Nicola here. My latest book, Desired, is officially out tomorrow although it has been sighted on the shelves a whole two weeks early. Desired is book 5 in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series and the heroine, Tess Darent, continues the tradition of doing something rather unusual for a woman in Regency England. Tess is an artist and cartoonist who secretly uses her skill to caricature the government and make the case for political reform. Tess's work brings her into serious conflict with the British government, which at the time sought to repress the radical reformers and philanthropists who called for changes in society. I based Tess's drawings on the work of real artists of the period so today I thought I would talk a little about satirical cartoons in the Regency.
A window onto society
The satirical and humorous prints of the Georgian and Regency era give a fascinating insight into the attitudes and opinions of the time. Many of them addressed political issues including the wars with America and France and later the profligacy of the Regency period itself. Others show contemporary attitudes to sex and scandal, fashion and even the pleasures of London life. Over the 60 years from 1770 to 1830, more and more of the literate middle classes as well as the upper classes would be influenced by the debates raised in the satirical prints. At first their influence was felt mainly in London but as the 19th century moved on there was an insatiable appetite to follow what was happening in the capital and in government so the popularity of the satirical prints also spread to the provinces.
An interesting fact about the London prints was that until the 1820s they were largely focussed on life in the capital and did not reflect the wider issues of the Industrial Revolution such as conditions in the northern factories. They commented on the Napoleonic Wars at great length (the cartoon above shows William Pitt and Napoleon Bonaparte dividing up Europe between them) but seldom on the cost in terms of the numbers of men injured or killed. They were not particularly concerned with culture; few comments were made on the literature of the day or developments in science. The Prince of Wales’s patronage of the arts was generally seen as a something to be mocked as were most things about him. During the time that parliament sat, political prints were the most popular. Outside the parliamentary season the cartoonists tended to concentrate on social satire. The feud between George IV and Queen Caroline generated 601 prints in 1820 alone.
Selling like hot cakes
There were various methods by which the cartoons were reproduced though most were engraved onto copper plates. Print runs also varied. The most successful prints sold up to a couple of thousand sheets. The first caricature of the Prince of Wales’s marriage to Mrs Fitzherbert sold so well that Fore’s print shop was “crowded with servants of the beau monde for several days, demanding impressions faster than they could be printed.” (The Prince and his excesses were a prime target for the satirists, as seen in the picture on the right) If a shop was first with the latest news or gossip it could charge more, so Fore’s charged the high price of two shillings and sixpence for that particular exclusive. James Gillray’s Political-dreamings, published in 1801 was considered so sensational that it sold out in days. Sometimes demand was so high that the copperplate wore out and a new engraving had to be made. William Hogarth's pictures were constantly re-engraved and reissued and in the 1810s the print seller Thomas Tegg reprinted cartoons by Rowlandson and others.
It was the practice for print shops to display their wares in their windows and these often drew the crowds. It was also popular for purchasers to paste cartoons onto screens; Byron had a screen printed with famous boxers on one side and famous actresses on the other! There was an entire room devoted to framed caricatures at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire and a room wallpapered with prints at Rokeby Park in Durham.
Politics and scandal
The upper classes perused the cartoons as avidly as other men and women but seldom went to purchase them themselves. Instead they would send a servant or have a standing order with a certain printmaker. Politicians frequently collected the cartoons in which they featured. Charles James Fox, one of the most caricatured politicians of the 1780s and 1790s had a special bound collection made of all the prints in which he had featured and invited his visitors to browse through them. (The cartoon above is by James Gillray and shows a political gathering at the house of Charles James Fox.) The Prince of Wales had the biggest collection; he was obsessed with keeping an eye on society’s opinion of him despite the fact that few of the cartoons were kind.
The idea of Tess Darent being a female cartoonist is based on fact. Women both consumed and drew some of the popular cartoons, and many were print collectors. Surviving collections show a preference for gossip; like contemporary magazines the prints featured fashion and scandal, including cartoons about the Prince of Wales’s romantic entanglements and several high society marital scandals, but politics also featured as well. Drawing was a skill that many young ladies learned and some of them designed their own satires. This was a pleasing way for them to make fun of men; their pride, arrogance and absurdity. Tess is unusual as a female caricaturist in focussing entirely on domestic political issues but this was not unknown; after the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 there was a great deal of criticism of government policy, including the cartoon above.
As well as a caricaturist for a herione, Desired also features an American sea captain hero and a tour through some of the less well known parts of London from the Dulwich Picture Gallery to the Greenwich docks! I absolutely loved writing Tess's story and I hope anyone who picks it up will enjoy both her unusual talent for satire and her love story.
Are you artistic? What sort of creative talents do you have for drawing or music or designing things? Or what talent would you like to have? I have a print copy of Desired to give away to one commenter between now and midnight tomorrow.