An Illustrated Antislavery Song: Music with a Mission?

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by Rachel Cross

Rachel Cross is a PhD candidate at Cardiff University whose area of research is Victorian illustrated songs. Her work investigates how the intersections between the three media of illustration, text and music reveal new insight into key issues of the Victorian period. She started her journey to this fascinating topic through music; initially studying piano, strings, and the theory of music, she gained diplomas in piano teaching and in the theory and criticism of music. Going on to study English at undergraduate and master’s levels, she focused particularly on the interrelations between text and illustration. She teaches about the relationships between text and illustration to undergraduates and has spoken about Victorian illustrated songs at several symposiums and conferences.

Illustrated songs were pervasive in the print culture of the nineteenth century: it is estimated that between 80,000 and 100,000 pictorial music titles were published in England between 1820 and 1885 alone. (1) They were popular in both America and Britain and were to become even more widespread with the rise of vaudeville (in the States) and music hall (in Britain) towards the end of the century. American and British songs traversed the Atlantic, bought largely by bourgeois families for domestic musical entertainment. The distinctive blend of the three art forms of text, music and illustration in one publication offers opportunity for an exciting tripartite view of nineteenth-century Western life. Examining intersections between presentations in these three media, this blog focuses on how an American antislavery song reveals nineteenth-century perceptions of race and nation. Its illustrated cover (see figure 2) depicts the fugitive whilst on the run, dramatically picturing the plight of the runaway. However, whilst the illustration shows the famous runaway, Frederick Douglass, it, and the song’s lyrics and music, also include other allusions which complicate the reading of ‘The Fugitive’s Song’ as connected with the antislavery mission.

Figure 1: Slavery Abolition Act, 1833. Photo credit: Wreford Miller, ‘Abolition’ by Wreford is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

After slavery in British lands was abolished in 1833 (see figure 1), American abolitionists campaigned with likeminded Britons to end slavery in America. The fight against slavery adopted a multimedia approach. Printed matter provided the main impetus for the abolition movement to spread its antislavery message and slave narratives and poetry were also augmented by songs and performances in both America and Britain. ‘The Fugitive’s Song,’ (see cover, figure 2) was published in Boston in 1845. Massachusetts was a centre for the abolition movement in the nineteenth century and Boston was a hub for early American music publishing. In May 1845, Frederick Douglass also published his critically acclaimed autobiography in Boston, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. Publication of this song, in tandem with Douglass’s book, is testament to the abolitionists’ multimedia crusade. However, I argue that this song also revealingly functions as a serenade to the ‘enlightened’ Northern states of America.

Figure 2: ‘The Fugitive’s Song’ cover, 1845. Lithograph. Music by J. M. White, words by Jesse Hutchinson Junior, lithography by E. W. Bouvé (Boston: Henry Prentiss, 1845). Accession Number: 80.7568.365, Lincoln Memorial University, Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, Harrogate, Tennessee.

Douglass escaped slavery in 1838, subsequently becoming a famous antislavery campaigner in both the States and Britain. The popularity of slave narratives meant that many people were familiar with Douglass’s story. Frederick Law Olmsted, in his A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (1856), even asserted that Northern views on slavery were constructed from the reading of slave narratives. (2) Whilst it is dedicated to Douglass, ‘The Fugitive’s Song’ was, however, like most antislavery matter, produced by a team of white people. The words are by Jesse Hutchinson Junior, with the music by J. M. White, and the cover illustration by the engraver and lithographer E. W. Bouvé. Initially testifying to the power of abolition songs, Douglass himself stated:

I especially have a reason to feel a grateful interest in the whole Hutchinson family  ̶  for you have sung the yokes from the necks and the fetters from the limbs of my race. (3)

Indeed, as vehement abolitionists and members of the Anti-Slavery Society, the Hutchinson family used the power of music in the Northern fight against slavery in the 1840s and 1850s. (4) Scott Gac contends that, ‘Starting in 1841, the Hutchinsons transformed themselves from backwoods, church-trained musicians to the most popular musical family in America’. (5) By the end of the Civil War, Douglass had, however, changed his opinion about white involvement, declaring, ‘Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us’. (6) Indeed, African American disillusionment followed emancipation, these sentiments contrasting sharply with the hopefulness of earlier abolitionism.

The text, music, and image of ‘The Fugitive’s Song’, although created by different people, work together to supposedly produce an authentic version of slavery. Douglass’s story is used to personalise the plight of the enslaved and enable performers to feel an emotional connection and moral obligation. Yet, all three media also represent Douglass’s freedom as largely due to the magnanimity of the Northern states. The lyrics use religious lexis: indeed, many antislavery songs like this were sung in churches. The song is focalised through Douglass, and he affirms his faith in God in the first verse:

From my youth I have vow’d in my God to rely

And despite the oppressor gain Freedom or die.

Yet, the lyrics also use nationalistic vocabulary. Despite the fugitive’s apparent reliance on heavenly help, it is New England’s ‘stern voice’ that has the power to protect and shelter the runaway, expressed in the third verse:

New England! New England! thrice blessed and free,

The poor hunted slave finds a shelter in thee,

Where no bloodthirsty hounds ever dare on his track;

At thy stern voice, New England! the mountains fall back!

Indeed, the voice seems to have divine authority, as the fourth verse continues:

That voice shall roll on, ’mong the hills of the North,

In murmurs more loud ’till its thunders break forth;

On the wings of the wind shall its deep echoes fly,

Swift as Lightning above, from sky e’en to sky;

Nor Charters nor Unions its mandates shall choke,

’Twill cry in God’s Name, ‘Go Break every Yoke’

Like the tempests of Heaven, shaking mountain and sea,

Shall the North tell the South, ‘Let the Bondmen go free!’


Lauding the Northern states in this way is reminiscent of the lyrics of national anthems of the day. Emphasising the North’s progressive climate where ‘no bloodthirsty hounds’ pursue the runaway suggests its ideals are far from the barbarism of the South. This sense of nationalistic pride is carried further in the final verse: 

Oh! then shall Columbia’s proud flag be unfurl’d

The glory of Freemen, and pride of the World,

While Earth’s struggling millions point hither in glee,

‘To the Land of the Brave, and the Home of the Free!

’The words ‘Columbia’s proud flag’ seem to reference the American patriotic song ‘Hail, Columbia’. (7) Likewise, the final line of ‘The Fugitive’s Song’: ‘To the Land of the Brave, and the Home of the Free!’, has parallels in Francis Scott Key’s 1814 poem (which became the lyrics of the American national anthem):

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet waveO’er the land of the free and the home of the brave? (8)

Despite attempting to create a slave narrative-like feel, therefore, the lyrics are firmly positioned within the tradition of Western religious and nationalistic poetry.

In a similar way, the music is unashamedly Euro-American, having a diatonic melody (based on the Western scale) and a steady march-like pulse. The melody’s triadic motifs (centred around an arpeggio) sound fanfare-like (see figure 3). 

Figure 3: ‘The Fugitive’s Song’: first verse, second line.

These patterns also have connotations of national anthems: the style of the music here corresponds with the patriotic lyrics. National anthems were becoming more significant in the increasingly nationalistic nineteenth century and they often used fanfare-like motifs. (9) As F. Gunther Eyck writes in his study of national anthems, they were based on concepts from the romantic movement, including ‘the search for symbols, religious revivalism, and an emotional rather than a rational approach to contemporary issues’. (10) ‘The Fugitive’s Song’, like national anthems of the day, encouraged an emotional, and indeed religious, engagement, ostensibly in the fight against slavery, but also in nationalistic feeling. Just as the words’ intertextual references to other patriotic verse incited the listener or singer to a sense of patriotic zeal, so musical symbols, or leitmotifs, such as fanfare-like calls, allowed association with a nation’s triumphant battle fanfares. (11) This interaction with other snippets of music works in a similar way to the interpictoriality of imagery and the intertextuality of texts. As in art and literature where viewers and readers see references to other works, so also in music, aural memory inescapably draws allusions to other music, the listener (or performer) making connections outside of the song itself. This is therefore a musical version of the interplay that illustration has with other images. Julia Thomas, writing on illustration and its relationships with text and other imagery, terms this ‘affillustration’, where illustration:

makes meanings not just in its (conscious and unconscious) references to other illustrations, but also in the groupings and clusters it generates, the ‘networks’ that exist within and across the boundaries of the illustrated text. (12)

Music, therefore, like illustration, is a ‘social genre’: both the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ and ‘La Marseillaise’ have similar triadic melodic motifs allowing listeners and performers to make connections between them and ‘The Fugitive’s Song’. The music’s martial 4/4 time also aligns it with other nationalistic songs, many of which were used during battles to rouse soldiers in patriotic fervour. Recognisable patterns in rhythms and melodies meant that they could be picked up easily and sung together. Indeed, as sociomusicologist Simon Frith points out, music is uniquely able to create a feeling of ‘spontaneous collective identity’ and ‘personally felt patriotism’. (13) Using such familiar methods in the music  ̶  and lyrics  ̶  of ‘The Fugitive’s Song’ encouraged engagement and a feeling of camaraderie which was a feature of patriotic music. As antislavery ideals became an identifying feature of the Northern states prior to (and during) the Civil War, these musical and language techniques furthered the sense of the North as synonymous with freedom for all.

The cover illustration uses Douglass’s figure to further associate the song with him and his antislavery mission. As the most photographed man of the nineteenth century, Douglass would have been recognisable by many (see figure 4). (14, 15)

Figure 4: Daguerreotype of Frederick Douglass. Samuel J. Miller, American, 1822-1888, The Art Institute of Chicago (16)

Indeed, his depiction as face on to the viewer, allows immediate identification from his features and distinctive hair. The cover also references Douglass’s story: the Ohio River behind Douglass provides a physical symbol of the separation of North and South. The frozen Ohio River was famously crossed by Margaret Garner and her fellow fugitives in 1856 (see figure 5).


Figure 5: Memorial Marker, Covington, Kentucky. Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn, ‘Slave Escape Historical Marker’ by J. Stephen Conn is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

The sign indicating New England is also mirrored by Douglass’s pointing finger, referencing his escape from Maryland to Massachusetts. (17)

Crossing the Ohio River symbolised an escape to freedom for many enslaved people. The illustration also therefore seeks to emulate a slave narrative whilst simultaneously glorifying the Northern states. Pictorial references to New England here serve to substantiate the song as an accurate account of Douglass’s experiences, whilst also underpinning the patriotism of the lyrics.

Figure 6: Runaway advert broadside. Woodcut and letterpress, broadside offering reward for escaped slave named Henry May, posted by William Burke, Bardstown, Kentucky, 3 September 1838. Courtesy, Harvard Fine Arts Library, Digital Images and Slides Collection.

Yet, Douglass’s pose has a more complex frame of reference with a dual heritage of North and South. It is similar to the figures of fugitives on the many Southern posters and press adverts for runaways, such as this one from the same year as Douglass’s escape, 1838 (figure 6). However, this allusion does not undercut the patriotism of the lyrics and music. Northern American arrogation and adaptation of this image shows the North’s moral distance from the South, ironically using a Southern image to expose the inhumanity of the South. Indeed, Marcus Wood, who has written extensively on representations of black people in visual culture,  claims that not only was it used in Southern runaway advertisements, but the image was also appropriated for use in slave narratives and early British abolitionist literature. (18) Similarly, American and African American literature specialist, Martha Cutter notes how antislavery illustrations were reworked and reused in other abolitionist literature, repurposing them as emotive antislavery imagery. (19) Here, the martyrologising of a Southern motif reveals the polysemous nature of imagery and how readings of illustrations could be adapted so that they functioned in diverse ways in different circumstances. (20) Indeed, such affillustrative references to both Southern imagery and Douglass’s story would have allowed purchasers of the song to divine its significance as part of Douglass’s heritage. Yet, such understanding is complicated by the cover’s specific geographic symbols, implying rather that it was not who escaped but where he escaped to that is important. 

‘The Fugitive’s Song’ was therefore written to appeal to a predominantly white audience, presenting a whitened version of Douglass’s story. Whilst the three media apparently portray an authentic account, requisitioning Douglass as figurehead is evidence of the somewhat peremptory nature of nineteenth-century Western advocacy for the voiceless African American. Perhaps this is an early example of the ‘mischief’ of Douglass’s later complaint. Indeed, reusing nationalistic motifs in all three media that underline the North’s importance in Douglass’s escape seem somewhat self-congratulatory. The three media of this song together reveal some of the complexities of nineteenth-century attitudes about slavery as connected with race and the significance of patriotism in American abolitionism. Therefore, studying the illustrations of illustrated songs in connection with their music and lyrics opens up new channels of dialogue around how issues, particularly difficult ones such as slavery, were, and are, negotiated.

(1) A. Hyatt King, ‘English pictorial music title-pages 1820-1885: Their style, evolution, and importance’, The Library, 4 (1950): pp. 262-272, p. 270.

(2) Charles H. Nichols, ‘Who Read the Slave Narratives?’ The Phylon Quarterly, 20: 2 (1959): pp.149–162, p. 153.

(3) Jesse’s brother John also sang ‘The Fugitive’s Song’ at Douglass’s funeral in 1895. See ‘Washington Talk Briefing: The Hutchinson Family’, The New York Times, 21 September 1987, p. 8. <https://www.nytimes.com/1987/09/21/us/washington-talk-briefing-hutchinson-family.html&gt; [accessed 23 January 2019].

(4) ‘Songs Against Slavery Used as Tool for Abolition’, Voice of America, 13 January 2014 <https://www.voanews.com/a/songs-against-slavery-tool-for-abolition/1829393.html&gt; [accessed 24 January 2019]. They also toured with the black Luca family although this was sometimes frowned upon, see Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (1971; New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1997), p. 107.

(5) Scott Gac, Singing for Freedom: The Hutchinson Family Singers and the Nineteenth-Century Culture of Reform (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), p.4.

(6) Frederick Douglass, ‘What the Black Man Wants’, Speech at the Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Antislavery Society in Boston, April 1865 http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/africam/afspfdat.html [accessed 30 May 2019].

(7) These lyrics were written in 1798 by Joseph Hopkinson. The repeated references to freedom (which applied to freedom from the British) are particularly multivalent.

(8) The poem, which was later set to John Stafford Smith’s melody, was adopted as the national anthem for the United States on 15 April 1929. ‘The Designation of the “Star-Spangled Banner”’, 3 March 1931, History, Art and Archives: United States House of Representatives https://history.house.gov/Historical-Highlights/1901-1950/The-designation-of-the-%E2%80%9CStar-Spangled-Banner%E2%80%9D/#:~:text=The%20Congressman%20passed%20away%20before,introduced%20to%20the%20House%2C%20H.R. [accessed 07 February 2022].

(9) See Paul Nettl, trans. by Alexander Gode, National Anthems (1952; New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1967).

(10) F. Gunther Eyck, The Voice of Nations: European National Anthems and Their Authors (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995), pp.xiii-xiv.

(11) A leitmotif is a recurrent musical theme associated with a particular idea, place or character. Eyck makes the point that in ‘almost every case, musical composition postdated the creation of the stanzas’, suggesting that composers used word painting and implying that this developed into the use of symbols to paint lyrics that were similar in many types of nationalistic verse writing. Eyck, The Voice of Nations, p.xv.

(12 ) Julia Thomas, Nineteenth-Century Illustration and the Digital: Studies in Word and Image (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), p.97.

(13) Simon Frith, ‘Towards an aesthetic of popular music’ in Richard Leppert and Susan McClary (eds.), Music and Society: The Politics of Composition, Performance and Reception (1987; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989) p.141.

(14) Autumn Haag, University of Rochester’s Special Collections librarian, describes Douglass as also ‘really aware of his self-image’ in Daniel J. Kushner, ‘Rare sheet music inspired by Frederick Douglass obtained by UR’ https://rocdouglass.com/2018/08/11/rare-sheet-music-inspired-by-frederick-douglass-obtained-by-ur/ [accessed 25 January 2019].

(15) For more on this, see John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, Celeste-Marie Bernier, Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2015).

(16) Daguerreotype of Frederick Douglass https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Douglass#/media/File:Frederick_Douglass_by_Samuel_J_Miller,_1847-52.jpg [accessed 30 March 2022].

(17) The Ohio River was considered the extension of the division between North and South, the Mason-Dixon line, here separating Maryland in the South and Pennsylvania in the North.

(18) Marcus Wood, Blind Memory: Visual Representations of slavery in England and America 1780 – 1865 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), pp.78-142. 

(19) Cutter charts the reworking of an image of a white man whipping a slave woman and child originally from the American Antislavery Almanac for Henry Bibb’s slave narrative, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb in 1849, for example in Martha J. Cutter, The Illustrated Slave: Empathy, Graphic Narrative, and the Visual Culture of the Transatlantic Abolition Movement, 1800-1952 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2017), p.167.

(20) Copyright laws were principally to protect literary works rather than this type of imagery, Copyright Timeline: A History of Copyright in the United States http://www.arl.org/focus-areas/copyright-ip/2486-copyright-timeline#.W5uTHuhKjIU [accessed 14 September 2018].

“With feelings which I cannot describe”: How Illustrators of Fin-de-Siècle Romance Fiction Depicted Wonders Surpassing Human Description

by Kate Holterhoff

Kate Holterhoff received her doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University and is currently an Affiliated Researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her new monograph, Illustration in Fin-de-Siècle Transatlantic Romance Fiction (Routledge, 2022) is available now.

This post contains excerpts from the Introduction of Kate’s monograph.

Figure 1. (Left) E. K. Johnson, “I took this cold fragment of mortality in my hand, and looked at it in the light of the lamp with feelings which I cannot describe” from She, A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard in The Graphic, 34, no. 883 (30 October 1886): 469. 
(Right) Charles Kerr, “Holly and Billali” from She, A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1912): 110.

Although horrors and wonders exceeding the bounds of human perception and understanding were conventional in late-Victorian and Edwardian romance fictions, the illustrations which appeared beside these marvels suggested that, when it comes to visual paratexts, quite the opposite was thought to be the case. When fin-de-siècleillustrators undertook the task of illuminating moments that novelists left opaque, artworks challenged these wonders’ supposed inexpressibility. Illustrations from many of the most popular and wild-minded fictions published between 1885 and 1920 round out the reader’s aesthetic, narrative, cultural, and emotional experience, and therefore can never be mimetic reflections of authorial intent. 

Both realist and romance fictions were illustrated during the late nineteenth century for their initial serializations, but there is good reason to focus on romance illustrations particularly. The Romance Revival was tremendously visual, not only because of illustration’s ubiquity, but also owing to the type of wonders described. Readers were struck by romance fiction’s spectacles, which profoundly surpassed reader’s lived experiences. Robert Louis Stevenson points to the form’s optic qualities in “A Gossip on Romance” (1882), explaining that a good story must “repeat itself in a thousand coloured pictures to the eye.” (1) Tableaus of wonder made deep and lasting impressions upon audiences. Indeed, Graham Greene notes that H. Rider Haggard’s fictions “fixed pictures in our minds that thirty years have been unable to wear away.” (2)] The illustrations which accompanied these fictions did more than mimetically reproduce romance’s visually impressive supernatural wonders, advanced technologies, violent battles, great feats of heroism, and titillating romantic trysts. By engaging the notion of inexpressibility, these graphic paratexts deepen romance fiction’s plots. 

In H. Rider Haggard’s She (1887), for instance, narrator Horace Holly and his adult ward Leo Vincey journey to darkest Africa in search of the immortal and supernaturally powerful Queen Ayesha, or She-who-must-be-obeyed. Although wonders and adventures occur throughout, one of the most frequently illustrated portions of She shows Holly pondering a white, mummified foot (see fig. 1). This dismembered and perfectly preserved appendage is all that remains of a beautiful mummy that Billali, the adventurers’ Amahagger guide to Ayesha’s kingdom of Kôr, had become enamored with in his youth. In fact, it was Billali’s mother who burned all but this mummy’s extremity to end her son’s unnatural infatuation. After learning the foot’s remarkable history Holly explains that he, “took this cold fragment of mortality in my hand and looked at it in the light of the lamp with feelings which I cannot describe, so mixed up were they between astonishment, fear, and fascination.” (3) This supernaturally unspoiled foot—its appearance, materiality, and history—resonates so deeply with Haggard’s narrator that verbalizing, or even processing, his complex emotions becomes impossible. It touches on something much deeper than horror or antiquarian interest. Although Haggard leaves the substance of the foot’s mystery open to the interpretation of readers, artists beginning with E. K. Johnson (illustrator for The Graphic and Harper’s Weekly’s serializations), and followed by Charles Kerr (co-illustrator with Maurice Greiffenhagen for the 1888 Longmans, London, book edition), have sought to convey its power and seductiveness. 

What made Haggard’s illustrators not only willing, but also eager, to show a marvel that Haggard will not, and Holly “cannot describe”? Rendering indescribable scenes like this eerie drama in She, but also includingfictional technologies, lands, creatures, peoples, and circumstances graphically allowed these artists to add both concrete detail and greater mystery to these incredible stories. I focus on romance fiction because these texts were visualized despite, or perhaps because, authors explicitly wrestled with ideas of ineffability. Far from being put off by wild visions of terror and wonder, portraying incidents characterized as surpassing the author’s or narrator’s expressive abilities invigorated artists. Whether on purpose or accident, by including indescribable marvels authors granted their illustrators near total liberty to fill in gaps in the reader’s understanding. These unimaginable moments permit word and image to labor hand-in-hand, deepening the audience’s engagement with a text’s more profound themes. 


My monograph Illustration in Fin-de-Siècle Transatlantic Romance Fiction (2022) sets out to investigate the literary, historical, cultural, and aesthetic clues illuminating how images in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-centuryBritish and American romance fiction enabled artists to visualize wonders thought to surpass human description. In the process, I point to the innovative collaborations that authors, illustrators, and publishers forged to describe the ostensibly ineffable. The book is divided into five chapters focusing on a single author, genre, and theme. Each begins with a broad history of illustration within the genre, but then focuses on one canonical late-nineteenth-century author as a case study. Chapter one examines how unimaginable because bygone eras appeared in Robert Louis Stevenson’s historical romances Treasure Island and The Black Arrow. Chapter two examines the pictorially-resistant convention in children’s fiction of expressive animals in Rudyard Kipling’s “Her Majesty’s Servants,” “Toomai of the Elephants,” and “How the Camel Got His Hump” (two stories from The Jungle Books and one from the Just So Stories, respectively). The third chapter explores several indescribably powerful and sexually alluring African women from H. Rider Haggard’s adventure fictions, focusing particularly upon the characters of Nanea from Black Heart and White Heart, Maiwa from Maiwa’s Revenge, and Ayesha as she appears in the She franchise. Chapter four surveys and assesses pictures of incredible technologies from several of H. G. Wells’s fictions, including “In The Abyss,” The War of the WorldsWhen the Sleeper Wakes, and A Story of the Days to Come. Fanciful machines often defy description, either owing to the narrator’s inability to characterize them faithfully, or else because they were too advanced to describe using nineteenth-century analogies. The final chapter examines illustrations that engage the unspeakable horror of cannibalism conducted by and upon supposedly civilized white persons, looking especially at Harper’s Weekly’s serialization of James De Mille’s imperial Gothic romance A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder

Illustration in Fin-de-Siècle Transatlantic Romance Fiction studies illustrations created to enhance romance fiction plots incorporating magic, technology, desire, violence, and other marvels that thwart written representation because these multimodal texts provide illustrators with the dual burden and opportunity of visualizing unspeakable ideas. I endeavor to better understand the complex bonds joining word to image in order to plumb what romance illustrations of indescribable marvels can, and do, accomplish.

(1) H. Rider Haggard, She, ed. Andrew M. Stauffer (Peterborough: Broadview, 2006), 117

(2) Robert Louis Stevenson, “A Gossip on Romance,” Longman’s Magazine 1 (November 1882): 69.

(3) Graham Greene, Collected Essays (New York: The Viking Press, 1969), 209.

Printed Afterlives: Joshua Reynolds’ ‘Johnson Arguing’ portrait, 1769

by Miriam Al Jamil

Miriam Al Jamil is an independent researcher, with interests in eighteenth-century sculpture, material culture, and women’s history. She has published reviews and essays on online platforms and in academic journals including the Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Studies in Religion and Enlightenment, and Early Modern Women. Her chapter on a Zoffany painting appeared in Antiquity and Enlightenment Culture: New Approaches and Perspectives (Brill, 2020). She is the Fine Arts review editor for BSECS Criticks, chair of the Burney Society UK, and is active in the Johnson Society and Women’s Studies Group, 1558-1837. 


One of the best-known portraits of Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds entered the collection of the 3rd Duke of Dorset at Knole in Kent after its exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1770. Often styled ‘Johnson Arguing’, the portrait rapidly deteriorated, ‘the face cracked, the shadows damaged by bitumen’, due to Reynolds’ experiments with untested media. (1) As a result, the details of the painting are better appreciated from the 1769 mezzotint (figure 1) by James Watson (1740-1790). (2) Mark Hallett notes that ‘Johnson’s portrait offers an especially startling depiction of heightened, active introspection, conveyed most powerfully by his half-closed eyes and by the hands that claw the air as if grappling with, or playing on, an especially complex set of concepts.’ (3) The hands add tension to the portrait, capturing a moment when the whole body engages with a critical point in his thought process. However, the combination of an idealised, classicised Johnsonian face with strangely distorted and twisted hands has troubled commentators ever since it was first shown, the ‘hands raised and bent in a peculiar manner’. (4) Watson’s print is unusual among the variety of subsequent engraved copies featuring the face alone which form the subject of this essay.


Figure 1. James Watson, Samuel Johnson, 1769, mezzotint. National Portrait Gallery, NPG D36536.

The vocabulary of gesture and representation of the passions through facial expression was the subject of illustrated treatises which proliferated from the seventeenth century to inform and guide both artists and actors, lawyers and preachers, all of whom depended on public performance to some extent in their professions. (5) At a popular level, George Alexander Stevens published his ‘A Lecture on Heads’ in 1765, based on his demonstrations which used a range of busts as props to illustrate and satirise popular character stereotypes (see figure 2). 

Figure 2. Thomas Rowlandson after George Murgatroyd Woodward,
Frontispiece, from “A Lecture on Heads” by George Alexander Stevens, 1808, print. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
 

Stevens describes ‘The Learned Critic, or Word-grabber’: ‘This is a true classical conjugating countenance, and denotes dictionary dignity […] the ears of this critic are immensely large; they are called trap doors to catch syllables![…] his eyes are half closed; that’s called the Wiseman’s Wink; and shews (sic) he can see the world with half an eye.’ (6) Most interpretations of the half-closed eyes in Johnson’s portraits tend to point either to his disability directly or to his introspection rather than to shrewd engagement with the world. Stevens’ idea poses the possibility of an alternative and artful evaluation of Johnson’s half-closed eyes in the Knole portrait. Johnson might have enjoyed the epithet ‘Wiseman’s wink’.

The most influential contemporary analysis of gesture and appearance was one cited by James Boswell who listed all the known portraits of Johnson in a footnote to his Life of Johnson (1791). (7) These include one published in John Caspar Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy (1789-98), ‘in which Johnson’s countenance is analysed upon the principles of that fanciful writer’. (8) The Knole portrait provided the most fruitful source for Lavater’s examination of Johnson’s character based on facial expression and physical peculiarities. The engraver Thomas Holloway (1748-1827) furnished many of the 800 illustrations to Henry Hunter’s translation of Lavater of 1789. His three Johnson portraits are pared down and simplified in line, combined on the page to enable subtle interaction in an exploration of the portrait subject (figure 3).

 Figure 3. Lavater, Samuel Johnson: Three Portraits, c.1789. Wellcome Library no. 28706i.

Thomas Holcroft’s translated edition of Lavater’s essays uses another engraving of the Knole portrait which has been divested of its introspective ‘wrestling’ altogether (figure 4). The description adds a further interpretation of Johnson’s expression, ‘the most unpractised eye will easily discover, […] the acute, the comprehensive, the capacious mind, not easily deceived, and rather inclined to suspicion than credulity’. (9) An appended essay in this edition by essayist Helfrich Peter Sturz (1736-1779) asserts that ‘Dr. Johnson had the appearance of a Porter; not the glance of the eye, not any trait of the mouth, speak the man of penetration, or of Science.’ (10) He continues, ‘Can a countenance more tranquilly fine be imagined, one that more possesses the sensibility of understanding, planning, scrutinizing? In the eyebrows, only, and their horizontal position, how great is the expression of profound, exquisite, penetrating understanding!’. (11) For Sturz, the character is belied by his attire. His assessment incorporates his familiarity with anecdotes about Johnson’s habitually dishevelled dress although the print itself does not include any evidence to support his analogy. An imagined substitution for the classical robe of Reynolds’ original painting enables the print to become a convenient signifier of Johnson, the man remembered by his friends.

 
Figure 4. From Lavater, Essays in Physiognomy, translated from the German by Thomas Holcroft. London: Ward, Lock & Co., undated), 17th edition. Plate 1, Nos. 3 and 4, p.33.

The portrait at Knole drew both visitors and copyists. One of these was Ozias Humphry (1742-1810), a skilled miniaturist who received the patronage of the 3rd Duke. He wrote about meeting Johnson sometime between 1764 and 1772: ‘I was very much struck with Mr. Johnson’s appearance, and could hardly help thinking him a madman for some time, as he sat waving over his breakfast like a lunatic. He is a very large man, and was dressed in a dirty brown coat and waistcoat with breeches that were brown also (though they had been crimson), and an old black wig.’ (12) Like  Sturz, Humphry went on to describe how the peculiarities of the man had ill-prepared him for the brilliant intelligence that he then witnessed in action. He painted at least one portrait of Johnson. Boswell listed ‘a beautiful miniature in enamel’ but some of his later work has been lost. (13)

A 1918 biography of Humphry includes a copy of an etching of Johnson’s head taken from the Knole portrait, reputedly based on a drawing by Humphry. The etching is described, ‘From the rare etching after Humphry by Mrs. D. Turner, Original Unknown’. (14) Before 22nd July 2021, the National Portrait Gallery website attributed the print to Mrs. D. Turner, based on this information. This attribution has now been removed, following my query, in favour of Samuel James Bouverie Haydon (1815-1891). (15) However, the NPG continues to list an etching by Mrs. D. Turner c.1825, based on a crayon copy by Humphry but it is not illustrated or part of the gallery’s collection. (16) She did indeed make an etching of Johnson, but it was not the one cited in Humphry’s biography or originally by the NPG.

Mary Dawson Turner was born Mary Palgrave in Norfolk, in 1774. She married the banker, botanist, antiquarian and collector Dawson Turner in 1796, with whom she lived in Great Yarmouth and had eleven children, eight of whom survived into adulthood. (17) Dawson Turner’s extensive collections have received scholarly attention over the years. In the Preface to his Manuscript Library sale of 1859, he is described as ‘an accomplished scholar, a man of very varied attainments, and of accurate observation […], deriving his solace and delight alike from pursuits connected with the fine arts and archaeology’. (18) He arranged tuition in drawing and engraving for Mary and their six daughters whose subsequent industry and dedication to the production of illustrations for his books and projects both amazed and unsettled visitors to their home. Their contributions to his work and reputation have only recently been acknowledged and examined in a collection of essays published in 2007. (19)

The collector’s family life appears close; he loved, respected and was proud of his wife and children. However, I suggest that the intensive application to their studies required of the children and the daily labour of etching from 6.30 in the morning undertaken by Mary and her daughters betokens something more obsessive in an ostensibly benign patriarchal home. Alluding to a visit to London by her daughter Ellen, Mary expressed concern over her rigorous studies, ‘I certainly think that her less comparatively sedentary habits and strenuous application of mind will probably be [more] friendly to her general health than those she addicted herself to at home’. In the same letter, Mary describes one of her own etching subjects as ‘drudgery’ from which she needed ‘some precious rest to the eyes and pleasure to the mind’. (20) This feverish labour is the context in which Mary etched her print of Dr. Johnson.

Dawson Turner’s ‘grangerised’ volumes of James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) are all now lost. These consisted of two sets of four volumes which were each made into six large imperial folio volumes, with around 1,700 portrait prints, views of locations mentioned in the text, news cuttings and autographs. It is likely that Mary’s etching of Johnson was destined for one of these volumes. Mary mentions her efforts to complete it in a letter of 1825. The cares of her household and large family and her own fragile health clearly interfered with the relentless etching programme which demanded her attention. She writes, ‘I have been so variously engaged today with perpetual calls for directions to whitewashers, whitesmith masons & etc. that I have not done Dr, Johnson’s head’. (21) An unpublished volume, of which only forty-nine copies were made, One Hundred Etchings by Mrs. Dawson Turner, includes Mary’s etching, ‘Johnson, Samuel LL.D, from a drawing by Ozias Humphry R.A. 1773’. (22) It is a disciplined and technically exact copy which was reproduced in other Dawson Turner print albums.

Figure 5. Mary Dawson Turner, Samuel Johnson, after Ozias Humphry, 1773
The Mother’s Exemplar, being a collection of Etchings, many of them from Original Drawings by Mrs. Dawson Turner and her family
V&A Prints and Drawings, 93 H/19.

In her study of eighteenth and nineteenth century-extra-illustrated books, Lucy Peltz identifies many cases where fathers and daughters undertook such an activity together. In the Turner family, she suggests, it was ‘a domestication of the intellectual sociability of the masculine club’ which gave the daughters ‘access to a traditionally male arena’ and ‘strengthened sentimental bonds between relatives’. (23) Such a bond is evident particularly in correspondence from Harriet Turner to her father which centres on the art she has seen and the subjects she has produced as drawings and etchings. Her enthusiasm is undeniable, but she is passionate and needy, longing for his approval and affection, even after she has married and moved away. (24) The illustrations chosen for inclusion in Turner’s volumes depended largely on the creative production of the Turner women over many years, a more demanding commitment than the leisurely and companionable selection of relevant prints from other sources which is suggested by Peltz’s statement.

The inaccessibility of both Mary Turner’s print and of the lost Humphry drawing upon which it was based led to confusion over the attribution for another print, ostensibly after the same Humphry drawing. Samuel James Bouverie Haydon (1815-1891), print-maker and sculptor, made his etching of Johnson in 1860. Unlike Mary Turner, he did not alter the reverse image. The process of making his print is evident in plates held by the British Museum. He etched an early version on a large 32cm high plate, alongside trial etchings of a bust of John Dickens, a portrait of his daughter and a small landscape (figure 6). (25 ) He then trimmed the portrait down and added an oval frame which was probably close to the format of the original Humphry miniature portrait (figure 7). (26) He later burnished out and replaced the lettering on the earlier plate (figure 8). (27)



Figure 6. Samuel James Bouverie Haydon, etching on copper, c.1860, 320 x 265mm. British Museum, No. 1924,0512.18

Figure 7. Haydon, Portrait Head of Dr. Johnson, c.1860., 174 x 115mm. British Museum, No. 1832,0507.30.

Figure 8. Haydon, Portrait of Samuel Johnson, c.1860, 176 x 116mm, British Museum. No. 1913,0611.122. 

Another print of this final version is the one in the NPG collection (figure 9). (28) A comparison with Mary Turner’s print highlights Haydon’s dense and less formal cross-hatching of the background to deepen the contrast to the face, and his spare treatment of the hair with less expressive line and a consequent lack of movement and flow.


Figure 9. Haydon, Samuel Johnson, National Portrait Gallery, 283 x 203mm, NPG D3158.

The reason that Haydon undertook the etching is not known. He worked at his home in Exeter and in London. (29) He regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1840 until 1876 and combined his traditional artistic practice with the pioneering medium of photography from 1845, when he worked as an assistant to William Fox Talbot. His academy exhibits reflect commissions for civic, ecclesiastical, military and aristocratic portrait busts, classical and sentimental subjects, and paintings of town and country locations. (30) The variety of his subjects point to an artist who adapted to the economic imperatives of the market, and though not universally celebrated, at least he made a living through his craft. The four trial etchings together on his plate summarise the diversity of the media he employed. In this context, Johnson’s head becomes inextricably linked with the cultural and commercial conditions of nineteenth-century London.

Unlike Haydon, Mary Turner and her daughters worked solely on Dawson Turner’s projects, never exhibited their art at public exhibitions and do not appear to have aspired to general artistic recognition. However, Jane Knowles in her essay on the Turner family identifies a hint of regret in one of Elizabeth Turner’s letters, ‘We can copy & that is all. And Mr. Varley’s kind efforts & example have only show’d to prove to us the strong line of demarcation which separates the artist from the draftsman’. (31) Knowles suggests that Dawson Turner regarded them as copyists, as merely ‘artistic’ rather than ‘artists’, who were never expected to develop an individual style. Maurice H. Grant, in his  A Dictionary of British Etchers (1952) is dismissive about Mary, ‘all competent little Plates without much finesse but firmly etched somewhat in the Netherlands tradition’. (32) Likewise, his entries for the Turner daughters are perfunctory, ‘They chiefly employed themselves in copying the sketches of J.S. Cotman, their instructor, but their several works are not now distinguishable’. (33) A recent dictionary of print-makers does not include etchers so fails to mention the Turners at all. (34) It is not surprising that Mary Turner’s etching of Johnson has been forced back into obscurity and inaccessibility and her name incorrectly attached to another artist’s work. Technical skill and a trained eye are no substitute for creative response.

Footnotes

(1) David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings (New Haven: The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Yale University Press, 2000), no. 1012, p.280.

(2) See Mark Hallett, Reynolds: Portraiture in Action (New Haven: The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Yale University Press, 2014), p.242; James Watson, Samuel Johnson, 10 July 1769, National Portrait Gallery, NPG D36536; see entry for James Watson in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-28840?rskey=u5GJ4E&result=4 [accessed 18 November, 2021].

(3) Hallett, p.244.

(4) Edward Hamilton, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Engraved Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A, from 1755 to 1820 (London: Colnaghi & Co., 1874), p.32.

(5) For a full discussion of available treatises, see Adam Kendon, Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), Chapter 3.

(6) George Alexander Stevens, The Celebrated Lecture on Heads, which has been exhibited upwards of One Hundred Successive Nights, To Crouded Audiences, and Met with the most Universal Applause (London: Richard Bond, 1765), Part III, p.15.

(7) James Boswell, Life of Johnson unabridged (Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), Monday 20 December, 1784, p.1395, footnote 1.

(8) Johann Caspar Lavater, Essays on physiognomy; designed to promote the knowledge and the   love of mankind, Illustrated by more than eight hundred engravings accurately copied; and some duplicates added from originals. Executed by, or under the inspection of Thomas Holloway. Translated from the French by Henry Hunter (London: John Murray [etc.], 1789-98), 5 Vols.; https://wellcomecollection.org/works/yffvbzu5 [accessed 18 November, 2021].

(9) Essays on Physiognomy: translated from the German of John Caspar Lavater, by Thomas Holcroft. Also One Hundred Physiognomical Rules, taken from a posthumous work by J.C. Lavater; and a Memoir of the Author, seventeenth edition; Illustrated with upwards of four hundred profiles (London: Ward, Lock & Co., undated), p.33.

(10) Ibid., p.257.

(11) Ibid., p.258.

(12) Quoted from letter, private collection, in George C. Williamson, Life and Works of Ozias Humphry, RA (London: John Lane, 1918), p.87.

(13) Boswell, p.1395, footnote 1.

(14) Williamson, List of Illustrations, p.xiv, and facing p.88.

(15) National Portrait Gallery, NPG D3158.

(16) See National Portrait Gallery, https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portraitExtended/mw03492/Samuel-Johnson#ref4  [accessed 12 October, 2021].

(17) Mary Dawson Turner (1774-1850), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Dawson_Turner  [accessed 12 October, 2021]; see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry for Turner, Dawson (1775-1858), https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-27846 [accessed 12 October, 2021].

(18) Catalogue of the Important Manuscript Library of the late Dawson Turner, esq., formerly of Yarmouth […] to be sold by auction on Monday, June 6th, and following days’, Messrs. Puttick & Simpson, Auctioneers of Literary Property, 47 Leicester Sq., 1859, p.xvi.

(19) Nigel Goodman, ed., Dawson Turner: A Norfolk Antiquary and his Remarkable Family (Chichester: Phillimore, 2007).

(20) Trinity College Library, Cambridge, Dawson Turner Correspondence, Turner III, A33/42, Mary Turner to Dawson Turner, 5 April 1832.

(21) Dawson Turner Correspondence, Turner III, letter from Mary Turner, 19 April 1825.

(22) Turner, One Hundred Etchings by Mrs. Dawson Turner, Not published, [1830], British Library; other copies discussed by Warren R. Dawson, ‘A Bibliography of the Printed Works of Dawson Turner’, in Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, (3:3, 1961), pp.232-256, 242.

(23) Lucy Peltz, Facing the Text: Extra-illustration, Print Culture, and Society in Britain, 1769-1840 (San Marino: The Huntington Library, 2017), p.313.

(24) See especially Dawson Turner Correspondence, Turner III, A8/1-35 Harriet Turner (Gunn) to Dawson Turner.

(25) Samuel James Bouverie Haydon, etching on copper, c.1860, 320 x 265mm, British Museum, No. 1924,0512.18 https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1924-0512-18 [accessed 29 October, 2021].

(26) Haydon, Portrait Head of Dr. Johnson, c.1860, 174 x 115mm, British Museum, No. 1832,0507.30 https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1932-0507-30 [accessed 29 October, 2021].

(27) Haydon, Portrait of Samuel Johnson, c.1860, 176 x 116mm, British Museum, No. 1913,0611.122 https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1913-0611-122 [accessed  29 October, 2021].

(28) Haydon, Samuel Johnson, National Portrait Gallery, 283 x 203mm, PG D3158. https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw37354/Samuel-Johnson?LinkID=mp02446&wPage=1&role=sit&rNo=39 [accessed 29 October, 2021]. My thanks to British Museum curator Hugo Chapman and National Portrait Gallery curator Paul Cox.

(29) For biographical details, see Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland, 1851-1951:https://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=msib7_1218129055 [accessed 7 November, 2021].

(30) See entries in The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769-2018https://chronicle250.com/1840#catalogue [accessed 7 November, 2021].

(31) Elizabeth Turner, quoted in Jane Knowles, ‘A Tasteful Occupation? The Work of Maria, Elizabeth, Mary Anne, Harriet, Hannah, Sarah and Ellen Turner’, in Nigel Goodman, Dawson Turner, pp.123-140, p.136; reference is to John Varley, artist (1778-1842), acquaintance of the family.

(32) Col. Maurice Harold Grant, A Dictionary of British Etchers (London: Rockliff, 1952), p.207.

(33) Ibid., p. 208.

(34) See David Alexander, A Biographical Dictionary of British and Irish Engravers, 1714-1820 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021). Crome, Cotman and Varley, all associated with Dawson Turner, are included.

Introduction, Twitter launch and Call for Contributions

Hello and a very happy New Year to all members of the Romantic Illustration Network! My name is Katie Snow and I’m pleased to be the new web lead for the RIN. Lots has been happening behind the scenes at RIN, and in this post I’ll introduce myself, share our new Twitter account, and encourage submissions to the blog.

My work is best described as a mix of medical and art history; I use visual sources to explore attitudes towards bodies, gender and sexuality. At present, my research is focused on how the body – and especially its intimate parts – are politicised in British caricature. I’m writing my first monograph, Satirising the Breast, having been awarded a PhD on representations of breasts in Georgian satirical prints in the summer of 2021. I’m looking forward to seeing how my involvement with the RIN shapes my project, and would love to hear from members with similar interests.

For those of you who are active on social media, we’ve recently launched a RIN Twitter account which will act as a hub for exchanging ideas, sharing news and celebrating work. To help spread the news of our joining, please follow the account here, retweet posts and tag the RIN in items you think might be of interest to members. 

Over the coming weeks and months I’ll also be updating this website with information about upcoming events, partnerships and relevant publications, as well as sharing useful links to research, cultural and pedagogical platforms. Please get in touch if you would like to be added as a Member, have any suggestions for material to be included or if you would like to recommend a book or article to be added to the Bibliography page (don’t be shy about sharing your own!). 

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to invite ongoing contributions to the RIN blog. We welcome anything which might interest our diverse network of members: posts might, for example, take the form of a review of an event, text or media item; an exploration of a primary source; or serve as an introduction to a new research project. All topics related to visual culture in the Romantic period will be considered. The RIN endorses a broad definition of illustration, welcoming interdisciplinary approaches and international perspectives which bring together scholars working on poetry, prose, the printed book, paintings and other visual materials from roughly 1750-1850. Published posts will be shared on Twitter, as well as directly with our network members and partners. As an illustration network we are particularly keen to reinstate our popular Image of the Month series, which spotlights paintings, prints and other illustrations. Posts typically range from 500-3000 words. Previous Image of the Month publications can be viewed here: https://romanticillustrationnetwork.com/category/image-of-the-month/.

As the year unfolds, I hope you will consider submitting your suggestions and ideas to the RIN, and contribute to the exciting ongoing conversations in the field of Romantic visual culture. I’ll leave you with this satirical print of a young French man, whose festive extravagances catch up with him as creditors, rather than friends, come a-calling on the morning of New Year’s Day 1815…

Please get in touch with me at ks596@exeter.ac.uk

Les Visites du Jour de l’An (The New Year’s Day Visits). 1814. British Museum, Museum no. 2001,0520.72.

Queen Caroline in Caricature – August 1821

Caroline’s Death and an Unpublished George Cruikshank Image

Ian Haywood, University of Roehampton, London

Figure 1. George Cruikshank, Vox Populi, Vox Dei. Unpublished design for a caricature on the violence at Queen Caroline’s funeral. Berg Collection, New York Public Library. Author’s photograph.

Queen Caroline’s death was as controversial as her life. After more than a year of political upheaval and unprecedented media attention, Caroline passed away on 7 August 1821, aged 53. The medical cause of death was a digestive blockage, but Caroline’s followers saw things differently. In their eyes, she had died of a broken heart, the victim of a government-led campaign of persecution and vilification. She was the ‘injured’ queen to the very end. Only weeks earlier, on 19 July, Caroline had been barred from attending George IV’s coronation in Westminster Abbey, and this definitively un-queenlike humiliation was widely believed to have hastened her rapid demise, especially as she was already a weakened figure. The coronation debacle was the climax of a sustained propaganda counter-offensive which followed her stunning triumph in late 1820 (see the ‘November 1820’ blog). When Caroline failed to seize the political moment and bring the government down, her enemies made a concerted effort to shift public opinion against her by dwelling on eye-catching flaws: her sex life, her corrupt aristocratic lifestyle, and her departure from the moral codes of respectable femininity and the correct standards of royal conduct. As anti-Caroline caricatures flooded the market, her support wavered further when she accepted an increased allowance of £50,000, the same amount she had symbolically refused when she returned to England the previous year (see the ‘June 1820’ blog). But her death was an immediate and sensational rallying point for her supporters, an opportunity to retake the moral high ground and to dominate the media with tributes, commemorations, and accusations of foul play. The violence that erupted at Caroline’s funeral only confirmed the malign role of the government and its petty determination to deny her royal reputation and rights. The public outrage at this neo-Peterloo atrocity led to some memorable caricatures, including a striking unpublished design by George Cruikshank, which shows popular justice being meted out to a military officer (Figure 1).

To understand and appreciate this image more fully, we need to retrace our steps and look more closely at the explosion of print culture which followed Caroline’s death. As already noted, this was the moment to reverse the tide of negative reportage and visual propaganda which had dominated 1821 up to that point. In this loyalist counter-narrative, ‘Caroline the Curst’[1] was the antithesis of the indomitable, rebellious heroine of the radical imagination. Instead of Boadicea, she was Messalina, the infamous meretrix augusta or imperial whore’ of Juvenal’s Sixth Satire, an aristocratic Roman matron who supposedly slept with lower-class men to satisfy her insatiable sexual appetite.[2] According to one verse satire entitled Messalina, Caroline’s trial (which technically had found her guilty of adultery, though only by the slimmest of margins) ‘pronounc’d the queen / Had clearly a low trollop been’[3], a slur that evoked memories of the virulent lampooning of Caroline’s ‘butcher-kissing’ predecessor Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, another upper-class woman who dared to mix in public politics.[4] The accusation of demeaning promiscuity was also a metaphor for the greater offence of courting public opinion. Caroline had willingly turned herself into an ‘exhibit’ for public consumption, ‘courting the favour of a populace, whose breath is bought and sold’ instead of rededicating herself to her husband.[5] She was a triple offender, exposing her royal body indiscriminately to the disreputable gaze of lovers, radical politicians, and the masses. This multiple prostitution of her image was the focus of a series of high-quality caricatures published by George Humphrey in early 1821.[6]

Two examples of these prints are included here (Figures 2-3). The title of Installation of a Knight Companion of the Bath (Figure 2) puns on Caroline’s promotion of Bartolomeo Bergami from servant to personal assistant. The chivalric title Knight of the Bath was normally awarded for outstanding military or diplomatic service, and not – as in this case – for sexual gratification. This scene illustrates one of the alleged examples of adultery which were recounted in fulsome, often risible detail at Caroline’s trial. Instead of the purifying bathing ritual of the original chivalric Order, we witness a Rowlandsonian erotic frolic in which Bergami’s orgasmic ‘copious shower’ expresses the sheer joy and guilt-free abandon of their relationship. This is indeed damning visual evidence of ‘low trollop’ behaviour, but as so often in caricature the scene is also full of mischievous satirical traps. Caroline’s opponents might well have gloated over this bathtub tryst, but they were also forced to confront the voyeuristic basis of their pleasure. In the background there is a partially open door which shows two servants who are spying on the lovers, and while this device may signify the authenticity of the eye-witness accounts, it is also a reminder of the prurient gaze of scandal which made Caroline’s trial simultaneously titillating and distasteful. This tainted gaze contrasts with the openly affectionate eye contact of the two lovers, and this juxtaposition could imply that Caroline’s accusers are both jealous and resentful of her sexual independence and – as represented by the discarded clothing – her contempt for convention. Another object which defies social and moral norms is the miniature portrait of Bergami which is hanging on the wall behind her head and which she wears openly and unashamedly in other prints. For viewers today, these complexities make this image far more challenging and rewarding than first impressions might suggest.

The second example from the Humphreys series switches the satirical focus from private to public indiscretion. Grand Entrance to Bamboozl’em (Figure 3) is a parody of the spectacular processions and rallies which became such a feature of Caroline’s campaign, and which (as we shall see) also defined the conclusion of the controversy, though in an unexpected way. The intention of the print seems to be to undermine the memory of these gatherings by converting them into a cross between a pantomime and an impending riot, simultaneously laughable and threatening. Caroline is located appropriately at the centre of the scene and her appearance conveys these mixed messages of menace and ridiculousness: she rides an ass instead of a horse (a wry allusion to visual representations of her ‘public entry’ into Jerusalem in 1815), wears a very revealing ‘décolletée over-dress’[7] instead of modest and dignified attire, openly sports the Bergami locket, and on her head is a red cap of Liberty which also resembles the clown’s hat worn by her companion Alderman Wood – a far cry from their heroic stance in Robert Cruikshank’s The Secret Insult (1820), the print which heralded Caroline’s return to England (see ‘June 1820’ blog). According to the writing on her saddle-cloth and the text in the oval plate below the image, she is also Columbine and Mother Red Cap, two famous lower-class characters from popular culture. Columbine was the plucky and irreverent servant of commedia del arte and its derivative English pantomime, and Mother Red Cap was a legendary pub landlady and (in some versions of the story) a witch.[8]

These identities are no doubt intended to confirm Caroline’s ‘trollop’ misdemeanours and unforgiveable mingling with the hoi polloi, but they also evoke a rumbustious culture of popular performance and folk tradition which gives the print an engaging, populist and carnivalesque quality. The uplifting impression created by the vivid colours, festive atmosphere, multiculturalism (Caroline’s entourage includes a black man who could be her adopted servant Louges)[9] and conviviality (Bacchus is literally part of the crew), together with the transformation of central London into an amphitheatre of democratic spectacle, overpowers the negativity of the incendiary banners which recede into the right distance, and the ominous bolt of lightning on the horizon. The lively gaggle of reformers who are waiting to greet Caroline (including the Peterloo speaker Henry Hunt, who was still in jail) are not heavily caricatured. The lavish detail of the print, which contains dozens of well-drawn characters and many symbols, is also a tribute to the quality and efficacy of the Carolinite caricature campaign which had set such a high bar. This may be a vaudeville Caroline, but the effervescent and joyous emotion of the scene has an infectious and seductive energy.

Figure 2. Installation of a Knight Companion of the Bath (George Humphrey, June 1821). Lewis Walpole Library.
Figure 3. Grand Entrance to Bamboozl’em (George Humphrey, February 1821). Lewis Walpole Library.

As these examples show, the caricature assault on Caroline’s moral probity could not entirely eradicate her populist appeal as a woman of the people, and the constant parodying of her cause did, after all, keep her in the public eye. One way to view the king’s lavish coronation, which had been deferred for a whole year, is that it was an attempt to finally eclipse and derail the Caroline roadshow. The liberal and radical press responded by condemning the ostentatious expenditure, highlighting evidence of lacklustre popular support, and of course expressing outrage at the queen’s exclusion.[10] Just a few weeks later, Caroline’s death provided the perfect opportunity to upstage this cynical display of national pomp with the queen’s celestial coronation, a ‘Crown of Glory, / Where oppressors cannot come’.[11] She was now a true martyr who had died for her beliefs. Two phrases were on everyone’s lips: her dying words ‘They have destroyed me’ and the title ‘injured queen’, which was provocatively inscribed on her coffin. These and similar taglines populated the tributary merchandise that flooded the market at all social levels: poems, elegies, sermons, portraits, engraved medallions, hagiographies and broadsides. This was the final chance to set the record straight, and the greater the offence against her, the greater her moral and spiritual victory.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most effective satirical response to Caroline’s death came from William Hone and George Cruikshank. The formidable duo lost no time in announcing the event on the front page of their highly successful satirical newspaper A Slap at Slop (Figure 4). With characteristically audacious visual and verbal flair, the conventional funerary hatchment is replaced with a dagger hovering over the bannered word ‘Persecution’ (Figure 5). The caption below modifies Falstaff’s lines from Act Two, Scene 4 of Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part One: ‘This chair shall be my state, this dagger my sceptre, and this cushion my crown’ becomes ‘This Dagger my sceptre, and Persecution my Crown!’ In the original scene, Falstaff is pretending to be Prince Hal’s father the king, so the allusion would be comic if it were not so tragic. The implication is that Caroline’s spouse still resembles the unreformed Hal rather than a responsible ruler, hence George’s callous treatment of his wife is likened to a Tudor-style judicial murder. This was satirical hyperbole, though George’s decision to visit Ireland rather than attend Caroline’s funeral was seen by many as confirming his inhumanity.[12] As the adjacent satirical woodcuts on the front page of Slap at Slop show, Caroline’s death coincided with the second anniversary of the Peterloo massacre. In the radical imagination, she became the latest victim of brutally repressive government.

Figure 4. William Hone and George Cruikshank, Front page of A Slap at Slop 27th edition (August 1821).  Wilhelm Busch Museum.
Figure 5. Detail from William Hone and George Cruikshank, Front page of A Slap at Slop 27th edition (August 1821). 

The memory of Peterloo was never far away during the Caroline controversy, but no one could have predicted that her funeral procession on 14 August – just two days before the second anniversary – would actually turn into a mini-Peterloo. The violence was a spectacular demonstration of the continuing disagreements about her status and rights. As she herself declared on her death-bed, she was ‘Queen – and no queen’.[13] This ambiguity disfigured and defined both her life and her death. Denied a full state funeral, her followers stepped in to ensure that she was accorded a fittingly grand departure. However, a dispute arose concerning the route that the funeral procession could take through London on the way to Harwich, where her coffin would embark for Germany.[14] The authorities insisted that the cortege had to avoid the City and East End, which were hotbeds of working-class support. This was fiercely resisted by the organisers of the procession, and things came to a head at Cumberland Gate in Hyde Park. This was a symbolic location, close to the old ‘Tyburn Tree’ gallows and the earmarked site of the new Marble Arch, the monument to Waterloo. As tempers rose and brickbats were thrown, the Life Guards opened fire and killed two men, Richard Honey (a carpenter) and George Francis (a bricklayer). Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the British state had once again shown its true colours.

Through its ineptitude or sheer malice, the British state had handed a propaganda gift to Caroline’s side, and the caricaturists were quick to respond. Robert Cruikshank’s depiction of the event (Figure 6) was clearly based on his brother George’s well-known portrayals of Peterloo, Manchester Heroes and Britons Strike Home![15]The mounted soldiers mowing down protestors and the supplicating female figure in the foreground are hallmarks of the earlier prints, to which The Funeral Procession of Queen Caroline adds evidence of crowd aggression, perhaps in an attempt to be even-handed. George Cruikshank had no such qualms about apportioning blame and demanding retribution. His striking unpublished design, Vox Populi, Vox Dei (Figure 1), shows a military officer subjected to a traditional form of popular punishment known as the skimmington or charivari. This type of public humiliation of an offender was on the wane in the nineteenth century, but there are several putative reasons why Cruikshank deemed it an appropriate visual statement of justice. The most obvious justification was to redress the failure of the judicial process. Just as with Peterloo, no one was prosecuted for the shootings, even though many witnesses at the inquest into the deaths of Honey and Francis testified that an officer called (astonishingly) Gore had ordered the fatal shots.[16] This is almost certainly the pitiable figure riding backwards on the ass, his broken sword symbolizing his fall from grace. He has been found guilty in the court of public opinion: ‘Vox Populi, Vox Dei’. To avoid stereotypical associations with mob violence and Jacobin terror, the base of this sculptural composition combines two reassuring republican symbols: the fasces of ancient Roman magistrates (though without the axes), and the crossed hands of amity and solidarity. Echoing press reports of banners and placards at the event, the people are ‘Firm, ‘United’ and ‘Triumphant’, secure in their moral and political righteousness. This is clearly wish-fulfilment, and to modern eyes any celebration of vigilantism makes uncomfortable viewing. But the image is sombre rather than triumphal, and its ultimate purpose is to expose and exhibit wrongdoing. In this sense, the charivari or ‘rough justice’ is a metaphor for caricature itself, an affinity which Punch magazine took to heart in its subtitle ‘The London Charivari’.

Figure 6. Robert Cruikshank, The Funeral Procession of Queen Caroline (Thomas Dolby, August 1821) British Museum.

We can only speculate about the effect Cruikshank’s unpublished print may have had. For all its restraint, the starkness of the tribute to popular justice may have been regarded as inflammatory, and this might explain why it was not published. By contrast, the prints that Cruikshank did publish in response to the funeral shootings showcase his visual wit and theatrical brio. The Man-Slaughter-Men and Nobody going to be Punished! (Figures 7-8) ridicule the idea that ‘nobody’ committed the crime by literally showing absurdly elongated soldiers without a body. In The Man-Slaughter-Men three gun-toting soldiers (though not the fourth, who looks horrified) jeer at the ghosts of Joyce and Francis who have arisen from their graves, their headstones inscribed with the actual findings of the inquests, manslaughter and willful murder. The scene derives its initial power from the inverted dramatic situation, as conventionally it is the ghosts who point their fingers at the guilty. Moreover, the perpetrators are also verbally dominant: while the ghosts are silent (no ‘vox populi’ here), the soldiers spout modified lines from Macbeth (3.4.49-50). When Macbeth sees the ghost of the murdered Banquo, he retorts, ‘Thou canst not say I did it; never shake/ Thy gory locks at me’. In the print the word ‘gory’ has been changed to ‘bloody’ to avoid implicating the officer named in the inquest. But the last word (so to speak) is with the victims, as we all know the ultimate fate of Macbeth, and the empty gallows between the guilty and the innocent speak volumes.

Indeed, in Nobody going to be Punished! the gallows have become the location of the action. Unlike Vox Populi, Vox Dei, this is mock-punishment, a farcical show in which the two culprits, one in the stocks with his back to us, the other facing us with a loose-fitting rope round his neck, are engaged in jocular banter, as if this was a pleasant Sunday afternoon in the park. But their smugness is undercut precisely by the absence of bodies: the birch and the trapdoor are stationary, but all they need is a hand to activate them. There are also two clever visual surprises in the scene. In the distance is a second, very tall gallows from which a soldier is hanging and losing his ludicrously over-sized boots (as in bossy boots). It is unclear if this figure is meant to be real or an effigy, but either way this is a rather chilling vignette of popular retribution. Contrary to the print’s title, which could be the quoted words of the arrogant soldier, someone has already been hung; and, moreover, ‘ye cannot say who did it’, as there is nobody about. Finally, the two grotesquely over-sized plumes of the soldiers resemble speech marks or parentheses, the vacated space of the unstated guilty verdict, the last words of the vox populi.[17]

Figure 7. George Cruikshank, Man-Slaughter-Men! Or a Horse laugh at the Law of the Land (John Fairburn, September 1821). British Museum.
Figure 8. George Cruikshank, Nobody Going to be Punished! Nobody going to be Hung!!! (John Fairburn, September 1821). British Museum

The proliferation of controversial and entertaining images generated by Caroline’s death is testimony to the unprecedented role that caricature played in her campaign to become a legitimate queen. The satirical prints aided, abetted (and to lesser extent obstructed) her cause in extraordinarily creative and resourceful ways, mobilizing both high and popular culture and giving her multiple identities, contexts, and agencies. Caroline prided herself on being the people’s queen, and it was in the world of caricature that her image was truly nationalized. For the caricaturist, everybody is a body for everyone, and nobody can evade the satirical gaze. In an era when public image was becoming an increasingly important factor in social and political success, it was caricature that constantly called the visual bluff of celebrity and power.

Indeed, was the whole elite system of pomp and ceremony, in Robert Cruikshank’s term, simply All My Eye – in other words, nonsense?[18] All My Eye was Robert’s reply to his brother’s earlier celebration of Caroline’s democratic credentials (see the ‘November 1820’ blog), and as so often in caricature, the phrase draws attention to the act of looking (Figures 9-10). So I leave you to look at these two caricatures, and you can decide which print takes the crown.

Figure 9. George Cruikshank, engraving of a transparency of Queen Caroline, included in William Hone’s The Political Showman – At Home! (1821). Wilhelm Busch Museum. Author’s photograph.
Figure 10. Robert Cruikshank, All My Eye (George Humphrey, May 1821). British Museum.

[1] See Gynecocracy: With an Essay on Fornication, Adultery, and Incest (J. J. Stockdale, 1821), 655. The title refers to rule by women.

[2] This was of course a politically motivated smear: see Caillan Davenport and Shushma Malik, ‘The faces of Messalina,’ The Museum: The Magazine of the National Museum of Australia, 14: 10-15. In Georgian caricature, allusions to Messalina were often used to tarnish the reputations of political women: see, for example, Gillray’s The Offering to Liberty (1789; British Museum Satires 7548) which attacks Marie-Antoinette, and Dido in Despair (1801; British Museum Satires 9752) which targets Emma Hamilton.

[3] Messalina (T. Wright, 1821), 204. Wright was one of the main publishers of loyalist propaganda.

[4] See for example, A certain Dutchess kissing old swelter-in-grease the butcher for his vote (1874; British Museum Satires 6533). For a discussion of this campaign, see Neil Howe, Statesmen in Caricature: The Great Rivalry of Fox and Pitt the Younger in the Age of the Political Cartoon (London: Bloomsbury, 2019), Chapter 3.

[5] A Letter to the Queen by a Widowed Wife Sixth Edition (W. Wright, 1820), 12.

[6] Humphrey was probably assisted by Theodore Lane. The best collection of these prints is a shop album in the possession of the Lewis Walpole Library: see https://walpole.library.yale.edu/news/humphrey-shop-album-conserved-and-cataloged.

[7] Caroline commissioned the Italian artist Carloni (sic) to paint The Public Entry of the Queen into Jerusalem when she returned from her tour of the Middle East. The painting was exhibited in London in 1820, accompanied by a 16-page pamphlet which provided a key to the principal characters. The vainglorious echoes of Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem (a scene painted by Keats’s friend Benjamin Robert Haydon, and also on show in 1820) were not lost on anti-Caroline satirists, and the painting was parodied on the cover of the illustrated satirical pamphlet The New Pilgrim’s Progress: Or, A Journey to Jerusalem (W. Wright, 1820). To add another layer to this rich intertextual playfulness, the latter image alludes to the many illustrations of Bunyan’s famous story, but echoes the design of William Blake’s and Thomas Stothard’s depictions of The Canterbury Tales. I am grateful to David Fallon and Elayne Gardstein for reminding me of these parallels.’Décolletée over-dress’ is M Dorothy George’s phrase in her description of the print in the British Museum Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, now included in the online Collection: see the commentary accompanying British Museum Satires 14188.

[8] Rosemary Ellen Guiley, The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft, and Wicca (Hermitage, 2008), 217.

[9] According to one of the typical pamphlets that was rushed into print, Louges was ‘inconsolable’ at Caroline’s death (Death of Her Majesty (Thomas Dolby, 1821), 9).

[10] According to the Examiner (22 July 1821), ‘hisses and plaudits…about equalled each other in strength’ at the coronation ceremony, and ‘Not the slightest popular feeling was called forth’ by the illuminations in the evening.

[11] ‘Verses on the Death of Her Majesty Queen Caroline’ (Pitts, Wholesale Toy Warehouse, 7 Dials). The poem is contained in a scrapbook, Satirical Songs and Miscellaneous Papers Connected with the Trial of Queen Caroline, held in the British Library.

[12] For attacks on George’s Irish visit, see Charles Williams’s caricature An Irish Wake (British Museum Satires 14241), and the verse satire Last Moments of Caroline (J. Johnston [1821]). In the latter, Caroline’s ghost appears to George and warns him that unless he mends his ways, there will be no ‘royal passport’ to heaven (14).

[13] Times, 15 August 1821.

[14] Caroline’s coffin was a controversial and contested symbol to the very end. During the night of 15 August, while the funeral cortege rested overnight in Colchester, government representatives entered St Peter’s church where her body lay and replaced the coffin’s inscription ‘Injured Queen’ with a loyal reference to the ‘potent’ king. According to the Times (17 August), the ‘royal victim’ was treated with a ‘remorseless indecency and indignity’ which echoed Peterloo (the ‘Manchester day’) two years earlier. The incident is still remembered locally: http://www.stpeterscol.org.uk/rumpus.html.

[15] British Museum Satires 14242. For the earlier prints, see British Museum Satires 13258 and 13266.

[16] Times, 18 August 1821; Examiner, 26 August 1821.

[17] In reality, the violent repercussions of Caroline’s death continued to spread. History almost repeated itself when the funeral of Honey and Francis on 26 August flared into violence outside Kensington barracks. The ceremony, one of the first examples of a working-class political funeral, deliberately retraced the route of the great processions to Hammersmith which were such a feature of the previous year. An estimated 70-80,000 people flocked to Hammersmith church where Caroline worshipped (her pew was still draped in black). On the return journey, insults and then blows were traded between protestors and drunken troops. High Sheriff Robert Waithman narrowly missed being shot dead by a Life Guard, and a second ‘Caroline Peterloo’ was averted by a whisker. See Joseph Nightingale, Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of Queen Caroline 3 vols (1820-22), 3: 380-9; Times, 29 August 1821; Examiner 2 September 1821. The graves of Honey and Joyce can still be seen in Hammersmith Church: see https://flickeringlamps.com/2014/07/09/fallen-comrades-caroline-of-brunswicks-life-and-death-in-hammersmith/

[18] Eric Partridge, Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang, Sixth Edition (Taylor and Francis, 2006), 54.



Roehampton Research Seminar, 9 December 2020 1-2pm

‘From Fetters to Letters: Illustration and Black Empowerment in the Romantic period’

Fuseli, Henry; Johnson, Joseph; Raimbach, Abraham; Poems by William Cowper, London 1808, vol.I, facing p.375; The Negro Revenged; https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/work-of-art/O14489 Credit line: (c) Royal Academy of Arts

English and Creative Writing Research Seminars: Autumn 2020

Wednesday 9 December 1-2pm

Ian Haywood and David Fallon

‘From Fetters to Letters: Illustration and black empowerment in the Romantic period’

https://roehampton-ac-uk.zoom.us/j/87224230938?pwd=d1IxakpMNHhoOHNYVVhkRUloWlJXQT09

Passcode: 664084

Queen Caroline in Caricature -November 1820

Ian Haywood
University of Roehampton

Figure 1: Boadicea, Queen of Britain, Overthrowing Her Enemies (John Fairburn, November 1820). British Museum.

On 6 November 1820, the House of Lords finally delivered its verdict on Queen Caroline’s alleged crime of adultery. It came as no surprise that she was found guilty, but the margin of victory was slender: a mere 28 votes. The Times was openly contemptuous of the Lords, declaring that ‘the country laughs at their disappointment’ and ‘sympathizes’ with Caroline’s ‘imperfect triumph’ (7 November). Within days the government of Lord Liverpool dropped its case, fearful that it would be defeated in the House of Commons, and perhaps mindful that the king could be impeached for his illegal first marriage. The country erupted into a frenzy of celebrations at ‘the death of the Bill’ (Examiner, 12 November). November was Caroline’s mensis mirabilis: across the land the people expressed their joy, organising festivities, processions, marches, bell ringings, fireworks, gun salutes and occasional outbreaks of intimidation and disorder.[1] London was transformed into a spectacle of people power and triumphal public opinion.

Amidst the carnival atmosphere, two days in particular merit special attention for their grandeur and visual prowess. On 11 November, central London was illuminated, and on 29 November Caroline attended a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s cathedral. Both events were intentionally provocative and carefully orchestrated imitations of a coronation. The Times underscored the revolutionary symbolism: ‘It is the people who bestow and take away crowns’ (11 November). In a similar vein, the Examiner threw down the radical gauntlet: ‘Let the Reformers now reiterate their demand of a real Representation…and they will carry that point – or bring on a crisis’ (12 November). With a weak government at home and republican uprisings in continental Europe and the Spanish territories, the mood was certainly ripe for decisive, extra-parliamentary political action – but would Caroline and her supporters press home their advantage?[2] In this post, we will look at how caricatures represented and interrogated this precarious and crucial climax of the Caroline affair.

Unsurprisingly, numerous caricatures reconfigured Caroline’s ‘imperfect triumph’ as a full-blown rout of the king and his lackeys. The martial imagery deployed throughout the satirical campaign reached new heights in prints such as John Fairburn’s Boadicea, Queen of Britain, Overthrowing Her Enemies (Figure 1). Boadicea was an inspired choice of historical precedent as she embodied rebellion and conquest rather than victimhood. Fairburn’s highly entertaining fantasy casts Caroline in the role of leader and defender of the British people, as if the spirit of the Iceni queen has returned to vanquish the ‘enemy’ of aristocratic government. Caroline is quite literally at the apex of her power, mowing down the king and his cabinet from her elevated position in the iconic chariot which now sports the updated iconography of the British lion. For the viewer in 1820, it would be impossible not to read the scene as vengeance for Peterloo: the tables are now turned and it is the ruling class whose protesting bodies fall under the merciless hooves of overwhelming military might. Unlike the Peterloo caricatures,[3] however, this conqueror is neither bloodthirsty nor out of control. Caroline’s unruffled, statuesque pose and raised spear are reminiscent of classic depictions of St Michael vanquishing Satan. Her calmness and dignity signify righteousness, innocence, and inviolable Justice (the latter concept is tagged onto the wheel of her chariot and appears to garrotte the de-crowned George). This equipoise and absence of self-interest is a consistent feature of even the most extreme satirical celebrations of Caroline’s victory, and it is clearly a precondition for her imaginary coronation.

The satirical agency of Fairburn’s Boadicea is enhanced by other inter-visual allusions. The charioteer motif recalls Gillray’s Light Expelling Darkness (1795) in which William Pitt scatters his political opponents into ‘Stygian’ darkness.[4] In Boadicea the roles are reversed and Gillray’s ‘sun of the constitution’ (King, Lords and Commons) now shines for the people and their heroic leader. The print also interacts productively with the culture of Romantic illustration. The figure of Boadicea was familiar to Romantic readers and viewers from illustrated editions of Richard Glover’s Boadicea: A Tragedy (1753) and from her inclusion in Robert Bowyer’s Historic Gallery (1793-1806).[5] The various images of Boadicea in circulation provide some intriguing perspectives on Caroline’s story. The frontispiece to John Bell’s affordable British Theatre edition of Glover’s play (1791) shows a stern, militant Boadicea standing on the steps of an altar in a pose that implies she is ready for action (Figure 2). The lines from the play chosen for the caption uncannily anticipate the dramatic opening of Caroline’s campaign at St Omer: ‘Not the wealth,/ Which loads the palaces of sumptuous Rome/ Shall bribe my fury’. In a more prestigious Historic Gallery print, based on an original painting by John Opie (Figure 3), Boadicea is ‘Haranguing the Britons’, as if in anticipation of Caroline’s oratorical performances when she replied to her supporters’ Addresses. The presence of Boadicea’s violated daughter could even foreshadow the tragic loss of Caroline’s daughter Charlotte.[6] Finally, in Thomas Stothard’s The City of London Burnt by Troops of Boadicea (1803), we see a dramatic and devastating precursor of Caroline’s satirically reimagined victory (Figure 4). Evoking both the Gordon riots and the storming of the Bastille, Stothard’s much-reproduced illustration was an alarmingly realistic depiction of popular political violence. In the context of November 1820, it was uncertain whether Caroline’s incendiary Boadicean role would shift from allegorical fantasy to actuality, and many caricatures danced on this thin line with mischievous gusto.[7]

Figure 2. Portrait of Jane Powell in the role of Boadicea. Frontispiece to Richard Glover, Boadicea: A Tragedy (London: John Bell, 1791). Engraved by John Thornthwaite after Samuel De Wilde. Proof copy. British Museum.

Figure 3. Boadicea Haranguing the Britons. From Robert Bowyer’s Historic Gallery (1795). Engraved by William Sharp after John Opie. British Museum.
Figure 4. Thomas Stothard, The City of London Burnt by Troops of Boadicea (1803). British Museum.

A good example of this seditious revelry is Samuel Fores’ Triumph of Innocence over Perjury, Persecution and Ministerial Oppression (Figure 5). The print shows a serene Caroline seated on the throne, flanked by her favourite personifications Truth and Justice who form an all-female triumvirate. As the new constitutional sun rises behind Truth, Caroline’s enemies are not only vanquished but suffer the additional humiliation of being metamorphosed into bat-like, decollated imps. Their abject position, strewn under her footstool, evokes a conventional visual motif of royal power, though in caricatures it often represented tyranny, as in numerous depictions of the Spanish ruler Ferdinand VII.[8]

But the punishment must fit the crime: as Caroline declared in a speech to her supporters, they had triumphed over ‘malignity, in its most revolting aspect and hideous form’ (Examiner, 26 November). The most significant action is the Faustian vignette in the top left corner: unnoticed or ignored by the queen, two grotesque demons are transporting the ruddy-cheeked king to Hanover, his ancestral seat.[9] This banishment was actually predicted in an earlier caricature with the same title published by John Fairburn (Figure 6), so Fores’ version functions like a sequel or upgrade. In the more crudely executed precursor print the king, who has his back to the viewer, pleads for help as the light emitted from Caroline’s Boadicean torch exposes his ‘False, Hypocritical, Faithless’ accusations: ‘Ministers of Disgrace and Bacchus, defend me!!! Pray send me to Hanover, the Cape of Good Hope, or any other place, for her Virtue and Innocence shines too strong for me!!’ The ‘malign’ misquotation from Hamlet (1.4.42) is a neat touch: Caroline is the feminized challenge to the patriarchal order, and as she brings a ‘spirit of health’ and ‘airs from heaven’ to a beleaguered nation, the ‘goblin damned’ and ‘questionable shape’ of Old Corruption suffers ‘blasts from hell’ (1.4.43-45).

Figure 5. The Triumph of Innocence over Perjury, Persecution and Ministerial Oppression (S. W. Fores, 6 November 1820). Lewis Walpole Library.
Figure 6. The Triumph of Innocence! – or The British Amazon Vanquishing her Enemies (John Fairburn, 1 July 1820). British Museum

For republican radicals like William Hazlitt, Caroline’s radiant apotheosis may have been both hard to stomach and less important than the demonization of the reigning monarch.[10] The litmus text of her success, as the Examiner made clear, would be measured by ‘real’ gains in political reform. But in the jubilant and optimistic mood of November 1820, her destiny seemed fused with that of the British people.

The satirical idealizations of her luminosity overlapped with the co-ordinated illumination of homes and buildings. This custom was usually reserved for events of national importance such as military victories, peace celebrations and coronations (Figures 7-8), but on this occasion, it represented the triumph of public opinion. The Times waxed lyrical about the ideological significance of the four-day illumination of London: compared to the ‘sumptuous, though tawdry’ celebration of the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 (Figure 8), the ‘defeat of domestic tyranny and flagitious persecution’ had ‘ten times the glow of honest exultation than even the ruin of a thousand foreign tyrants’. This was a new type of spectacle:

Few persons can have an idea of what an illumination really is in this metropolis, when the feelings of the people, called into action by the spontaneous expression of public opinion, vent themselves in one general and unbounded, but orderly and decorous manifestation of generous exultation; no affected display, no hireling finery, but one vast irresistible sentiment, evinced by the affectionate and unbought homage of an intellectual, rich, and substantial population… In the poorest streets, such is the unanimous feeling which pervades all classes, illuminations are visible. (11 November)

Figure 7. Augustus Charles Pugin, The House in Portman Square of His Excellency L. G. Otto, Minister Plenipotentiary from the French Republic to the Court of Great Britain as it appeared on the night of the General Illumination for Peace (1803). British Museum.
Figure 8. The Revolving Temple of Concord Illuminated (1814). British Museum.

This quasi-millenarian rebirth of the ‘unbought’ nation was a symbolic event in which political and artistic rituals coalesced into a sublime statement of popular enlightenment. One of the ways to illuminate a dwelling was to mount a transparency of an image on a window and position a light source behind it to create a luminous effect.[11] Press reports picked out several examples of prominent transparencies from the London illumination. One was a ‘full-length’ image of Caroline holding a scroll with the words ‘God and the People’ beneath the caption ‘They have done their utmost to destroy me’.

Another was William Hone’s ‘splendid illumination’ on display at his shop on Ludgate Hill (Times 11 November; Examiner 12 November). Like all such festival ephemera, the original of this design has not survived, but fortunately Hone reproduced it as a print and included it in his pamphlet The Political Showman – At Home! (Figure 9). The caricature was another example of the remarkably successful collaboration between Hone and George Cruikshank, and it can be regarded as their ultimate tribute to Caroline’s democratic agency. According to the emphatic text beneath the image, the transparency was displayed for the whole four days ‘in celebration of the VICTORY obtained by the THE PRESS for the LIBERTIES OF THE PEOPLE, which had been assailed in the Person of The Queen’. The actual transparency must indeed have been a ‘splendid illumination’ as the motto ‘THE TRIUMPH OF THE PRESS’ was ‘displayed in variegated lamps’ above the design.[12] The wood-engraved reproduction uses cross-hatching to capture some of the radiance of the original. Like Fores’ Triumph of Innocence, Caroline’s scintillating corona of divine light scatters the diabolical government imps to the margins, but there are also significant differences. Hone and Cruikshank’s victorious triumvirate gives equal force to Liberty and the sacred printing press, reducing Caroline to a trophy-like roundel portrait in a laurel wreath.[13] In this radical version of Caroline’s narrative, she is as much the product as the producer of ‘the liberties of the people’.

Figure 9. William Hone, copy of a transparency of Queen Caroline included in The Political Showman – At Home! (1821). Wilhelm Busch Museum. Author’s photograph.

Hone was never one to shy away from self-promotion, and it is more than possible that he was claiming some personal credit for Caroline’s success. It was his printing press, after all, which had done so much to promote her cause, and Hone’s resourcefulness, commercial acumen and boundless creativity never ceased to deliver innovative and entertaining propaganda. As he stated in the text beneath the image, the transparency had a second outing when Caroline went to her triumphal thanksgiving service at St Paul’s cathedral, this time adorned with the ‘immortal words’ of Francis Bacon, ‘KNOWLEDGE IS POWER’.[14]

What he did not reveal is that he recycled this iconography for the cover design of his characteristically radical contribution to the solemn church service, an alternative Book of Prayer (Figure 10). It is worth a reminder that it was Caroline’s exclusion from the Church of England’s liturgy that sparked a wave of public sympathy for her plight, so Hone plugged that gap with his usual flair.[15] Although the service was a stage-managed, anti-government spectacle ‘without one emblem of military control’ (Times, 30 November), there was no attempt to break the law and include Caroline’s name in the litany, so Hone’s prayer book functioned like an unofficial supplement to the proceedings. Even though the service’s choreographed rituals featured women prominently, Hone’s cover added Hercules to the triumvirate, perhaps to maximise his sales, and he also deleted Caroline’s portrait from the laurel wreath, as if her image could be summoned up with each prayer. The text was classic Hone, a parade of satirically repurposed biblical quotations and updated prayers that evoked his trials for blasphemy in 1817.[16] The political relevance of the excerpts derives from extensive scriptural knowledge and keen wit: ‘But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, Saving for the cause of fornication, Causeth her to commit adultery. Matt. v. 31, 32.’ The prayers tread a fine line between parodic humour and puritanical zeal:

O ALMIGHTY God, who art a strong tower of defence unto thy servants against the face of their enemies; We yield thee praise and thanksgiving for the wonderful deliverance of these kingdoms from the GREAT CONSPIRACY, and all the Miseries and Oppressions consequent thereupon.

We have no way of knowing how Hone’s prayer book was used. It clearly sold well, even though its standard price of sixpence would have restricted its circulation to the middle classes. But in some ways it remains his most subversive publication of the Caroline affair as it invested her crowning moment with the spirit of his celebrated defence of the free press and his own defiance of state prosecution. It also showed that the British constitution could only be restored to its true glory through the irreverent intervention of the satirical imagination.

Figure 10. Cover design of William Hone’s Queen Caroline prayer book (November 1820). Project Gutenberg.

On the ground, meanwhile, the political future was still in the balance. According to the Examiner (3 December), when Caroline left St Paul’s, accompanied by a large ‘delegation’ of women ‘all splendidly dressed in white’ to symbolise the victory of innocence and virtue, she entered her carriage and ‘seemed cheerful’. With hindsight, this hint of a mood change speaks volumes. With her greatest moment of popular acclaim now over, would she press home her advantage and demand political reform? The fevered expectation of radical change amongst her supporters can be gauged by an adjacent report on the same page of the Examiner. This describes a meeting of the alderman of the City of London at which it was agreed to ask the king to dismiss the government. Various speakers referred to Peterloo and the revolutions in Europe and South America. The most rousing speech was by Robert Waithman who insisted that without reform, ‘a revolution or the establishment of a military government must ensue’. The stakes could hardly be higher.

The caricaturists’ contribution to this debate was to support the reformist case by providing entertainingly subversive fantasies of Caroline’s triumph. Caricature’s unique immunity from prosecution allowed it to show what could never be verbally stated: the overthrow of the reigning monarch and his government. Viewers were at liberty to regard these images as moral and political allegories or as wish-fulfilled projections of the general will. Visual satire’s relation to public opinion was dynamic and complex: by activating a sophisticated set of iconographic codes and conventions, it simultaneously reflected, extrapolated, transformed, and dramatized political debate – and always with lashings of wit and irony.

A final example can be used to demonstrate these qualities. John Fairburn’s John Bull the Judge – Or the Conspirators at the Bar!! (Figure 11) converts Caroline’s trial into a full-blown revolutionary tribunal. Public opinion (‘Vox Populi – Vox Dei’) is reimagined as an actual people’s court presided over by a very bullish John Bull, who condemns all Caroline’s enemies to death. Once again, we can read the print as a populist revenge fantasy for Peterloo and the Cato Street ‘conspirators’, though the over-the-top Jacobin extremism (such as the discarded sword and scales of justice) hints at tongue-in-cheekiness. The scene reworks the first Plate of Gillray’s series Consequences of a Successful French Invasion (1798; British Museum Satires 9180) in which Pitt and his Ministers, trussed up in chains and convicts’ uniforms in the House of Commons, are about to be sent to Botany Bay by the French intruders. Like the Gillray original, Fairburn’s caricature uses satirical effects to mitigate the alarmingly impressive depiction of political terror, but the underlying frisson remains. Fairburn captures the tensions of the political crisis and translates them into highly consumable visual motifs. Moreover, he turns the centre of the scene into a self-conscious emblem of caricature’s unique ability to hold the powerful to account. The liberty-capped dock resembles both a picture frame and a guillotine, and the tilted mirror signifies inverted reportage, the reversal of power relations and, above all, the satirical lens of the artist.

Figure 11. John Bull the Judge – Or the Conspirators at the Bar!! (John Fairburn, November 1820). Lewis Walpole Library.

[1] See Malcolm Chase, 1820: Disorder and Stability in the United Kingdom (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), 185-90. The festivities included the burning and hanging of effigies of foreign witnesses.

[2] One spy report concluded that ‘All the people are of one mind that Revolution has pervaded the Continent and will succeed here’ (cited in Anna Clarke, Scandal: The Sexual Politics of the British Constitution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 189).

[3] See George Cruikshank, Massacre at St Peters, Or “Britons Strike Home”! (British Museum Satires 13258) and Manchester Heroes (British Museum Satires 13266). See also Michael Demson and Regina Hewitt, eds. Commemorating Peterloo: Violence, Resilience and Claim-Making during the Romantic Era (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019).

[4] British Museum Satires 8644.

[5] On the Historic Gallery, see Cynthia E. Roman, ‘Robert Bowyer’s Historic Gallery and the feminization of the “nation”’, in Dana Arnold, ed. Cultural Identities and the Aesthetics of Britishness (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), 15-34.

[6] See also Thomas Stothard’s Boadicea the British Queen Animating the Britons (1812; British Museum 1873,0510.1168) in which she uses her chariot as a podium to harangue her followers. It is worth noting that although the word ‘animate’ did not take on its modern meaning of visual creation until the early twentieth century, in the context of Georgian caricature it would certainly not be an exaggeration to claim that one of Caroline’s unintended achievements was ‘animating the Britons’.

[7] In addition to the examples looked at here, see also George Cruikshank’s Radical Ladder (1820; British Museum Satires 13895) which shows the torch-wielding queen in Boadicean mode leading her ‘troops’ up a ladder of sedition so she can claim the crown.

[8] For example, Thomas Rowlandson, The Privy Council of a King (1815; British Museum Satires 12510).

[9] According to Malcolm Chase, the king did contemplate abdication and returning to Hanover (1820, 186).

[10]  Ian Haywood, ‘Hazlitt and the Monarchy: legitimacy, radical print culture and caricature’, The Hazlitt Review 9 (2016): 5-26. 

[11] See Rudolph Ackermann, Instructions for Painting Transparencies (London: [1800]).

[12] According to the Examiner (12 November) Hone exhibited ‘a very elegant C. R. in coloured glass lamps’.

[13] There is also an allusion to the Medusa head on Pallas Athene’s shield.

[14] The actual expression was ‘ipsa scientia potestas est’ (‘knowledge itself is power’), used in Bacon’s Meditationes Sacrae (1597). 

[15] In early 1821 the failure of the Whigs to reinstate Caroline’s place in the liturgy was one marker of her gradual loss of parliamentary and popular support.

[16] Ben Wilson, The Laughter of Triumph: William Hone and Fight for the Free Press (London: Faber and Faber, 2005), Chapters 7-9. Hone mounted his own defence and was acquitted on all counts. See also Ian Haywood, Romanticism and Caricature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Introduction.

Queen Caroline in Caricature – August 2020

Ian Haywood, University of Roehampton

Figure 1. William Hone and George Cruikshank, The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder: A National Toy (15 August 1820). Wilhelm Busch Museum.

Queen Caroline’s eagerly anticipated trial for adultery began in the House of Lords on 17 August 1820. It is no understatement to say that the eyes and ears of the nation were focused on this bizarre but compelling spectacle. The event generated an unprecedented degree of publicity, media attention and public scrutiny. A few days before the proceedings opened, newspapers published an open letter from Caroline to the king (which was probably penned by William Cobbett) in which she denounced the Bill of Pains and Penalties as ‘a perversion and mockery of the laws’ (Times, 14 August 1820). She condemned the government’s ‘unprovoked and unparalleled persecution’ as the culmination of a ‘malignant and unrelenting’ campaign which began when the king (then Prince of Wales) followed his own ‘inclinations’ and abandoned her in 1796 after less than a year of marriage. Any follower of her story would know that the word ‘inclination’ was a reference to the king’s separation letter which had also been widely reproduced and which anchored this controversy in an earlier, foundational period of political and social unrest, the revolutionary 1790s. Seen in this longer framework, the trial was a highly symbolic illustration of the British state’s ‘unrelenting’ resistance to democratic reform. Caroline’s supporters sensed that the tide of history was on their side,[1] and their leverage over popular public opinion went into overdrive. The scale and intensity of the campaign increased dramatically, with daily massed protests outside parliament and constant reporting of the trial in a range of formats including newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, and whole books.[2] Significantly, caricature also stepped up a gear.

Two days before the trial opened, William Hone and George Cruikshank published their illustrated pamphlet The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder (Figure 1).[3] Hone and Cruikshank had invented this new satirical genre the previous year when they responded to the Peterloo massacre with the phenomenally successful Political House that Jack Built. To broaden the appeal of caricature, they borrowed the populist visual style and reprographic technique of emblem books and fairy tales, using wood-engraving to enable the simultaneous printing of image and letter-press text. This also kept the price down to the relatively inexpensive one shilling, and although this was beyond most working-class consumers, the new format was a smash hit with the middle classes who could now enjoy up to twenty vignettes for the price of one single-sheet caricature. As we shall see, the textual element of the new genre was also deceptively complex and multi-layered, comprising a sub-title, a literary epigraph, and a playful, parodic narrative. For the Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder, Hone and Cruikshank went one step further (pun intended) and provided at no extra cost another, simplified version of the satire they called a ‘toy’ (Figure 2). This was a small, stiff, cardboard ladder which resembled in every respect a children’s plaything, though its cultural allusiveness was, as we might expect, decidedly more nuanced.

Figure 2. The ‘toy’ version of the Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder. Special Collections, Adelphi University. Author’s photographs.

The delightful cover design of the pamphlet was firmly in step (forgive the second and last pun) with the defiant public mood. It shows a triumphal Caroline sitting cross-armed on top of a stepladder, the rungs of which are inscribed with 14 different stages of matrimony. She looks down on the pitiful figure of George who has tumbled backwards after breaking the penultimate downward step called ‘Coronation’. The clear message is that George will get his comeuppance (come-downance?) for his misdemeanours: in other words, moral and satirical logic dictates that justice will prevail, even if this means comically flirting with seditious iconography. In advance of the trial opening, the image not only declares Caroline’s innocence but exacts its own populist punishment on the errant monarch. In the event, the conclusion of the controversy was far less sanguine, but that could not have been foreseen in the summer of 1820. In cinematic terms, the design is both a trailer and a spoiler as it gives away the (happy) ending. With this reassuring denouement in place, the reader-viewer could enjoy this refreshing satirical review of what was by now a familiar, hagiographic story of an injured, elevated woman.

The use of the step ladder as the central symbol shows Cruikshank’s brilliance in revitalising and repurposing familiar visual motifs. He drew on two well-known precedents. The most obvious precursor was the Matrimonial Ladder, an existing genre in polite Georgian culture which reminded the middle classes about the pitfalls of marriage.[4] Cruikshank was almost certainly parodying decorous versions of this moralistic device such as a greeting card sold by Rudolph Ackermann which shares some of the same ‘-tion’ suffixed abstract nouns on the rungs (Figure 3).[5] But the more important point is that the pyramidal structure of the step ladder provided a symmetrical, bathetic, two-stage narrative: a rise and fall of the fortunes of the protagonists with a pivot point at the apex. For this schema to work, one has to imagine walking up one side of the ladder and down the other, an unlikely procedure in reality but nevertheless one that distinguished the step ladder from the regular, linear ladder which requires a reverse or backward motion to descend. In its non-satirical guise, the turning point is not especially dramatic (‘Dissension’, ‘Rumination’) and the squabbling wife and husband are kept separated in the borders. When the genre was transferred to caricature, Hone and Cruikshank abandoned such polite restraint.

Figure 3. This greeting card depicting a Matrimonial Ladder was sold by Rudolph Ackermann from his Repository of the Arts shop on the Strand, c. 1814-18. Victoria and Albert Museum.

To adapt this format for Caroline’s more tempestuous, tendentious, and cyclical story, Cruikshank moved the players centre stage where they could confront each other directly. This is most clear in the redacted ‘toy’ version where Caroline and George inhabit the rectangular black spaces of the Ackermann design. The incremental rise and fall of the original sequence (from ‘Admiration’ to ‘Separation’) is also disrupted to take account of the more complex, iterative, and confrontational structure of the royal marriage in which Caroline suffers at least three separations (from husband, daughter and country) on the upward slope. Contrastingly, her fortunes are in the ascendant on the downward side after she returns to Britain. It is this moment, the switch from ‘Emigration’ to ‘Remigration’, which forms the apex of the ladder and her transformation from victim to heroine. It is also the beginning of the end for George who suffers one humiliation after another, terminating in an empty coronation and the ‘Degradation’ of a becoming a national clown chastised by Britannia. Unlike the even-handed symmetry of the Ackermann ladder in which both participants suffer equally, Cruikshank’s partisan narrative has a clear winner and loser.

The other source that Cruikshank drew on was the political ladder, a motif used in numerous satirical prints from the late eighteenth century onwards.[6] In Popular Frenzy; or, the Demolition of St Stephs Chapel (1784), for example, we see the House of Commons under attack from William Pitt and his Tory ministers (Figure 4). In their bid to unseat the Fox-North Coalition, the Tories use a siege ladder whose rungs are inscribed with the word ‘Address’, a reference to the popular national support for this constitutional coup. In this pro-Whig print, the clear implication is that populism is a manipulative political tool which whips up public opinion into reactionary hysteria, anarchy, or ‘Frenzy’, but it is also important to remember that Addresses were one of the main levers of support for Caroline: one political party’s unruly ‘mob’ is another’s democratic base. The print also evokes a key moment in British political history when the Tories began their long period of rule, the consequences of which were still being unravelled in 1820. In this respect, Cruikshank’s ladder may also allude to another recent injustice which he helped to expose: the execution of hundreds of people for unwitting banknote forgery.[7] The cover design for a satirical pamphlet called Satan’s Bank Note (1819) shows Castlereagh as a hangman standing on a step ladder (Figure 5). The devil sitting on the gallows echoes Caroline’s position atop the matrimonial ladder, and the parallel provides a wittily diabolical analogy for her power over a king who mistreats his subjects.

Figure 4. Popular Frenzy; or, the Demolition of St Stephs Chapel (1784). British Museum Satires 6438.
Figure 5. Satan’s Bank Note (c.1819) British Museum Satires 14206.

Like the Political House that Jack Built, the Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder spawned a host of imitations by supporters and opponents, and Cruikshank was even paid handsomely enough to produce an anti-radical response to his own design, The Radical Ladder.[8] The huge success of the illustrated pamphlet genre shows that the public appreciated this new, rich interplay between satirical image and text. Illustration was not yet regarded as subservient or secondary to the text, and its evolving status can be seen in the subtitle of the Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder which refers somewhat confusingly (for modern eyes) to ‘scenes’, ‘illustrations in verse’ and ‘cuts’. The phrase ‘illustrations in verse’ implies that the primary appeal of the satire was visual, but another aspect of the cover design shows the importance of textual agency. The dominant visual image of the ladder is flanked by two quotations which embed the pamphlet in both reportage and literary tradition. The first is taken from one of the Queen’s widely disseminated replies to the thousands of Addresses sent to her and stresses the radical unity between her cause and the British people. The second is from Act 3 Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure in which the disreputable Pompey Bum is about to be sent to jail for visiting a brothel. The two quotations amplify and deepen the image’s depiction of heroinism and villainy. As the queen is elevated to a national icon of political justice, the king is further degraded and humiliated by the national bard.

On the inside pages, this textual interplay is enhanced by the addition of the main narrative. There is no knowing if readers consumed the images or texts first, though my hunch is for the former, especially as we know that hand-coloured versions of the pamphlets were available. But regardless of which way round the page was read, the process of decoding each component and fitting the whole together like a puzzle must have provided hours of illuminating entertainment. ‘Accusation’ and ‘Publication’, the two most up-to-date scenes, are particularly rewarding in this respect. Unlike the depictions of these two stages in the ‘toy’, which are limited to exquisite slapstick confrontations between Caroline and George, the pamphlet scenes are much richer extrapolations of government’s machinations against Caroline. Though reduced in scale, the sophistication and detail of these designs comes close to evoking the virtuosity and spectacular effects of single-print caricatures.

Figure 6. William Hone and George Cruikshank, ‘Accusation’. From The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder.

‘Accusation’ (Figure 6) reimagines George as a watchman standing outside the door of one of Caroline’s residences. He holds a pole on top of which is a green bag entitled ‘Beware of the Report of a Bad House’; in other words, this is a house of ill-repute and Caroline is little better than a prostitute. On the other side of the king is his lantern containing a leech, a reference to Sir John Leach who led the ‘Milan Commission’ into Caroline’s guilt. George’s pole bisects the scene and gives an antithetical emphasis to the right-hand side of the image which contains Caroline’s defiant response. Backed by her two lawyers Henry Brougham and Thomas Denman, she leans out of an open window and puts a torch marked ‘Defence’ to the green bag. Although her face is stern, her reticule or string-drawn purse which dangles over the window sill has a face which smiles at the viewer. This minor detail is the punctum of the cartoon as it is a self-reflexive nod towards the power of satire which simultaneously condenses and rebuts the sexual slurs against Caroline. The grinning visage, reminiscent of Momus the god of mockery, hints at the presence of a mischievous pun on the idea that reticules or ‘ridicules’ were evidence of loose morals. As the text declares, with lashings of genital innuendo, ‘his wife held her ridicule at his “Report”’ – a witticism that gains added force and poignancy from the obscene slang term ‘Burning Shame’ that hovers prominently over the image.[9] The spry purse also evokes her refusal to be bought off with a £50,000 allowance. For all his attempts to perform masculine authority, George is upstaged by an assertive woman who wields the torch of justice and the carnivalesque weapon of ‘ridicule’.

The two quotations from Cymbeline add further levels of irony and interpretation to this already rich melange. The first, ‘I will kill thee, if thou dost deny/Thou hast made me a cuckold’ is spoken by Posthumus Leonatus in Act 2 Scene 4. He is reacting to Iachimo’s claim that, in response to a bet, he has slept with Leonatus’s wife Imogen. Leonatus’s Othello-like credulity and rage about his wife’s alleged infidelity is a subtle comment on George’s calculating and hypocritical determination to discredit and dishonour his wife. As he admits to himself, the church will not grant a divorce ‘If my own hands are dirty’ – which of course they are, stained indelibly by filthy lucre (the original, mercenary reason for the marriage, as shown in ‘Qualification’ and ‘Declaration’) and serial adultery (as shown in ‘Alteration’). In other words, he does not even ‘qualify’ to be a Shakespearean wife-killer. The other quotation, from Act 3 Scene 2, links to the xenophobic attacks on the Italian witnesses who were called to testify against Caroline. The stereotype of the avaricious, shifty and treacherous Italian achieved prominence in the first few weeks of the trial when her ex-servant Theodore Majocchi repeatedly answered Brougham’s questions with ‘Non mi ricordo’ (I don’t remember), a refrain that became the unofficial logo of the proceedings and the title of another Hone-Cruikshank pamphlet.[10] To rub in the point, the lines in Cymbeline are spoken by the loyal servant Pisanio who refuses to believe the allegations against Imogen. Pisanio’s next words can easily be applied to the idealized Caroline: ‘Disloyal! No:/She’s punish’d for her truth, and undergoes,/More goddess-like than wife-like, such assaults’.[11]

Figure 7. William Hone and George Cruikshank, ‘Publication’. From The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder.

The theme of disloyalty is given a startling new twist in the next episode, ‘Publication’ (Figure 7). The scene shows George as a pantomime Guy Fawkes figure, breaking into a building which houses Caroline and planting a huge green bag of allegedly explosive evidence. He is accompanied in his nocturnal skulduggery by a disabled and demoralized Cupid, and he carries a conspiratorial dark lantern containing a leech (Leach) and a bunch of matches. Caroline peers down at him through a lorgnette from a window above the door. She does not appear distressed as the building is protected by Albion Life Assurance (a real company founded in 1805, but the allegorical significance of its patriotic name is what counts). She is also protected by the celestial eye of knowledge which encloses a printing press, the cherished symbol of freedom of expression and, according to the text, the ‘MORAL SUN’ of the nation. This motif echoes earlier satirical depictions of the Gunpowder Plot in which divine beams of light expose Fawkes’s treachery.[12] And even though Fawkes’s reputation shifted in the Romantic period from arch national traitor to heroic (if over-zealous) martyr for religious and political rights, the king’s self-interested motives hardly qualify for this liberal reinterpretation.[13] George is a danger to the nation and the enemy of the free press. Although the epigraph from a well-known speech by Sheridan points a finger at the ‘venal House of Peers’, the image targets the king alone.[14]

The final point to note about this scene is the punning title. To begin with, there are two conspicuous but antithetical references at play: the first is to the discredited ‘publication’ of the secret inquiry into Caroline’s affairs; the second is to the elevated mission of the ‘fearless’ free press which ‘guards, alike, the people and their throne’. There is also a third meaning waiting in the wings: the threat of Caroline’s legal team to publish the ‘recrimination’ or evidence of the king’s sexual indiscretions, including his first marriage. As Ben Wilson notes, although the word ‘recrimination’ is ‘conspicuously absent’ from the named rungs of the matrimonial ladder, the satire itself stands in for the judicial process and bares all.[15]

This takes us to a fourth connotation, the publication of the pamphlet itself. Satire was not routinely associated with the free press, even though it was clearly an important constituent, and the inviolable symbol of the hand-operated printing press evokes text rather than visual image. This is one reason why caricature was so self-reflexive, constantly defining, exploring, and promoting its unique brand. To be sure, some of this rhetoric was self-puffery, but in Hone and Cruikshank’s case there is little doubt that their success was the result of a self-propelling innovation in form.[16] By the end of the first week of its publication, according to the Examiner (20 August), the Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder was already in its 12th edition. The Examiner was full of praise for ‘another of Mr. Hone’s happy illustrations of public feeling’. The language is revealing: ‘illustration’ here can mean both visualization and enhancement. In an advert for the pamphlet in the same issue, the key word is ‘embellished’: ‘The most extensively embellished, and most rapidly selling production ever issued from the press’. In addition, ‘Orders from the country…will be punctually executed, and Placards for doors and shop-windows enclosed’. Exposure was key to the success of caricature: it relocated high politics to the ‘shop window’ and the gaze of the viewing public.


[1] One polemic argued that ‘the millions who compose the civilized and unbiassed part of mankind’ must ensure ‘the destruction of the prevailing system, by an adequate reform of parliament’ (Charles Maclean, The Triumph of Public Opinion (T. and J. Allman, 1820), 2).

[2] The free borrowing of newspaper text made the recirculation of news stories easier. Caroline’s trial could be followed on a daily, weekly, or monthly cycle, depending on the type of publication, or a combination of all three. Less ephemeral modes of publication also proliferated, including bound, serialized and multivolume trial reports, though it was not always clear where the initial information came from. Radical publishers seized their opportunity to cash in: see, for example, John Fairburn’s Whole Proceedings on the Trial of Her Majesty, originally in weekly parts, then 2 volumes, then 3 volumes with a reprint of the 1806 Delicate Investigation.

[3] The full text is reproduced with a useful introduction in Benjamin Colbert, ed. British Satire 1785-1840: Collected Satires III: Complete Longer Satires (2003; London: Routledge, 2016).

[4] Hone claimed that he got the idea for the pamphlet after seeing a toy Matrimonial Ladder in the window of a ‘little fancy shop’, and that he was offered £500 by the government to suppress it. See Frederick W. M. Hackwood, William Hone: His Life and Times (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1912), 236-7.

[5] For example, ‘Acceptation’ and ‘Declaration’. For an eighteenth-century example, see Hymen’s Ladder (c.1770-90), British Museum 1983, U.2187. The genre remained popular will into the nineteenth century: a mid-1820s print by the caricature publisher Thomas McLean is also in the British Museum collection, and Cruikshank collaborated on a Matrimonial Ladder as late as 1843 (British Museum 1859 0316 804). See also Marcus Wood, Radical Satire and Print Culture, 1790-1822 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 172-6.

[6] In addition to the examples discussed here, Gillray’s Apotheosis of Hoche (1798; British Museum Satires 9156) is one of the more audacious parodies of Jacob’s biblical ladder.

[7] See Hone and Cruikshank’s Bank Restriction Note and Bank Restriction Barometer, British Museum Satires 13198, 13199. I cover this topic in Romanticism and Caricature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Chapter 2, ‘Lethal Money’.

[8] British Museum Satires 13895. The radical publisher Thomas Dolby was a prolific producer of these pamphlets: some of my favourites are The Queen and Magna Charta and A Total Eclipse (both illustrated by Robert Cruikshank), and Jack and the Queen Killers. The main loyalist publisher was W. Wright: see, for example, The New Pilgrim’s Progress.

[9] According to Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (London: S. Hooper, 1795), the term refers to ‘a lighted candle stuck into the private parts of a woman’ (23).

[10] Hone’s peddling of anti-Italian xenophobia was probably tactical and commercial as, like most liberals and radicals, he was a supporter of the European revolutionary struggles that were taking place in Italy and Spain in 1820, and in radical analysis a degraded national character was attributed to a corrupt political system. On the wider picture, see Will Bowers, The Italian Idea: Anglo-Italian Radical Literary Culture 1815-23 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020). The Caroline controversy was actually cited by rebel leaders to aid their cause (Jane Robins, Rebel Queen: How the Trial of Caroline Brought England to the Brink of Revolution (London: Simon and Schuster, 2006), 144-45).

[11] There is no space here to pursue the Shakespearean parallels further, but the ironies proliferate depending on the allocation of roles. For example, anti-Carolinites could have focused on Cymbeline’s treacherous queen rather than the victimized Imogen; on the other hand, Iachimo’s seedy spying on the sleeping Imogen evokes the trial’s lubricious obsession with Caroline’s love life.

[12] See: The Guy Faux of 1770 (British Museum Satires 41); James Sayers, A New Leaf for an Old Book of Common Prayer 1807 (British Museum Satires 10739); James Gillray, The Pillar of the Constitution 1807 (British Museum Satires 10738).

[13] See Frederick Burwick, ‘Staging Protest and Repression: Guy Fawkes in Post-Peterloo Performance’, in Michael Demson and Regina Hewitt, eds. Commemorating Peterloo: Violence, Resilience and Claim-Making during the Romantic Era (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019), 100-119.

[14] Sheridan’s speech occurred in 1810 during a debate about proposals to restrict the reporting of parliamentary proceedings (Annual Register (1810): 37-8). In the full speech, Sheridan praised the power of the free press to ‘shake down corruption from its height, and bury it beneath the ruins of those abuses it was meant to shelter’, an apt sentiment for the Caroline controversy.

[15] Ben Wilson, The Laughter of Triumph: William Hone and the Fight for the Free Press (London: Faber and Faber, 2005), 326.

[16] See the article ‘Political Publications in Wood-Cuts and Verse’ in the Examiner (24 December 1820) which celebrates Hone’s pamphlets as ‘a new feature in the history and publication of English politics’.

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).