John Wilkes Dies

December 26th, 1797

When asked by Madame de Pompadour how far the freedom of the press extended in England, the radical politician and journalist John Wilkes replied 'that is what I'm trying to find out' By his death on Boxing Day, 1797, he certainly had found out – the hard way. And in doing so he extended that freedom and asserted the sovereignty of Parliament against the arbitrary use of power by those who sat in it.

Famed for his squint eyes and 'dropsical ugliness', as well as his acerbic wit, John Wilkes could almost be the model newspaper hack As a dissolute former member of the notorious Hell Fire Club he equally fitted the archtype of a malleable and amoral young MP ready to sell his votes to the highest bidder But Wilkes transcended these stereotypes – whilst retaining some of their faults – to become a radical icon.

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