“oh Amherst, Brave Amherst…


In the days that followed, civil authority collapsed and a wanton mob ruled the streets. What had begun as a narrow religious demonstration became an upsurging from the depths, destruction for the joy of destruction, without aim or plan. Newgate, Bridewell, the Fleet, and other prisons were burned out and the convicts liberated; Langdale’s great distillery looted; the Moorfields section where the Irish Catholic workers lived leveled; even Lord Chief Justice Mansfield’s house destroyed and his library strewn in the streets.

At the outbreak Amherst, as commander in chief, brought up reinforcements to the capital. Directing the course of action in person, Amherst put down the mobs with his old impersonal efficiency. His soldiers shot several hundred rioters before order was restored, and in the course of a week’s street-fighting over eight hundred Londoners died. It was his farewell appearance as a commander.

He was sixty-three now and an old man, faced with the physiological and psychological changes of age. As the years went on he became haughty, selfish, closefisted. When the discredited North ministry finally fell in 1782 on the issue of the botched American war, Amherst—always politically naïve—was surprised to find himself dismissed, and even more surprised to be replaced as Lieutenant General of the Ordnance, a post he regarded as compensation for his lost governorship.

Out of office Amherst still remained a confidant of the King, who showed himself as stubborn in his friendship as in less worthy matters. George appointed him colonel of the Second Troop of Life Guards, which placed him close to the throne, and in 1792, as the war with revolutionary France loomed up, the younger Pitt recalled Amherst to his old post of commander in chief.

For three years Amherst remained at the War Office, conferring almost daily with the King but accomplishing little else. A crotchety age had dried up the energy and vision that had once brought him to old Ligonier’s notice. Even the dispatch with which he had scoured the streets in the Gordon riots had gone. He had become a court general. His era was over. There were other unknowns now, waiting in the wings, as he had waited half a century ago in Flanders. Two years after the French declaration of war in 1793, the King finally replaced his aged favorite. But in this last retirement his king had not forgotten him nor the ultimate military honor. On July 6, 1796, eleven months before his death, Amherst reached out a vein-snarled, nerveless hand for his marshal’s baton.

Amherst: Hero of World War IV?