Queen Caroline in Caricature – July 1820

Ian Haywood, University of Roehampton

Figure 1. William Heath, The Pageantry put off or the Raree Show adjourned (S. W. Fores, 13 July 1820). British Museum.

Throughout June and July 1820, the Caroline controversy gathered pace. Unable to prevent her re-entering Britain after her long exile (see the June post), the government tried once again to persuade Caroline to renounce her claim to the throne. The veteran Tory MP and anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce was assigned to the task and repeated the offer of a £50,000 allowance in return for Caroline leaving the country. The queen was in no mood to compromise: buoyed up by the huge popular support for her cause, she rejected the bribe for a second time. According to radical journalist William Cobbett, who was angling to become Caroline’s speech writer, Wilberforce’s dejected deputation were ‘hooted, and were actually spitten upon, by such masses of people as are seen no where but in London’. Cobbett cited this charivari in a letter to the queen as evidence that her ‘strength and safety lie in public opinion’.[1] Cobbett’s overtures did not go unheeded, and by the time her trial began in August, the tone of Caroline’s campaign had become markedly more militant and class-conscious.[2]

Caroline’s steadfastness massively raised the stakes of the dispute. Under George IV’s direction, the government launched legal proceedings against Caroline. To divorce his wife and rescind her royal title, the king needed evidence that she had committed adultery. This had been tried before with no success – the ‘Delicate Investigation’ of 1806 had exonerated her from the charge of giving birth to an illegitimate child – but the so-called ‘Milan Commission’ had been gathering evidence of Caroline’s affair with her Italian steward Bartolomeo Bergami for several years. In late June 1820, this evidence was delivered in several customary green bags to a Secret Committee of the House of Lords, and on 6 July the Bill of Pains and Penalties was given its first reading. This procedure was a public relations disaster for the government and was met with widespread revulsion and ridicule. The infamous green bags were regarded by many as icons of subterfuge and despotism, their reputation indelibly stained by previous prosecutions of radicals for sedition. Unsurprisingly, the green bags feature prominently in caricatures, most famously George Cruikshank’s hilarious Ah! sure such a pair was never seen so justly form’d to meet by nature (23 June 1820), used as the masthead for these posts. Perhaps responding to the Examiner’s quip that ‘If the King has a Green Bag, the Queen might have one too’,[3] Cruikshank expresses his disdain for the whole affair in a relatively even-handed manner, but in most satirical prints the bags are bulging repositories of corruption, cowardice, and conniving. As is so often the case, the satire works through magnification and hyperbole, swelling the size of the bags to encompass and entrap the culprits in their own chicanery.

The Bill of Pains and Penalties, the central public document of the controversy, was also an easy target for ridicule. The Examiner dubbed it the ‘Bill of Divorce and Degradation’ (2 July 1820). A typically resourceful intervention came from William Hone, who published an alternative version of the Bill in which a parallel text compared the queen’s alleged ‘licentious’ and ‘disgraceful’ shenanigans to the king’s multiple sexual indiscretions and moral failings (Figure 2). The comic effect of these ‘dropt clauses’ resembles a satirical mirror in which an official narrative is inverted: see for example Robert Cruikshank’s Reflection: To be or not to be? (11 February 1820) in which the king sees Caroline’s reflection rather than his own in the looking glass.[4] Like many other pro-Caroline publications, Hone’s pamphlet also traces the origins of the problem back to the separation of 1796, the point at which George broke his marriage vows and set in train this travesty of a royal romance. The constant reiteration of the queen’s heroic-tragic story is one of the most distinctive cultural features of the crisis.[5] Her narrative became a template for social and political injustice, but also for resistance to persecution. She was a wronged woman, but also a strong woman. The main source of that strength, as she emphasised in her replies to the Addresses that poured in from around the country, was her connection with the people.

Figure 2. William Hone, Dropt Clauses Out of the Bill Against the Queen (1820). Special Collections, Adelphi University. The satirical cartoon juxtaposes the king and queen’s response to being smeared in blacking liquid: while Caroline repels the stain and remains pristine white, the king cannot be bleached.

Historians have identified Caroline’s adoption of the role of stereotypically vulnerable woman in need of (male) protection as a fatal weakness in her campaign, but this analysis underestimates the dissemination of proto-feminist imagery which shows the queen as sublimely powerful.[6] Due to its hyperbolic methodology, caricature was a particularly potent source of this empowering iconography. In the June post, we looked at Caroline’s pose of martial valour in Robert Cruikshank’s The Secret Insult!. For this post, we can turn to William Heath’s The Pageantry put off or the Raree Show adjourned, published by Samuel Fores on 13 July 1820.[7] Heath was responding to the government’s announcement on 12 July that the Coronation – the ‘raree show’ or children’s peep-show of the title – was to be postponed for a whole year until August 1821. This news arrived only a few days after the first reading of the Bill of Pains and Penalties and represented a mini-triumph for Caroline’s cause (it also put in place, ironically, the denouement of her story). To amplify this sense of success, Heath’s queen is transformed into a quasi-divine entity resembling one of the female personifications (Liberty. Justice, Britannia) who support her in other prints and satires.[8] Unlike The Secret Insult! or Robert Cruikshank’s Public Opinion (published a few weeks earlier, and which shows a seated Caroline outweighing the cabinet in the scales of justice [Figure 3]),[9] Caroline is unaccompanied, active, and in total command. Heath’s scene has all the trappings of a theatrical deus ex machina: her sudden, radiant appearance from a cloud startles and cows the king and his cabinet, and the shock symbolically dislodges the crown from the king’s head. Her dress is covered in astrological symbols to enhance her mystique, and she is literally elevated. But the crucial and most radical visual detail is the least spectacular: separating the two halves of the print is the queen’s wand, inscribed with the words ‘Vox Populi’ or voice of the people. It is this lightning rod of opposition and protest which empowers her and connects her to popular protest.

Figure 3. Robert Cruikshank, Public Opinion (William Benbow, June 1820). British Museum.

Her scolding words are also a subtle but highly effective rallying cry for her thousands of female supporters.[10] While the nation’s leaders scatter in stunned silence, Caroline declaims to the king,

That Cap becomes you not alone off with the Bauble tread it under foot. ‘tis not the time for Pageantry & Waste, while thousands starve for Want? & while your Royal Mistress suffer Scorn, Reproach & Persecution, from the Dastard Hands of Secret Enemies.

The first half of this speech is taken from Act 5 Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, and it is no coincidence that these are the words of Petruchio commanding obedience from his erstwhile ‘shrew’ wife Katherina. As Jonathan Bate and David Francis Taylor have shown, Shakespeare was a constant source of inspiration for caricaturists,[11] and Heath’s quotation is a brilliant example of how carefully and strategically satirical artists chose their quotations. Given that Caroline’s predicament was often compared to that of Anne Boleyn or Catherine of Aragon, supporters and satirists more commonly cited Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, but Heath clearly wanted to overturn the stereotype of the saintly female victim.[12] Of course, the cultural richness of this inversion of gender roles only works if the viewer recognises the Shakespearean allusion, but given the popularity of Georgian theatre at all social levels, there is every reason to suppose that the joke met its mark.[13]

The ideological work of the Shakespeare quotation does not end with the subversion of gender roles. It is also a mischievous reference to the postponed coronation, repurposing Shakespeare’s text into a seditious anticipation of the king’s downfall. In the play, Petruchio’s command ‘off with that bauble tread it under foot’ chastises stereotypical female vanity, but in the caricature the ‘bauble’ refers to the king’s dislodged crown, a visual omen of either a popular republican uprising or Caroline’s constitutional usurpation.  Moreover, Caroline’s expressed sympathy for the ‘thousands’ who ‘starve and want’ introduces a new tone of class-consciousness into the rebuke. If Caroline ever did come to power, this is how radicals imagined (or wanted to imagine) she would act.[14] Put another way, she would be paying back her dues for the people’s support.

The final point to note on the print’s utilization of Shakespeare is that it also subverted illustrations of the play. The Taming of the Shrew was included in Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery and its attendant printed outputs,[15] and there were several other illustrated versions of the play published subsequently. While there is no evidence of direct borrowing, it is illuminating to postulate ways in which the caricature is in dialogue with this burgeoning field of visual imagery. Robert Smirke’s design for the ‘taming’ of Katherina in Act 5 Scene 2 of the play (Figure 4) is a good example of the ideal of compliant femininity which Heath undermines and challenges. Like Caroline, Katherina stands on the left of the scene, admonishing Bianca and the widow in full view of the approving male gaze. In his gender reversal of this interaction, Heath may have drawn on an earlier illustration by Edward Francis Burney (cousin of Fanny Burney). His design for Act 3, Scene 2 (Figure 5) shows Petruchio brandishing his sword to protect Katherina. His pose and chivalric words – ‘Fear not, sweet wench they shall not touch thee/I’ll buckle thee against a million’ – may resonate strongly with the popular support for Caroline as a victim, but in Heath’s print the roles are switched and it is the queen who assumes Petruchio’s militant stance, defending women and the nation against malevolent male rulers. The ‘million’ are also transmuted into the liberating force of the ‘vox populi’.

Figure 4. Robert Smirke, artist’s proof of an illustration for Act 5 Scene 2 of The Taming of the Shrew (1821). British Museum.
Figure 5. Edward Francis Burney, illustration of Act 3 Scene 2 of The Taming of the Shrew (1805). British Museum.

The barely visible inscription on Caroline’s wand may seem a rather lightweight signifier in comparison to the Shakespeare quotation, but the talismanic term releases into the image a cacophony of radical ‘voices’ from the surrounding print culture.[16] Mention has already been made of the prolific number of supportive Addresses which poured in from all around the country, and it is worth adding that these were immediately recirculated in the press, usually accompanied by Caroline’s replies. The Addresses were also presented in person by formal delegations and processions, and the vast crowds that marched from central London to Caroline’s residence in Brandenbugh House in west London were a spectacular material demonstration of ‘popular feeling’ in action.[17] Accompanying this deafening chorus was a wide variety of popular political genres: songs, ballads, prayers, skits, broadsides and poems, many of which circulated across different media. The final section of this post will consider some demotic texts which interact with Heath’s caricature in intriguing and instructive ways, adding new layers of meaning and further enriching its cultural and political agency.

On 12 July 1820, the day before Heath’s print was published, the latest issue of Thomas Wooler’s radical periodical Black Dwarf appeared on the newsstands blazoning a sensational headline story, ‘The Portals of Revolution Opened’. The article argues that the government’s prosecution of Caroline risked provoking a full-blown constitutional crisis and, even worse, ‘all the horrors of a military revolution, and its attendant destruction of all civil rights’ (40). To avert this disaster, ministers needed to listen to the inviolable voice of the people: as an earlier issue of the paper put it, ‘The people will be heard, for through them operates the voice of eternal justice’ (14 June). One of the most populist sources of this democratic voice was a series of declamatory street posters or placards, and in its 12 July edition Black Dwarf republished a placard entitled ‘Glorious Deeds of Women!!!’ (Figure 6).[18] The text positions Caroline as the latest in a long line of patriotic political women stretching back to republican Rome. It is striking that the roll call becomes increasingly violent as it progresses, citing the famous Biblical stories of Jael and Esther, both of whom assassinated tyrants to save the Jewish people, and the more recent example of Charlotte Corday who murdered the Jacobin leader Marat.[19] Heath’s depiction of a militant Caroline may well have been influenced by this clamorous evocation of powerful women, especially when we remember that all three heroines were widely represented in art history.[20] Seen from this tyrannicidal perspective, Caroline’s wand resembles Jael’s hammer and spike, poised to ‘bring down the corrupt conspirators’ in a feminized coup d’etat. Like numerous other satirical responses to the Caroline debacle, the story of a persecuted queen is reimagined as righteous conquest over a ‘corrupt’ ruler.

Figure 6. ‘Glorious Deeds of Women!!!’ From Black Dwarf  (12 July 1820). British Library.

Heath’s decision to make Caroline a godlike figure may also have been a response to popular poetic rhetoric.[21] A prime example of her elevation to semi-divine status is the song ‘Britons Claim her as Your Queen!! An Address from Britannia’, which appeared in the two-penny A Collection of New and Popular Songs, Dedicated to Queen Caroline of England (1820). This anthology declared its impeccable radical credentials by opening with Samuel Bamford’s alternative national anthem, ‘God Save the Queen’. The editor explains that Bamford, the ‘Burns of Lancashire’, was languishing in Lincoln jail for ‘having attended the Meeting at Manchester’. Peterloo was a constant reference point in radical discourse throughout the Caroline controversy, providing a precedent and pretext for both oppression and resistance. Ideally, Caroline would be the providential healer of the nation:

O God! Her foes confound,
And save the Queen!
O, may she purer rise…[22]

In a broadside version of the song, Caroline’s glorification is even more pronounced: ‘Let Virtue’s sacred rays/Round her unsullied blaze’.[23] Bamford gives Caroline a sublime aura, but in ‘Britons claim her as your Queen!!’ her role is apocalyptic:

Now’s the day and now’s the hour,
Chase away the clouds that low’r,
Crush at once the villain’s power
Who dares insult his Queen!

Justice strikes th’avenging blow!
Rids Caroline of every foe,
Forever may she reign! (9-10)

The revolutionary message is strengthened by the tune, ‘Scots who hae wi’ Wallace bled’, the unofficial anthem of Scottish nationalism. The original words were written by Robert Burns in 1793 and expressed his outrage at the government’s persecution of radical activism. The incendiary final stanza echoes Justice’s ‘avenging blow!’ in ‘Britons claim her as your Queen!!’:

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in ev’ry foe!
Liberty’s in every blow!
Let us do or die![24]

This interlocking and dynamically interleaved set of texts shows that the ‘vox populi’ encompassed a wide range of sources from both the past and present. The wand that Caroline wields in Heath’s caricature is a tribute to a rich tradition of radical writing and representation that reaches back to the Jacobin 1790s. Her elevation to the muse of ‘eternal justice’ mobilized an array of popular textual and visual genres spanning the whole of the Romantic era.

No one could have predicted this bizarre alliance a year earlier. When Percy Shelley concluded his unpublished Peterloo sonnet ‘England in 1819’ with a vision of a ‘phantom’ that ‘may/ Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day’, he could never have foreseen who would answer that call.[25] For Cobbett, writing in late July 1820, ‘the Queen’s cause naturally allies itself with that of the Radicals’.[26] But as this post has shown, ‘the Queen’s cause’ was a complex, collective articulation of multiple grievances. If the queen spoke for the people, they spoke through her.[27] Caricature was the only artistic genre which could give this reciprocal relationship a compelling and entertaining visual form.

See exhibition at the Lewis Walpole Library:

https://exhibits-new.library.yale.edu/s/trialbymedia/page/intro


[1] William Cobbett, History of the Regency and Reign of King George the Fourth (London: William Cobbett, 1830), para. 432. The Examiner reported that Wilberforce the ‘head kneeler’ was ‘much hissed and abused’ (16 July 1820).

[2] For an account of Cobbett’s role as Caroline’s speech writer, see James Grande, William Cobbett, the Press, and Rural England: Radicalism and the Fourth Estate, 1792-1835 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2014), Chapter 5.

[3] Examiner, 11 June 1820.

[4] British Museum Satires 13661.

[5] Probably the most iconic example of this narrative is William Hone and George Cruikshank’s The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder, which will be looked at in a later post.

[6] For Thomas Lacqueur, Caroline’s cause was ‘rendered harmless by being transformed into melodrama, farce, and romance’ and a ‘politically safe version of the story as domestic melodrama and royalist fantasy’ (‘The Queen Caroline Affair: Politics as Art in the Reign of George IV,’ Journal of Modern History (September 1982): 417-466, 418, 465).

[7] British Museum Satires 13759.

[8] See, for example, The Queen that Jack Found, Tenth Edition (London: John Fairburn, 1 July 1820). The cover shows Britannia and Wisdom shielding a bust of Caroline (represented as Innocence) under the light of Truth.

[9] British Museum Satires undescribed.

[10] According to Anna Clarke, the 25 Addresses from women contained around 70,000 signatures from all social classes (Scandal: The Sexual Politics of the British Constitution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 200). Inflated rhetoric was commonplace: for example, the women of an inner London constituency waxed lyrical about Caroline’s ‘great soul’ which ‘shone resplendent, through the clouds gathered around you at St Omers’ (To the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty: The dutiful tender of the loyalty, homage, and respect of the under-signed, the Married Females resident in the Parish of St Mary-le-Bone). Heath’s caricature literalizes this trope of sublime radiance.

[11] Jonathan Bate, Shakespearean Constitutions: Politics, Theatre, Criticism, 1730-1830 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989); David Francis Taylor, The Politics of Parody: A Literary History of Caricature, 1760-1830 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018).

[12] For example, see the epigraph from Henry VIII in the poem ‘Who are the accusers of the Queen?’ by ‘Vox Populi’, Black Dwarf, 14 June 1820. See also J. Lewis Marks’s caricature King Henry VIII (1820), British Museum Satires 13829.

[13] See David Worrall, Theatric Revolution: Drama, Censorship, and Romantic Period Subcultures 1773-1832 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Frederick Burwick, British Drama of the Industrial Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

[14] In early July Caroline was still being cautious about revealing her politics. Her reply to an Address from Nottingham which complained that ‘pale misery, want, and disease, infest the poor man’s dwelling’ was that ‘I cannot mix political animosities with my just cause’ (Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register, 8 July 1820). In this respect, Heath’s print was nudging her towards a more radical stance.

[15] Examples of the Shakespeare Gallery illustrations can be viewed on the website of the Romantic Illustration Network (https://romanticillustrationnetwork.com/shakespeare-gallery/).

[16] In addition to the literary examples considered here, it is worth noting the very literal way in which the vox populi intervened in the political process. In his pamphlet The King’s Treatment of the Queen Shortly Stated to the People of the England, William Hone describes gleefully how the ‘animating, soul-inspiring cheers of the people’ assembled outside parliament disrupted Castlereagh’s opening of the green bags: ‘No wonder that at that moment the Minister turned pale…that very moment public opinion pronounced its verdict on the whole proceeding’ (21).

[17] Some examples of these processions will be looked at in future posts. According to Cobbett, the crowd usually made a point of stopping before St James’ Palace so that the King could not ignore the vox populi, the ‘sound of their voicesin shouts to have made him hear had he been in the clouds’ (History of the Regency, 439). The phrase ‘popular feeling’ comes from William Hazlitt’s oft-cited description of the controversy as ‘the only question I have ever known that excited a thorough popular feeling. It struck its roots into the heart of the nation; it took possession of every house or cottage in the kingdom’ (The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, ed. P. P. Howe. 21 vols (London and Toronto: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1930–4), 20: 136).

[18] The Examiner regarded these placards as ‘open and effective appeals to the people’ (30 July 1820) and credited Cobbett with the idea.

[19] For the story of Jael and Sisera, see Judges 5: 24-26; for Esther and Ahasuerus, see Esther 7: 1-10.

[20] For Jael and Esther, see Susan L. Smith, The Power of Women: A ‘Topos’ in Medieval Art and Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995). Some of the best known paintings are: Artemisia Gentileschi’s Jael and Sisera (c. 1620); Haman Begging Mercy (c.1635), attributed to Rembrandt; and Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Marat (1793).

[21] For a study of the response of Romantic poets to the Caroline affair, see John Gardner, Poetry and Popular Protest: Peterloo, Cato Street and the Queen Caroline Controversy (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011), Chapters 8-10.

[22] A Collection of New and Popular Songs, Dedicated to Queen Caroline of England (Newcastle: J. Marshall, 1820). Further page references are given in parentheses.

[23] A broadside version exists in the Special Collections of Adelphi University, Long Island.

[24] The Complete Works of Robert Burns (Boston: Philips, Sampson and Company, 1853), 286.

[25] Shelley: Poetical Works ed. Thomas Hutchinson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 574.

[26] Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register, 29 July 1820, 574-5.

[27] This was the radical interpretation of the voice of the people, but as Anna Clarke explains, the idea was ideologically contested: royalists and moderates argued that parliament was the vox populi, not the ‘mob’, while the Whigs preferred to define the middle class as ‘the people’, hedged between the two extremes (Scandal, 196).

1 thought on “Queen Caroline in Caricature – July 1820

  1. Pingback: Queen Caroline in Caricature – July 1820 – BARS Exchange

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