Colonel Edward Marcus Despard was the last person to be sentenced to hanging, drawing and quartering for high treason. At his execution on 21 February 1803, the streets of London were packed with twenty thousand ominously silent onlookers. Few of them believed he was guilty. Despard's execution was the climax of an extraordinary life. He had served as a soldier in Jamaica, and fought in Nicaragua alongside savage Miskito Indians - and a young Horatio Nelson - in one of the most hellish jungle campaigns in the history of warfare. Rewarded with command of the British settlement of Belize, he had married a black woman and staked his reputation on giving the same rights to freed slaves as to white settlers. Summoned back to London to explain himself, and finding his career put on hold, he joined the revolutionary underground. The Unfortunate Colonel Despard moves from high adventure on the Spanish Main to the political tumult of the London underworld in the 1790s, when many believed that, as in America and France, the old elite were on the verge of collapse. and naval mutinies, the French Revolution and the Irish Rebellion, the democratic ideals of Tom Paine and the ruthless political clampdown of William Pitt's 'Reign of Terror'. Despard's contested fate was the sensational climax to a British revolution that never happened, but it also presaged the birth of modern democracy.