureties of good behaviour for seven years. Yorke published a report of his trial in the same year. He does not appear to have been released until March 1798. Meanwhile his opinions had undergone a complete change.

In a Letter to the Reformers (1798), written in prison, he justified the war with France, and on 3 August 1798, in a private letter to William Wickham, he deplored the fate and condemned the views of the brothers Henry and John Sheares (Castlereagh, 1.258). In 1802 he revisited France and documented his experience in Letters from France (1804), which stressed in contrast the virtues of the British constitution. He wrote letters for twelve months in The Star under the signature of Alfred or Galgacus (these were reprinted in a small volume), was part proprietor of the True Briton, and in 1806 was near having a duel with Sir Francis Burdett: both parties were bound over to keep the peace.

In the meantime Yorke became increasingly interested in the education of loyalist principles. In 1800 he published Elements of Civil Knowledge, a guide to the education of children in the virtues of the British state. In 1801 and again in 1810 he issued further statements of support for the constitution via synopses of lectures in London on political and historical subjects. He married, in 1800, the daughter of a man named Andrews, keeper of Dorchester Castle; they had four children. After a long illness, and having relinquished politics, he was induced by Richard Valpy to undertake a new edition and continuation of John Campbell's Lives of British Admirals; but before completing this work, and when about to practise as a barrister (he had been a student of the Inner Temple from 1801), he was again struck down by illness, and died at Chelsea on 28 January 1813.



GM, 1st ser., 83/1 (1813), 188, 283–4 · H. T. Blethen, ‘Yorke, Henry Redhead’, BDMBR, vol. 1 · E. Fearn, ‘Henry Redhead Yorke: radical traitor’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 42 (1967–70), 187–92 · M. J. Laski, ‘Recantation of Henry Redhead Yorke’, Encounter, 41/4 (1973), 67–85 · Annual Register (1795), 47 · Annual Register (1798), 23 · Annual Register (1799), 160 · Annual Register (1806), 458 · New Annual Register (1795), 60 · European Magazine and London Review, 28 (1795), 429 · European Magazine and London Review, 50 (1806), 490 · Argus, or, London Review'd in Paris (15 Nov 1802) · Moniteur (26 Nov 1802) · State trials, vol. 24 · J. G. Alger, ‘The British colony in Paris, 1792–3’, EngHR, 13 (1898), 672–94 · T. Faulkner, An historical and topographical description of Chelsea and its environs [new edn], 1 (1829), 383 · Memoirs and correspondence of Viscount Castlereagh, second marquess of Londonderry, ed. C. Vane, marquess of Londonderry, 12 vols. (1848–53)


S. W. Reynolds, mezzotint, pubd 1796 (after J. R. Smith), BM · J. Ward, mezzotint, pubd 1796 (after W. Hay), BM, NPG

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Henry Redhead Yorke (1772–1813): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/30241