Politics and George IV

The Rats at Work or How to get Out of the Bag, 1820. FA209018
The Rats at Work or How to get Out of the Bag, 1820. FA209018

Caricatures played a significant role in promoting opposition to King George IV and his ministers. The prints often poked fun at George’s habit of squandering public money on over-ambitious building projects and extravagant parties.

This was a time when Britain faced huge debts from funding a war against France and many people were living in poverty.

The prints exposed George IV’s tense relationship with his father, King George III, who was ashamed of his son’s self-indulgence and publicly criticised his unrestrained use of money.

Caricaturists also targeted some of the prince’s friends, including the politicians Charles James Fox and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (also a famous playwright). Fox led the opposition against the Tory government appointed by George III, and supported the French Revolution. Fox is usually shown as a stocky figure with a dark complexion. Sheridan was a heavy drinker and is often represented with a large red nose and flushed face.

The Funeral Procession of Miss Regency, FA208911

The Funeral Procession of Miss Regency, FA208911
The Funeral Procession of Miss Regency, FA208911

When King George III became ill, a bill was proposed to allow George IV to act as regent, but the king recovered before the bill was passed. Gillray imagines the funeral of the bill.

The coffin is topped by the prince’s coronet, his empty purse and a pair of dice. Mrs Fitzherbert is principal mourner, lamenting that she will not be queen. Behind her are the Whig politicians Richard Sheridan and Charles James Fox. They had hoped to gain power when George IV became regent. In front, appearing as a Jesuit, is the philosopher and politician Edmund Burke, who supported Catholic emancipation. A devil playing the violin brings up the rear. The identities of the mourners are inscribed below the procession. As supporters of the prince, they all shed copious tears as they realise their hopes are dashed.

The Prince of Whales or the Fisherman at Anchor, FA208951

The Prince of Whales or the Fisherman at Anchor, FA208951
The Prince of Whales or the Fisherman at Anchor, FA208951

The print celebrates the Prince Regent’s rejection of the Whigs. He confounded expectations by keeping the existing Tory government in power rather than giving power to his old Whig friends.

Portrayed as a whale in a ‘Sea of Politics’ George spouts the ‘Liquor of Oblivion’ on playwright and Whig supporter Richard Sheridan, and blows the ‘Dew of favour’ on Spencer Perceval the Tory Prime Minister. The prince ignores his former lover, Mrs Fitzherbert, and looks lovingly at his mistress Lady Hertford, who is shown next to her cuckold husband.

Cruikshank was inspired by Charles Lamb’s satirical poem about the prince The Triumph of the Whale published in the radical journal The Examiner on 15 March 1812.

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