This article explores perceptions of the law and of how agents of the law responded to events at Covent Garden Theatre during the bitter months between mid-October and late-November 1809, the height of the Covent Garden Old Price riots. It does so through the lens of the periodical press, a vital and voluminous source of not only what happened during the riots but also of opinions on what happened and of perceptions of what happened, opinions and perceptions that are the primary concern of this article. The article begins with a discussion of how the magistrates, ‘police officers,’ justices, and lawyers who together were agents of the legal system were seen, where they were seen, and what they did. It moves on to examine how the actions of those agents and the legal system they represented were reported upon. And it concludes with a discussion of how theatregoers and Londoners were seen to have responded to those actions, moving a significant element of the conflict outside of Covent Garden Theatre and into the public press in a direct response to how they were policed as threats to public order and security. It argues that the Covent Garden Old Price riots was a significant urban act of multi-class protest because of the ways that it intersected with wider late-Georgian concerns, with discursive arenas where British liberty and the freedom of her subjects were contested and at stake.
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