Grand Old Scandal

A 19th-century tale of sex, royalty and corruption which inspired scores of satirists and even the makers of curiosity mugs.

Yorkshire Hieroglyphics, Plates 1 and 2, March 1809. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
‘Yorkshire Hieroglyphics’, Plates 1 and 2, March 1809. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Almost exactly 200 years ago the British establishment was rocked by a royal and scandal military that led to the dismissal of the commander-in-chief of the army in the middle of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1809, as the British Expeditionary Force was forced to retreat Dunkirk-style from the northern coast of Spain, more than 100 caricature prints were published on the scandal and even souvenir pottery was produced. The alleged involvement of the supreme commander in the sale of military honours via his former mistress led to a parliamentary inquiry and his resignation from office. However, he was not just Britain’s top general, he was also George III’s favourite son, the Duke of York.

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