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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Seat of power, site of satire : James Gillray’s representation of King George III in Monstrous craws at a new coalition feast (1787) Rempel, Lora


Two features that were viewed by Britons as distinguishing their nation from other Western countries in late-eighteenth century were its Constitutional Monarchy and the comparative freedoms enjoyed by the press. Graphic political satire lies at the juncture of these two features. This thesis examines the dual role that graphic caricatures of King George III played as satirical commentary and as political critique on the unique political stage of "out-of-doors" politics in the 1780s. James Gillray's caricatured portrait of George III in Monstrous Craws at a New Coalition Feast (1787) provides investigative entry into the marriage between political caricature and the quasi-sacred institution of kingship. The union of individualized portrait caricature and topical political content in Monstrous Craws leads to two key questions which are investigated in this thesis. First, to what extent did the lampooning of the identifiable face of George III provoke a critique of his political position as the hereditary head of the state? Second, how did the pictorially "subversive" content of graphic satires of George III extend or engage with other popular forms of extra-parliamentary political opinion-shaping with regards to the power of the king? To answer these questions, shifts in notions of kingship and the breakdown of the law of hereditary succession are examined. Aspects specific to the trade of political prints, as well as the narrative and pictorial conventions used by Gillray and other graphic satirists in the 1780s, furthermore, help explore the manner in which regal satire conveyed views of George III at that time. In a word, political caricatures were "popular". They could be viewer in public spaces such as taverns and ale houses, as well as in the street-facing windows of print-shops. Drawing from popular themes such as carnival in which the king is symbolically and ritualistically mocked, and traditional notions of the king as an ally of the people, Gillray's satirical portrait of George III communicated on a number of levels to a broad spectrum of the urban populace both literate and illiterate. Yet, the plurality of viewing spaces, the diversity of the audiences for political prints, and the appropriation of familiar motifs of the king, outline hegemonic ideas about George III and the institution of kingship he symbolically embodies. In consequence of the freedom of the press in Britain, political commentators possessed the liberty to criticize those in positions of power and hold them accountable. Using the visual language of portrait caricature, graphic satirists enjoyed many of the same privileges with regards to commentating on the political events and players of the day. And the king was not exempt from their attacks. This thesis argues that political satires indeed "exposed" the king to graphic ridicule, but in so doing buttressed the political system of governing that "permitted itself to be "exposed" to satiric ridicule. Ironically, then, satires of the king helped give visual articulation and practical example to the notion of the British nation as a formidable fortress of freedom.

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