Tag Archives: gillray

20 January 1827. If you are lower class, “a word and a blow go together”. But if you are a nobleman…

After years of conflict, the domestic battle between Lord and Lady Westmeath ended up in the courts. She had a ferocious temper, and it is fair to say, a lack of judgement on matters matrimonial. He was violent, beating her several times. Attempts at an agreed separation fail, and she sued for divorce. He countered with a suit in the Consistory Court for restoration of conjugal rights, and won. That judgement was overturned on 20 January 1827.

Sir John Nichol, judge of the Arches Court of Canterbury, was measured in his judgement. There are things he cannot not say because they did not contravene the law in 1827. He was judging aristocrats and, as a man of some standing himself, he struggled to give credibility to poor and poverty stricken witnesses against the word of a man of standing—Lord Westmeath. Early in a lengthy judgement, he opined on whether domestic violence is more acceptable among the lower classes.

“Among the lower classes, blows sometimes pass between couples who, in the main, are very happy, and have no desire to part; amidst very coarse habits, such incidents occur almost as freely as rude or reproachful words: a word and a blow go together. Still, even among the very lowest classes, there is generally a feeling of something unmanly in striking a woman.”

He was saying that it may be unmanly but quite expected that a lower class man might swear at and thrash his wife. What then of the noble classes? Judge Nichol continues:

“But if a gentleman, a person of education… if a nobleman, of high rank and ancient family, uses personal violence to his wife, his equal in rank, the choice of his affection, the friend of his bosom, the mother of his offspring—such conduct, in such a person, carries with it something so degrading to the husband, and so insulting and mortifying to the wife, as to render the injury itself far more severe and insupportable.”

To be fair to Nichol, after this crustaceous start to his judgement, he did identify Lord Westmeath as the principal guilty party, ruling that “to compel the wife to return to cohabitation would be but to expose her to the risk and danger of renewed violence”.


The image above is Gillray’s cartoon of Judge Thumb, Sir Francis Buller, who famously decreed that a man might beat his wife if the stick was no thicker than the man’s thumb. Buller was Anna Eliza’s legal guardian.

21 January 1806. “How absorbing politics are of every other feeling”

Lady Maria Nugent writes a note in her diary after dining at the Marquess of Buckingham’s house in Pall Mall, where the talk was of the illness of William Pitt the Younger. Mr Pitt, Prime Minister, died two days later.

Dine again in Pall Mall. A sociable and agreeable, though a rather melancholy party, poor Mr. Pitt being at the point of death, and almost the sole subject of conversation. Came home, reflecting much upon the lives of politicians, and how absorbing politics are of every other feeling.

“How absorbing politics are of every other feeling,” Maria wrote. Days after this was written, Richard Temple was to join the new government, though his father, the Marquess, did not take a formal role due to ill health.

The cartoon below by James Gillray shows the Grenville government being kicked out by George III. Richard Temple is head first in the water at the front with the label: “Last Stake of the Broad-Bottomed Family”.the_pigs_possessed_500

5 March 1806. Broad Bottoms Suckling

It is not the task of satirists to be kind to their subjects and to the Grenvilles and their political associates, James Gillray was never kind.

William Pitt died at half past four on the morning of January 23, 1806. William Wyndham Grenville was Pitt’s natural successor and King George III commanded that he form a government. It was not an easy process. As Grenville attempted to draw together something approaching a coalition government of national unity, he found he had too many politicians jostling for the limited number of posts, while others would not join him.

On 11 February 1806, the Ministry of All the Talents began its short and troubled attempt to govern a deeply divided Britain which was still at war with France. James Fox led the government from the House of Commons and prime minister Lord Grenville led in the House of Lords.

The ministry immediately became a target of Gillray’s acerbic etching pen. Not entirely without reason, Gillray believed that many politicians of the day, especially the Grenvilles, were in politics for personal and financial gain. He shared the suspicion of the majority of the public harboured about the new government’s catholic leanings. And he believed the growing burden of taxation was sucking working people dry to finance the ambitions and line the pockets of government.

Three weeks after the new government began work, Hannah Humphrey published James Gillray’s satire on the Ministry of All the Talents—“More Pigs than Teats”. It portrays 29 identifiable politicians rushing to suckle John Bull’s sow. Sidmouth, Grenville, Fox and Spencer are already sucking while others scramble for a teat. At the left edge latecomers are rushing to join the government and some do not succeed. Gillray subtitled the work “The new Litter of hungry Grunters sucking John Bull’s old Sow to death”. Grunters is probably an allusion to the Grenvilles, three of whom were in the cabinet.

more_pigs_than_teats_BM_1000© Trustees of the British Museum

In an age where photography had not been invented and newspapers were yet to carry illustrations, cartoons like these carried an additional importance in putting a face to a name. One of Gillray’s great skills was portraying faces. He of course exaggerated facial features, sometimes grossly, but his caricatures are instantly recognisable. On the image below, I identify the politicians. The  rear end of the Duke of Clarence, which is supporting Charles Fox, is identified by the British Museum.


The Ministry of All the Talents fell on 25 March 1807, after just one year and 42 days.

My detailed analysis: More Pigs Than Teats Identified

12 March 1829. The Catholic Question that divided a nation and divided a family

The rights of catholics to sit in parliament and take part in public life had been restricted since the Reformation, when the Church of England was established as the state Church. Laws were passed which discriminated against Roman Catholics, including the 1559 Act of Uniformity. Widespread discrimination and persecution followed.

Political opposition to suppression of catholics grew throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Grenvilles were strong supporters of emancipation but Lord Grenville’s government of All the Talents fell in March 1807 in the face of opposition by King George III to even limited catholic emancipation.

the_funeral_procession_of_broad_bottom_cq-scaled500© Trustees of the British Museum

“The funeral procession of Broad-bottom” (6 April 1807). James Gillray’s satire of the fall of Lord Grenville’s government, portraying the Grenvilles as catholics. From left: George Grenville (the Marquess of Buckingham), Pope Pius VII and Richard Temple (Lord Temple). 

The Catholic Question split the Grenville family too. Richard Temple, the 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos was an ardent supporter of the catholic cause—his mother and his sister were catholics. But his wife and their son, Chandos, were fiercely opposed to allowing catholics further rights.

In late 1828, Brunswick Clubs were formed across England with the express purpose of stirring opposition to catholic emancipation. Chandos took the chair of the newly formed Buckinghamshire Brunswick Constitutional Club in late 1828, while his father was touring the Mediterranean. When Richard got to hear of the Club in March 1829, his response was immediate and furious. He wrote an open letter from Rome to the “Gentry, Clergy, and Freeholders of the Hundreds of Buckingham, Ashendon, and Cottesloe in the County of Buckingham” condemning the Brunswick Club for misunderstanding history, the constitution and betraying his family.

Richard’s lengthy letter defends the role of catholics in British history and argues there is no constitutional reason the King could not sign an act on catholic emancipation into law. He calls on the memory of his father, George Grenville, who Richard says was much loved by the people of Buckinghamshire who had supported him in full knowledge of his pro-catholic views. And they had several times voted for Richard himself. “Every freeholder… voted for me. Ay, every one!”, he writes somewhat hysterically. The Bucks gentry had voted for him because they:

“had not then been lashed into fury and madness by intriguing, mischievous, and discontented spirits. You had not then suffered the unbridled enthusiasm and fiery zeal of heated youth to overpower prudence and overwhelm experience.”

The heated youth and discontented spirit Richard referred to was his son, Chandos. An Ultra Tory, Chandos opposed emancipation at every stage but to no avail. On 13 April, 1829, King George IV reluctantly signed “An Act for the Relief of His Majesty’s Roman Catholic Subjects” into law.

Catholic emancipation is of course not yet complete. Nearly 200 years after catholics were allowed to sit in parliament we have yet to have a catholic prime minister and a catholic cannot ascend to the throne. But then, catholic emancipation has been a slow process all along.

13 May 1820: Medical wisdom

On 13 May 1820, Tom Grenville writes to the Marchioness of Buckingham, Anna Eliza Brydges, with some medical advice. The following extract sums up much wisdom on the medical practices of the day:

I am no great friend as you know to the many-coloured phials which grow out of the grim-gribbler of the learned professors of the black doses; but a sensible man who has passed a long life in watching all the infirmities that our frail frames are subject to is certainly very likely to have a good guess at what spring it is that wants oiling in the clockwork; & tho’ they cannot take their magnifying glass & look at the machinery, as Arnold would examine his Timekeeper, & tho’ they must therefore travel in the dark, yet they become long-sighted by the long habit & experience & when that is found united with good sense & judgement, very important help may be afforded them.

Tom Grenville adds a waspish footnote about the consort of King George IV, Caroline of Brunswick:

At White’s somebody was wondering at the passion for Lady C “with a leg as thick as a post” what then said Copley, tho’ it is a post remember it is “Poste Royale”

The Grenvilles and Buckinghams, though not Anna Eliza, suffered a great deal from gout. James Gillray’s illustration, below, captures the misery perfectly. He must have suffered himself!

the_gout_james_gillray© Trustees of the British Museum