Saturday, 2 March 2013

George Cruikshank, The Queen that Jack Found, 1820

During the summer of 1820 the attention of the British public was briefly and comprehensively captivated by the lurid spectacle of the Queen Caroline affair. "It was the only question I have ever known", wrote the radical essayist William Hazlitt, "that excited a thorough popular feeling. It struck its roots into the heart of the nation; it took possession of every house and cottage in the kingdom..." and in even the remotest corners of the country, where people normally knew "as little of radicalism as they do of necromancy", the royal divorce was still all that anyone could talk about. 

Although the affair was little more than the latest episode in a long-running royal soap opera which had begun on the very day of George's wedding to Caroline of Brunswick, when the reluctant and heavily inebriated groom had been carried up the aisle and stood sobbing as he recited his wedding vows, the uproar it created was about much more than the louche domestic arrangements of the royal family. With the country grinding its way through a protracted and severe postwar recession, under a reactionary Tory government which had already proved that it would not stop short of using the army to crush popular dissent, the royal divorce acquired a symbolic weight that went way beyond its actual importance. 

The British press rushed to meet the sudden demand for news of the trial and the arguments of both radical and loyalist commentators were played out ad nauseum in volley after volley of pamphlets that were often decorated with caricature illustrations. William Hone’s seminal 1819 pamphlet The Political House that Jack Built provided the template for most of these texts and George Cruikshank, Hone’s illustrator, was bombarded with commissions from both radical and loyalist publishers who wanted him to produce caricatures for their own pamphlets. 

The example shown here was illustrated by Cruikshank for John Fairburn of Ludgate Hill. I believe this is the first time it has been reproduced online.

Frontispiece: A flattering bust of Queen Caroline, crowned by a glowing halo containing the word 'truth', is mounted on a pedestal engraved with laurel leaves. Britannia, who sits to the left of the image, casts her shield arm up towards the Queen in a manner that suggests admiration and protection. The lion which sits at Britannia's feet has crushed the serpent of 'Persecution' which spews forth a stream of effluent marked 'Lies', whilst the goddess Minerva, on the right, tramples on a similar serpent that bears the label 'Combination' (conspiracy). 

Pages 1 & 2: The pamphlet opens with a dedication to Matthew Wood. Wood was a City alderman at the time of the trail and also represented the City of London in Parliament. He had been one of the Queen's most outspoken advocates and had been instrumental in persuading her to return to Britain to assert her rights as Queen.

Pages 3: The verse begins under an image of a rustic John Bull kneeling to greet Caroline as she steps back onto the British shore. John's attitude of adulation is imitated by a large crowd that has gathered around the Queen's boat in the middle ground of the image. The legitimacy of Caroline's claim to throne is underscored by the symbolic presence of the crown and sceptre and by her royal standard, which flies prominently from the turrets of a castle on the cliffs behind her. 

Page 4: A rear view of King George IV. It is an image which seems to have been deliberately designed to accentuate the monarch's ungainly appearance and imply idiocy. He stands, legs thrust apart and hands on hips, in a manner which is reminiscent of a pantomime dame. Numerous badges and medals have been attached to the back of George's clothing in an attempt to suggest that the King's vanity was such that he would sew honours onto the seat of his breaches. In his hands he holds a sword labelled 'Waterloo' and a sceptre marked 'Divorce'. His feet pointedly rest upon torn scraps of paper that have the words 'Honour' and 'Virtue' written on them. The image of this regal ignoramus is finished off with a crown that is liberally decorated with the bells of a traditional fools cap. 

Page 6: In 1814 George IV had dispatched the Hanoverian officer Baron Friedrich von Ompteda to Italy in order to see if he could find evidence which would substantiate the rumours that Caroline was engaged in an illicit affair with her Italian aide. Ompteda was introduced into the Queen's household and bribed one of her servants so that he could conduct a fruitless search her rooms. He is shown here breaking into the Queen's bureau and furtively rifling through her papers in the manner of a common thief. 

Page 8: A portrait of Lieutenant Hownan, a member of the Queen's household who had publicly exposed Ompteda's duplicity after learning that the German had attempted to acquire copies of the keys to Caroline's bedchamber. Ompteda can be seen fleeing into the distance in the rear of the image. 

Page 10: During the trial it was reported that King George had insisted on having Caroline's name struck from the liturgy that was published at the front of all new Anglican prayer books. The Archbishop of Canterbury had initially voice doubts about taking such a drastic and unconstitutional step but had eventually acquiesced when put under pressure from the King and senior Tories in the Cabinet. This provoked outrage among many on the left, who saw it as evidence of the established church colluding with the monarch and the government to subvert the principles of the British constitutional settlement. In summing the matter up at the trial the Queen's barrister concluded his statement with the explosive deceleration that "had I been the Archbishop of Canterbury on such an occasion,  I would have thrown the Liturgy in his Majesty's face, before I would have been party to such a fraud upon the law, such an outrage on all justice and humanity."

The greedy, debauched, clergyman had been a stock figure in English caricature since the early 1700s and here Cruikshank draws heavily on this tradition to present us with a grotesque version of Charles Manners-Sutton, the Archbishop of Canterbury. In his hands he holds a copy of the amended liturgy and a set of keys which are the symbol of Papist absolutism. Under his foot is a trampled piece of paper marked with the words 'common sense'. 

Page 12: A caricature of a rather devious looking Sir John Leach KC. Before entering Parliament in 1806 Leach had built up a successful legal practice in Surrey and become infamous in the courts of equity for his terse and aggressive style of cross-examination. The first eight years of his political career were largely unremarkable but his rock solid Toryism and willingness to shamelessly toady up to members of the royal family gradually brought him to the attention of those higher up the political food chain. By 1818 Leach had managed to thoroughly ingratiate himself into the British establishment by leading parliamentary opposition to a Whig motion calling for an examination into the costs of running the Price Regent's household. His efforts were rewarded with a knighthood, a seat on the Privy Council, the Vice Chancellorship of England and a number of well-paid sinecures. Leach was called on to advise George on how he might legally rid himself of his unwanted wife and had recommended the investigation into Caroline's affairs which eventually became known as the Milan Commission. In 1820 Leach was appointed to act as prosecutor on behalf of the Crown and his shown here holding a scroll with 'lies' written on it repeatedly. In his other hand he carries the infamous 'green bag' which supposedly contained the evidence against Caroline but which the Tories had fought tooth and nail to avoid having to make public. 

Page 15: Alderman Matthew Wood strikes a suitably heroic pose in this image. He clutches a paper to his chest entitled 'Defence of Virtue' whilst he tramples 'oppression' and 'tyranny' under his feet. In the background we can see St Paul's and the spires of the City. Wood was feted for his outspoken defence of the Queen's rights during the summer of 1820 but by the inter of that year a loyalist backlash against the radicals had set in an a number of caricatures appeared which suggested that Wood and other members of the Queen's party had acted purely in order to secure valuable sinecures that were within her gift. 

Page 18: The King had initially entertained hopes of buying Caroline off and had dispatched Lord Hutchinson to Europe in order to intercept the Queen and offer her an annual allowance of £50,000 if she would agree to remain abroad. Caroline refused and then immediately publicised the fact that the British government had tried to bribe her with public money. This provoked uproar in Parliament and the Whig MP Henry Grey Bennet launched a wonderfully sarcastic assault on the government benches when he stood up an exclaimed that he gave no credit to the reports of bribery because

I can never give credit to the statement, that a British ministry, without the authority and consent of parliament, would have dared to call upon the queen of Great Britain to divest herself of that title which she holds by the same right as the king himself does his title, for a bribe of £50,000. a year—a bribe too, not to be paid by the king himself, but to be taken out of the pockets of the people of England, labouring under the severest distresses, and to be given to a person, who, if the statements circulated against her were true, was not alone unworthy of being the queen of England, but of being allowed to place her foot upon its shore. There are no words strong enough to convey an adequate impression of such a proposition. To call it treason to the monarchy, might be considered extravagant, but I cannot consider it less than an act of treachery to the monarchy of Great Britain. 

The vision of Hutchinson we are presented with here shows him as the perfect picture of obsequious mendacity. He leans forward and offers us a view of two pieces of paper, one entitled '£50,000 per annum' and the other 'Impeachment'. Suggesting that Caroline is being offered a choice between accepting the bribe and being publicly stripped of her title. 

Page 21: Lords Liverpool, Castlereagh and Sidmouth (serving as Prime Mister, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary respectively) tie up a green bag holding the evidence against the Queen which will be presented to both Houses of Parliament. Liverpool and his political allies were loathed by the radicals, who accused them of pursuing policies which had exacerbated a severe post-war slump and introducing repressive legislation designed to strangle legitimate calls for political and economic reform. The attempt to impeach the Queen was simply seen as further proof of the government's disregard for the constitution and its willingness to exercise arbitrary power in order to suit the ends of the British establishment. 

Page 24: "The Gentlemen that John Bull admires" are the Queenite MPs Sir Francis Burdett (who symbolically holds a copy of the Bill of Rights), John Cam Hobhouse. The 

Page 27: In June 1820 the evangelical MP William Wilberforce had attempted to broker a compromise to the emerging crisis by putting forward a parliamentary motion calling on Caroline to return to Europe in exchange for a generous financial settlement and superficial recognition of her rights as queen. The motion was passed by Parliament but cut little ice with Caroline, whose own position had hardened once she arrived in Britain and saw the strength of public support for her cause. Nor did it go down well with a public whose opinions had polarised and which had little time for compromise on the issue. Wilberforce found a large crowd had gathered to greet him when he arrived to present his proposals to the Queen and the second he stepped out of his carriage he was assailed with boos, hisses and shouts of 'Doctor Cantwell'. The interview itself was a short one and Wilberforce was given just enough time to present his proposals before being dismissed to once more run the gauntlet of the hostile mob.  

Wilberforce stands in a large barrel, which bears the label 'Tale of a Tub', with his arms held high in the exaggerated manner of an evangelical preacher in full flow. He preaches, "Yea, verily Brethren, I, even I, have been weighed in the Balance and found wanting" In one hand he holds out a 'Vote of Justification', in the other an 'Act of Excommunication'. The barrel has a double meaning as 'tub' was commonly used as a derogatory slang term for the pulpit of a dissenting chapel and it is also intended as a reference to A Tale of a Tub, Johnathan Swift's famous satire on pointless rhetorical digressions. The caricature therefore is clearly intended to cast Wilberforce as an evangelical busybody whose sophistry was designed to deliberately undermine public support for the wronged Queen. 

Page 31: The Queen addresses a respectable looking crowd of Londoners from the balcony of Wood's house. Wood and Lady Hamilton, one of the Queen's closest friends in England, stand on the balcony behind her. 

1 comment:

  1. Don't know if you noticed, but we nominated you for a Liebster Award. You can find it here

    T.H. Gray, Director-Curator
    American Hysterical Society