Tag Archives: satire

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

10 March 1806. British “invaders seeking to establish a dominion and to acquire an empire” in India

In 1805, James Paull arrived in the House of Commons determined to settle old scores. Paull had been a successful trader in Oudh, now part of Uttar Pradesh, in India. As he built his fortune, he became friends with the governor-general, the Marquess of Wellesley (Richard Wellesley; 1760–1842; brother of the future Duke of Wellington). That friendship abruptly ended when Wellesley threw the traders out of Oudh.

A fiery Scot and lousy gambler, Paull smouldered with anger against Wellesley and was set on revenge. In June 1805, Paull purchased a seat in parliament representing Newtown on the Isle of Wight. Almost at once, he set about trying to impeach Wellesley for ruining the trade of the nawabs of Oudh but he met ferocious resistance, not least from Richard, Lord Temple, the future Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. Whatever the merits of the case against Wellesley, and the general view was that it was not strong enough to justify impeachment, the Wellesleys were close friends of the Buckinghams. Richard would not stand by and see him impeached. The matter dragged on through parliament for two years but the motion to impeach Wellesley was finally defeated by 182 votes to 31 in 1808.

gillray_a_plumper_for_paul© Trustees of the British Museum

The image above is taken from James Gillray’s print “A Plumper for Paul!” published on 13 March 1807. Paull had again made a nuisance of himself by petitioning against Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s election for the seat of Westminster. He failed to overturn the election result, just as he failed to impeach Wellesley. Sheridan is shown angrily blasting Paull who has collapsed onto the Wellesley impeachment document while holding the election petition.

One memorable debate took place on Monday, 10 March 1806. In the House of Commons, Richard Temple accused the Rajah of Bhurtpore of treachery (he was not the only MP to do so). Lord Folkestone rose and condemned Richard’s remark:

“This rajah is a native prince of India, having natural connections with the country; we have none such, but are really invaders, seeking to establish a dominion and to acquire an empire. In these circumstances, if these or other native chiefs should take measures for preventing us, or for expelling us, it seems to me that it might be attributed to other dispositions than those of perfidy, and such conduct be called by another name than treachery.”

An independent radical MP, William Pleydell-Bouverie the 3rd Earl of Radnor was styled Viscount Folkestone. Despite his aristocratic background, he was fiercely opposed to the old style of government that relied on patronage and sinecures—though ironically he was elected to a pocket borough controlled by his father. His retort to Richard Temple was well ahead its time. The attitudes of most British politicians to the colonisation of India were to change very slowly indeed. It would be more than 140 years before India was to break free from British rule.

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.

20 March 1821. Death of a confidential postman

Richard Temple, Marquess of Buckingham, writes to his London confidant and fixer, William Henry Fremantle:

The date of my letter compared with that of the receipt of it will have shewn you that you ought to have got it a day sooner. But the poor wretch who carried my post bag on Sunday night was thrown from his horse & killed on the spot & my bag lay with him all night in the road.

It was unlucky indeed for the poor postman, whose name history has not recorded. It could have been more unlucky for the Duke of Wellington if the letter the postman was carrying had been stolen.

The letter, marked “Confidential”, offered advice to be conveyed by Fremantle to Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, the nation’s conquering hero on the battlefield—and in the bedroom.

Five or six years earlier, the Duke had an encounter with Lady Westmeath. Beautiful, dark eyed and rapacious, Emily was struggling through a tempestuous, sometimes violent marriage. Now, as tortuous divorce proceedings got under way, there seemed no hope that the Duke of Wellington’s name could be kept out of it.

One accusation made by Emily was that her mother had suggested she sleep with the Duke to advance the family fortunes. Perhaps she did so in the winter of 1815/16, or on others that presented themselves. She would not have been the first woman to fall for the Duke’s advances. Whether she dallied or not, her husband saw it as an opportunity to lay a trap for his wife and to drag the Duke of Wellington into the divorce proceedings.

It took a while for the bitter Westmeath affair to unravel. Although the Duke of Wellington was mentioned in court documents, his reputation came to no harm as by then his reputation as a womaniser was well established. This satirical print drawn by Isaac Cruikshank in 1819 leaves little to the imagination:

duke_of_wellington_cannon_cruikshank© Trustees of the British Museum

The ladies are saying:

“Bless what a spanker! I hope it won’t fire it at me, I could never support such a thing!”
“It can’t do any harm, for he has fired it so often in various Countries, that it is nearly wore out!” 

As I said, it leaves little to the imagination.