Slightly Alternative History – The Suffragan Movement

The Suffragan Movement was a great equal rights movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Suffragan bishops were campaigning for equal representation in the Lords, their own dioceses to run and parity in palaces. The most notorious direct action of the campaign was the Tunbridge Wells Riot of 1892, at which the Bishop of Dorchester was accused of smacking a policeman with his crook. This was the scene of the first use of gas-based crowd control on the British mainland, as the Suffragans let off incense bombs to confuse the police ranks. To a large extent this worked, as a number joined the Catholics.

There were strong words in the House of Lords. The Bishop of London was asked why he could not keep the Bishop of Willesden at home, saying communions, eating scones from green crockery and wandering in a confused manner at openings of new Public Schools.

But the Suffragan movement really came to an end after the 1908 St Ledger. The Bishop of Bedford was about to throw himself in front of the leading horse when he remembered that he had 30 guineas on the nose himself, and jumped back – in full regalia – over the rails.

Drinking a toast to his success with the Bishop of Buckingham later, it occurred to the Bishop of Bedford that he didn’t really want to have to run half the diocese anyway. He would end up with all that admin, all the disciplinary stuff – whereas as it was, he got to wear a pointy hat and nice robes, and all he had to do was turn up at places and confirm people.

Besides, the demos were now getting a lot more vicious. The Suffragans were starting to be joined by women who wanted the vote, and the assistant bishops weren’t sure they wanted to be seen alongside them. As the Bishop of Huntingdon said, “Give women over the age of 60 the vote, and they’ll want to be bishops next.”


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