Focusing on reform of the electoral system to improve the conditions of the working class, the release of the People’s Charter in 1838 had prompted the creation of the national working-class Chartist protest movement. William Lovett of the newly-established London Working Men’s Association had written the majority of the document, but a petition in favour of it was rejected by the House of Commons on 12 July 1839.
Parliament’s refusal to listen to their concerns led to increased working class anger. Just three weeks later the Chartist leader Henry Vincent was jailed by the Welsh Monmouth Assizes for making inflammatory speeches. This further angered Chartists in Wales who soon began to organise and equip themselves for a mass protest.
Between three and five thousand Chartists marched into Newport on 4 November, by which time the authorities had prepared for a violent confrontation. The marchers made for the Westgate Hotel where they heard a number of Chartist prisoners were being held, but their chant to “surrender our prisoners” was met only with gunfire from the soldiers stationed there. An estimated 22 Chartists were killed in the battle, and dozens more were injured.
Approximately 200 Chartists were arrested for their involvement in the march. The three principal leaders, John Frost, Zephaniah Williams, and William Jones, were found guilty of high treason and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. Although their sentences were later reduced to transportation for life following a national outcry, they were the last people to be sentenced to this punishment in England and Wales.