Britannia Roused: Political caricature and the fall of the Fox-North coalition

David Johnson looks at the art of Sayers and Gillray and the role of pictorial satire in the destruction of a government.

In December 1783 the coalition government of Charles James Fox (1749-1806) and Lord North was removed from office by George III after a sustained campaign of public vilification. In this carefully orchestrated royal strategy the role of political caricaturists was not only central, but crucial, to success. In discrediting Fox and his colleagues, they turned the tide of popular opinion decisively away from the former ‘man of the people’ towards the King’s preferred choice as leading minister, the younger Pitt. Fox himself later admitted that James Sayers’s caricatures ‘had done him more mischief than the debates in Parliament or the works of the press’. During January and February 1784 the coalition’s majority in the House of Commons shrank rapidly, and in the ensuing general election ninety-six coalitionists lost their seats. Pitt’s ‘mince-pie’ administration was returned with a majority of over a hundred. Thomas Rowlandson’s print, Brittannia Roused, or the Coalition Monsters destroyed, caught the national mood exactly. With her cap of liberty alongside, the  giantess hurls Fox and North like puppets into political oblivion.

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