Mao waves “hello” in his Bathrobe

My wife bought me a wonderful statue of Mao in a flee market in Shanghai, which has become one of my prize possessions and has a plum spot in my study. It was of Mao in his bathrobe after he had swum the width of the Yang-tse River. Here is a photo of my statue:

Like any good dictator Mao wanted to show that he had superior physical powers and therefore was worthy of ruling China. He used to swim the width of the Yang-tse river unassisted (supposedly?) and then emerge, wrap himself in a bathrobe, and acknowledge the universal acclamation of the adoring Chinese people. The image of him dressed in this fashion was used for propaganda purposes as this poster indicates.

Here is another:

See a larger version of this image – 800px wide

My advice to Scott Morrison and Dominic Perrottet is to swim across one of the flooded NSW rivers for a similar photo op. This might (or might not) increase their chances of re-election.

An Allegory of War and Peace

The Dutch legal theorist Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) published the first edition of his important book on the Laws of War and Peace in 1625 while he was in exile in Paris. His second edition of 1670 was published in Amsterdam and came with two etchings, one of himself and another which was an allegorical etching of Justice, War, and Peace (or Bounty) which served as the frontispiece of the book.

The engraver was Romeyn de Hooghe (1645 – 1708) who was a Dutch painter and engraver who made political prints in support King William of Orange (1650-1702). See Romeyn de Hooghe – Wikipedia.

Romeyn de Hooghe (1645 – 1708)

The portrait of Grotius:

See the larger version 1781×3042 px

The allegorical etching is a very interesting visual summary of Grotius’ book. A printed summary of his ideas can be found in Grotius’ “Prolegomena” to his book which I have made available in HTML.

That body of law, however, which is concerned with the mutual relations among states or rulers of states, whether derived from nature, or established by divine ordinances, or having its origin in custom and tacit agreement, few have touched upon. Up to the present time no one has treated it in a comprehensive and systematic manner ; yet the welfare of mankind demands that this task be accomplished. …

Such a work is all the more necessary because in our day, as in former times, there is no lack of men who view this branch of law with contempt as having no reality outside of an empty name. … Of like implication is the statement that for those whom fortune favours might makes right, and that the administration of a state cannot be carried on without injustice. …

Furthermore, the controversies which arise between peoples or kings generally have Mars as their arbiter. That war is irreconcilable with all law is a view held not alone by the ignorant populace ; expressions are often let slip by well-informed and thoughtful men which lend countenance to such a view. Nothing is more common than the assertion of antagonism between law and arms. …

Since our discussion concerning law will have been undertaken in vain if there is no law, in order to open the way for a favourable reception of our work and at the same time to fortify it against attacks, this very serious error must be briefly refuted. …

Man is, to be sure, an animal, but an animal of a superior kind, much farther removed from all other animals than the different kinds of animals are from one another; evidence on this point may be found in the many traits peculiar to the human species. But among the traits characteristic of man is an impelling desire for society, that is, for the social life—not of any and every sort, but peaceful, and organized according to the measure of his intelligence, with those who are of his own kind; this social trend the Stoics called ‘ sociableness’. …

This maintenance of the social order, which we have roughly sketched, and which is consonant with human intelligence, is the source of law properly so called. To this sphere of law belong the abstaining from that which is another’s, the restoration to another of anything of his which we may have, together with any gain which we may have received from it; the obligation to fulfil promises, the making good of a loss incurred through our fault, and the inflicting of penalties upon men according to their deserts. …

From this signification of the word law there has flowed another and more extended meaning. Since over other animals man has the advantage of possessing not only a strong bent towards social life, of which we have spoken, but also a power of discrimination which enables him to [ix] decide what things are agreeable or harmful (as to both things present and things to come), and what can lead to either alternative: in such things it is meet for the nature of man, within the limitations of human intelligence, to follow the direction of a well-tempered judgement, being neither led astray by fear or the allurement of immediate pleasure, nor carried away by rash impulse. Whatever is clearly at variance with such judgement is understood to be contrary also to the law of nature; that is, to the nature of man. …

Least of all should that be admitted which some people imagine, that in war all laws are in abeyance. On the contrary war ought not to be undertaken except for the enforcement of rights ; when once undertaken, it should be carried on only within the bounds of law and good faith. Demosthenes well said that war is directed against those who cannot be held in check by judicial processes. For judgements are efficacious against those who feel that they are too weak to resist; against those who are equally strong, or think that they are, wars [xii] are undertaken. But in order that wars may be justified, they must be carried on with not less scrupulousness than judicial processes are wont to be.

Let the laws be silent, then, in the midst of arms, but only the laws of the State, those that the courts are concerned with, that are adapted only to a state of peace; not those other laws, which are of perpetual validity and suited to all times.

See a larger version of 1800×3050 px

My analysis of the allegories used in the picture follows:

Standing on a round temple is Justice (she holds the scales of justice in her right hand) above Mars (war) who holds a sword in his right hand, next to whom is Peace or Abundance who holds a compass in her left hand (to measure out quantities), over which is draped a snake which is biting its own tail in a circle (a symbol of eternity), and who holds in her right hand the cornucopia (the horn of plenty). On either side of them and slightly behind are some shadowy figures whose meaning is not clear. Mars’ sword points to the left and in the distance is Neptune with his trident and his chariot pulled by horses. Since Holland and England were both aspiring sea powers this may be a reference to this fact. At the foot of the temple at the right are two figures, a man wearing a helmet who is holding another snake over a fire with his right hand (perhaps here a symbol of evil) and with his left holding a woman around her waste; she is a peasant girl who is wearing a bonnet and a yoke around her shoulders (a symbol of submission) and in her left hand an hour glass (a symbol of the passage of time and of death). At the left is a bearded man in the shadows who is also holding a snake over a fire. At the very bottom of the picture is a dead boar (a symbol of lust and ferocity) which has been sacrificed.

For further material by Grotius see:

  • the main page for Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) which has links to the facsimile PDFs of the 1625 and 1670 editions in Latin
  • an incomplete English translation done at the time of International Peace Conference at The Hague July 4th, 1899, with an introduction by David J. Hill, Assistant Secretary of State of the United States; and with a dedication “To the Memory of Hugo Grotius in Reverence and Gratitude from the United States of America” HTML
  • and an 1925 edition edited by James Brown Scott for the Carnegie Institution, from which I made an HTML version of Grotius’ Prolegomena to the Three Books on The Law Of War And Peace” (1625, 1925)

The Myth of a liberal “Australian Way of Life”

[Note: This post is part of a series on the History of the Classical Liberal Tradition]

Some conservative/liberal groups in Australia have adopted a slogan first used in the US, namely the “Australian Way of Life” modeled on the notion of the “American Way of Life”. It implies that such an “Australian” way of life was and possibly still is a “liberal” one, when in fact, if there is anything such as “the” Australian way of life (which I doubt) it is more likely to be a socialist, statist, or paternalistic one. Or “progressive” in modern parlance.

The idea of an implied “liberal” “Australian way of life” has become part of the Institute of Public Affairs’s mission and sense of itself, and hinted at most recently in the party platform of the newest Australian political party with the very awkward and oddly name of “Australia’s Representatives” (or “AusReps”). I think this is unfortunate and misleading because it fudges over significant issues of Australia’s very un-liberal heritage and history, especially its founding as a penal colony in 1788 and its national founding as a “progressive” and socially “advanced” state in 1901. (In addition, we should mention the founding of an explicitly “Liberal Party” in 1944 by Robert Menzies et al. which I would describe as “LINO” or “liberal in name only” rather than a “true” classical liberal party (free trade anyone?), but this is the topic for another post.)

The “American” Way of Life

The adoption of such a statement, “to maintain and enhance the Australian Way of Life”, with the implication that Australia’s “way of life” was then and is now (or should be now) a “liberal” one, might have made some sense in America where the founding of the American nation state was a product of a war of liberation against the British Empire, a successful act of secession from an irresponsible tax regime, and the writing of a new constitution based upon ideas of natural rights to life, liberty, and property (with the obvious very un-liberal proviso that it did not apply to black slaves). Even in America, there were some “original sins” against liberal principles committed by the “founding fathers”, such as the attempt to dismantle the truly decentralized and “con-federative” nature of the Articles of Confederation and impose a much more centralized national state with a president with powers more like an elected monarch, with growing powers of taxation, the creation of a National Bank and a “national debt”, and economic policies which necessitated considerable state intervention (the so-called “American System” of Hamilton and Clay), and then the high tariffs of the late 19th century.

But the unravelling of the “liberal” (in the “classical” not the modern American sense) “American way of life” accelerated in the 20th century with the creation of the Empire (after the Spanish-American War), the creation of the foundations of a welfare state under FDR in the 1930s and Johnson in 1964, and a massive “national security state” during and after WW2. Now, what remains is what I call a kind of “folk libertarianism” where the rhetoric of individual liberty is still part of public discourse but it has been largely emptied of much content and meaning under these very changed circumstances.

The Manifold “Original Sins” of the Founding of “Liberal” Australia

In my opinion Australia, by contrast, was founded in a state of “origin sin” against liberal principles, or rather several waves of “original sin”, in spite of the claims to the contrary by David Kemp in his multi-volume history of “A Liberal Nation”. [On the rather jarring juxtaposition of statist and liberal images on the cover of this volume, see below.] “Australia, or rather “New South Wales,” began as a military penal colony based upon the principles of a labour camp, with minimal voluntary labour or exchange relations between individuals which were limited to the small but growing number of “free” settlers and not the convict “forced laborers”, a form of military socialism where the governor and military officers controlled the store of provisions with all the problems of a “command economy” or what Mises called a “Zwangswirtschaft”, and a system of land ownership where the entire continent had been claimed as “the property” of the crown, or what I would call a kind of “monarchical or crown communism.” This control of land by “the crown” resulted in the legal and practical dispossession of the native inhabitants and the creation of a system of “crony” land ownership by means of land grants, sales, long-term leasing, and so on. There was the practice of “squatting” on tracts of land, or what the Americans termed “homesteading” which was the established liberal “Lockean” way in which unowned land was converted by use and occupation (“mixing one’s labour” with the soil) into justly owned and legitimate private property. However freehold title was not the most common form of land ownership and the system of “crown land communism” especially in mining leases is still the common practice in Australia.

By the mid-19th century the colonies began to get some tokens of self-governance (what I would call some aspects of “political liberalism” with the development of colonial legislatures) but this was limited throughout the rest of the century and well into the 20th after so-called “independence” by Imperial control of foreign and military policy which meant that Australia never became a truly independent country or nation like the US until after WW2. This very limited form of liberalism in Australia was based upon the “new” liberalism which had emerged in Britain (Hobhouse and Green) which had dramatically revised the more “radical” kind of liberalism which was the foundation of the actions of reformers like Richard Cobden in the 1830s and 1840s. The “antipodean” form of liberalism which was prevalent in Australia in the late 19th century was defined by extensive government involvement in the ownership and supply of key infrastructure activities like ports, railways, and other public transport (trams), as well as grain storage and delivery. This was described at the time quite correctly as “colonial socialism” and to this was added from “the left” the very unliberal views of the “labour movement” which resulted in the formation of the Labor Party in the last decade of the 19th century.

One should also mention the great split which had emerged as industrialization took place between the supporters of liberal free trade (concentrated in Sydney) and un-liberal protectionism (concentrated in Melbourne). The success of the protectionists in getting their policy adopted as a cornerstone of the economic policy of the new “Commonwealth of Australia” in 1901 added to the growing list of “original sins” against liberal principles which lay at the very heart of the “new nation”: this included compulsory wage arbitration, the exclusion of certain races from immigrating (the “White Australia Policy”), continued government ownership and control of significant infrastructure, and soon after Federation the adoption of a country-wide land tax which evolved into an income tax. Given these activities, it is not surprising that Australia at the beginning of the 20th century had one of the highest levels of government spending and taxation as a percentage of GDP of the more advanced economies in the world, possibly twice that of the US. For this and other reasons Australia was commonly regarded as an advanced “progressive” country where the practicality and desirability of many socialist principles were being showcased as an example for the rest of the world, which would follow in due course.

One might also add to this toxic brew of government interventions that of the willingness of many Australians to get involved in foreign wars which posed no direct threat to Australia but were directly connected to maintaining the power and prestige of the British Empire. I have in mind the Boer War in South Africa (another war of independence the British opposed) and the First World War which one might describe as a brawl between European Empires which Australia would have been well advised to avoid. To the “myth of a liberal Australian way of life” might be added that of “the myth of ANZAC” which was the way many Australian’s judged themselves as “fit” to be a (semi-)independent nation by their prowess to wage war and kill other people, admittedly as stoically as possible under considerable hardship.

The 20th Century: LINO (liberal in name only)

The history of the growth of the state and its increasing intervention in the economy and over people’s individual lives throughout the course of the 20th century is only another long and very sad chapter in the history of liberal Australia which I cannot go into here in any detail. I have limited my remarks in this post to the “original sins” of Australia’s foundation and not their subsequent development and expansion. But one could conclude from this brief history that contemporary classical liberals/libertarians cannot get any solace in talking about “the Australian way of life” if by this they mean a “liberal” way of life. To paraphrase Robert Menzies and John Howard, the truly “forgotten people” of Australia are not the ordinary taxpayers and “battlers”, but the small handful of true or radical liberals who have popped up from time to time in Australia’s history, disappeared, and then promptly forgotten. [See my collection of some of these “forgotten” true Australian classical liberals and libertarians here. I have also put online Menzies’ radio “fire-side chats”, including “The Forgotten People” talk of May, 1942.]

Note on the “socialist” Sydney Habour Bridge vs. the “liberal” Surf Life Saving Association

The front cover of David Kemp’s third volume of his history of liberalism in Australia – A Liberal State: 1926-1966. How Australians chose Liberalism over Socialism (Melbourne University Press) – has a jarring juxtaposition of images which goes some way in explaining the strange and conflicted nature of “antipodean liberalism”. In the background there is the iconic image of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (completed 1932) which is statist and illiberal in its funding and its construction; and an equally iconic image (in the foreground) of a member of the Surf Life Saving Association which is a private and volunteer association and hence very liberal in its significance.

The Bridge in Curve (1926) painting by Grace Cossington Smith

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was built by a government body (the NSW Dept. of Public Works) and funded by taxpayers (and tolls) rather than by a private firm using its own funds. It cost A£6.25 million and required the coercive confiscation of over 400 private homes and commercial buildings without adequate compensation. It then took 56 years to pay off the loans incurred to build it (1932-88). It thus is a symbol of the worst features of government intervention in the economy (also broadly known as “socialism”). See Sydney Harbour Bridge – Wikipedia

In the foreground we see figures dressed in the distinctive clothing of the privately funded and voluntarily organized Surf Life Saving Association. In “liberal Australia” in 1902 it was illegal for anybody to go into the ocean during daylight hours! Only after this illiberal and prudish law was challenged in the courts that surfing and surf swimming became popular and the need for surf life saving clubs appeared. The Surf Bathing Association of New South Wales was formed on 18 October 1907. I would argue that the SLSA is thus a symbol of the best features of a voluntary, free market society (also known broadly as “liberalism”) and that the image sits rather jarringly in font of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the cover of the book. See Surf Life Saving Australia – Wikipedia

However, I’m sure Kemp is not asking us here to make a choice between the “socialism” of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the “liberalism” of the Surf Life Saving Association. Rather, he seems to think that the two go together seamlessly as part of the one “liberal state”. A view I do not share.

“God save us from the King”: or the Problem of Regal Vice

[Also see my post on “James Gillray on Debt and Taxes during the War against Napoleon (23 February, 2021).]

Last Monday (14 June) was “celebrated” here in Australia with a public holiday in most of the country. For some reason the eponymously named state of “Queensland” missed out. Perhaps they wanted to avoid the charade played by the rest of the country by “celebrating” her birthday on her real birthday (21 April 1926).

Not that it really matters for us republicans and libertarians as the “pomp and circumstance” of the modern monarchy (birthdays, royal weddings and births) merely hides the unpleasant truth about how monarchs got their power and authority in the first place (one of their ancestors was the dominant warlord of the day), and whether or not they acquired their vast property holdings and wealth in a legitimate fashion (through conquest and forcible seizure, subsidies from taxpayers) not by making voluntary exchanges of justly acquired or produced goods and services. [For a corrective, see the historical analyses of the origin of monarchies by Thomas Paine, Gustave de Molinari, and Franz Oppenheimer.] Instead they live off the interest and rent they receive from these holdings, along with a negotiated bequest or donation from the taxpayers (via Parliament) to cover the costs of their “official duties”. [Again, for a corrective see the work of the English radical Individualist John Wade who, in the Extraordinary Black Book (1832) collected the data concerning who got what from the British taxpayers as part of the “Civil List”.]

Furthermore, much of what we today associate with the “pomp and ceremony” and the “mystery” of divine or semi-divine rule, what has been called “royal tradition” is in fact a modern invention, perhaps started by the savvy Queen Victoria (1819-1901, reigned 1837-1901).
[See, The Invention of Tradition. Ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge University Press, 1983).] I have argued elsewhere that public ceremonies (whether monarchical or presidential) are a powerful means of instilling reference for and obedience to authority in the minds of the people. See the series of lectures I have given on “The Culture of Liberty vs. the Culture of Authority”; “Propaganda and Obedience to the State”, “Political Propaganda and the State: On Seeing through the Culture of Authority”.] And more recently, I have posted on the older work of Étienne de la Boétie on why people voluntarily submit to this form of “servitude” under a so-called constitutional monarchy, which is mostly of the mind, but which sometimes intrudes into “real politics” when the “crown” or his/her representatives start sacking governments (such as the dismissal of Gough Whitlam in 1975).

So it is a relief to sometimes go back into the past when monarchs were treated with much less fawning admiration and respect, such as the decades of the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the British political caricaturist James Gillray (1756-1815) was cutting lose with his witty and very sharp “cartoons” which showed the more grasping and repulsive behaviour of royals such as King George III and Queen Charlotte and their dissolute son George which would later become King George IV. One can only hope that our era might spawn its own Gillray to mock and expose the shenanigans of the current extended “royal family” which “rules” the U.K. along with its satellites and dependencies like the Commonwealth of Australia.

With this in mind, I have assembled a number of Gillray’s cartoons to serve as an example for contemporary cartoonists, as well as to help me temper my politically grumpy mood and assuage my troubled republican soul. These images are critical of several things which apply even today to the royal family:

  • the sheer cost of supporting such an extended family and their hangers-on at taxpayer expense when ordinary people were suffering hardships and deprivation as a result of the economic impact of war (the wars against France in America in the 1740s, and then the American war of independence in the 1770s, and the war against the French Republic and then Napoleon in the 1790s)
  • that behind the façade of upright and exemplary behaviour (supposedly as the head of the established Christian church) lay appalling personal behaviour which brought the state and the church into disrepute
  • that royals could and should be represented as just like ordinary people and therefore not worthy of being regarded as any way superior or “chosen by God” to lead their subjects and act as “head of state”

How Royals want to be depicted in Official Portraits

[King George III (1738-1820) – reigned 1760-1820. Alan Ramsay’s depiction of George in his coronation robes.]

[Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (Sophia Charlotte) (1744-1818) who was queen by marriage to King George III. Painting by Thomas Gainsboroguh 1781]

[King George IV (1762-1830) – reigned 1820-1830 (regent from 1811). He was the eldest child of George III and Charlotte.]

The Sordid Business of Royal Weddings and Births to continue the Line and Boost the Family Budget

The marriage of their sons to suitably wealthy European monarchs was a strategy used by George III and Charlotte to increase their wealth independently of the whims of Parliament. In “The Introduction” (22 November 1791) we see an ecstatic King and Queen literally leaping out of their thrones in anticipation of a huge dowry to be paid by the Prussian King for the marriage of his daughter Princess Frederica Charlotte to their son Prince Frederick, the Duke of York.

George cannot believe his eyes when he sees the bags of gold being offered and has to use his spy glass to make sure he has not made an error (this was a common trope by Gillray as George III’s eyesight was deteriorating). Charlotte stretches out her apron in order to receive the coins being carried by Frederica and a large mustachioed Prussian soldier who is escorting the young couple (the bags being carried by the soldier have the sum of £100,000 written on them). George and Charlotte are also happy because Frederick’s marriage was the first legitimate marriage of any of their sons and might produce an heir.

However, the reported amounts of the dowry were exaggerated but the newly wed Prince Frederick, the Duke of York, was granted an additional £18,000 a year from Parliament, and the George III contributed £12,000 a year out of the Civil List. This was in addition to the money he received from the established church in Ireland of £7,000 a year and the revenues generated by the Bishopric of Osnaburgh.

One could usually not accuse Gillray of being subtle, but on occasion he was, as this drawing “Fashionable Contrasts” (1792) demonstrates.

Five years before the birth of George’s (the Prince of Wales) daughter Charlotte, the marriage of his younger brother Frederick (the Duke of York) to Frederica Charlotte, the oldest daughter of the King of Prussia, became the subject of a media frenzy. Perhaps because she was very short, plain looking, and quite plump and thus without the hoped for “aristocratic bearing” one might want to see in a member of the royal family, the press fixated on the size of her feet, which were very small or “dainty” in polite speech. There was also the hope that this couple might produce a legitimate male heir to throne without the complications created by his older brother of an illegal marriage to a catholic or children conceived out of wedlock by one of his many mistresses.

Gillray’s contribution to this media frenzy was to depict two pairs of feet, one pair clearly male with buckles and quite large, lying atop another pair clearly female which were pink and bejeweled and very small. The full title of the drawing was “Fashionable contrasts; – or – the Duchess’s little shoe yielding to the magnitude of the Duke’s foot.”

“The Presentation – or – the Wise Men’s Offering” (9 January 1796).

The son of George III, also a “George” (the future IV), was forced into a loveless marriage to his cousin Princess Caroline of Brunswick in order to get a dowry to pay off his considerable debts. They had one child (his only legitimate child and thus the presumptive heir to the throne), Charlotte, who was born on 7 Jan. 1976, before they separated and George went back to his mistresses.

Gillray has drawn a disheveled and presumably drunk George who has just arrived and is presented with his child (wrapped in swaddling cloth’s like Christ) by an old woman who may be the well-known prostitute and madame “Mother Windsor”. The gathering is of members of the Whig party who are trying to ingratiate themselves with the Prince. Two of their leaders, the two wise men of the party, Charles Fox and Richard Sheridan, are ostentatiously “ass kissing” the baby princess Charlotte. The message appears to be that everybody involved is “prostituting” themselves for something or other.

George III and Charlotte also had a daughter, Charlotte Augusta, or the Princess Royal, to marry off. After many years of negotiation for suitable terms, a marriage to the hereditary Prince Frederick of Wurtemberg was announced in 1796. Gillray immediately seized upon certain physical attributes of the Prince to satirize which appeared in the drawing “For Improving the Breed” (Oct. 24, 1796).

He was physically huge, being rather corpulent (as the size of his belly indicates), very tall for the period (some 6 feet 11 inches or 2.1 meters), and weighed 440 pounds or 200 kilos. For a family as sickly looking as George’s and Charlotte’s this German prince was seen by Gillray as a wonderful breeding opportunity to improve the English royal bloodline. One should also note the obviously phallic handle of the sword protruding just under his belly. The only thing missing is an image of his teeth to complete the picture.

In “The Bridal Night” (May 18, 1797) the extended royal family and their entourage are seen escorting, almost triumphally, the bridal couple into the bed chamber in Windsor Castle on their first night together.

I say “triumphal” as the picture on the wall behind the procession is of an elephant with a cupid sitting on its head blowing a trumpet with the title beneath “Le Triomphe de l’amour” (The Triumph of Love). The word “Love” may also be meant sarcastically as beneath the picture we can see Prime Minister Pitt with a sack of money labelled £80,000 which is the amount Parliament voted for her dowry (thus freeing George III and Charlotte from having to come up with the cash for the wedding to proceed). Thus the title should probably read “The Triumph of Money and Power”.

There is so much detail in the drawing that I will just quote the British Museum commentary on the image:

An elaborate design. The Prince of Würtemberg, grotesquely corpulent, conducts his bride in the procession (right to left) towards the bridal chamber which is led by the King and Queen. George III, plainly dressed and wearing a hat, partly concealed by a pillar, hurries forward; in each hand is a candle-stick holding a guttering candle-end (cf. BMSat 8117). The Queen, covered with jewels and her face hidden by a poke-bonnet, carries a steaming bowl of ‘Posset’. On the back of the Prince’s coat are slung five ribbons from which dangle the jewels of orders; three garters encircle his leg; a star decorates the bag of his wig. The Princess gazes at him from behind her fan. Round her waist is the ribbon of an order, to which is attached a jewel containing a whole length miniature of her husband, which exaggerates his corpulence.

Behind the Princess is a group of princes: the Prince of Wales, in regimentals, is fat and sulky. Prince William of Gloucester stands with splayed-out feet as in BMSat 8716. The Duke of Clarence (caricatured) puts a hand on the right arm of the Prince of Wales. Behind is the more handsome head of the Duke of York. These four heads are clever juxtapositions of variations on the family features. Behind them is the grotesque profile of the Stadholder with closed eyes. The sharp features of Lady Derby tower above the Stadholder. Next him is the Princess of Wales, not caricatured. Two princesses hold up their sister’s train, and, behind, a sea of feathered headdresses recedes in perspective under a lighted chandelier.

Salisbury (left), the Lord Chamberlain, standing stiffly in profile to the right, much caricatured, with wand and key as in BMSat 8649, holds open the door through which the King is about to pass. Pitt, on the outskirts of the procession, carries a sack inscribed ‘£80,000’ (the amount of the Princess’s dowry). On the wall is a large picture, inscribed ‘Le Triomphe de l’Amour’, of an elephant with a little cupid sitting on his neck blowing a trumpet.

It is not clear from the drawing how far into the royal bedchamber the procession is intending to go and how long they will stay. It is amusing to speculate.

Economising on Royal Expenditure: Faux and Real

After fighting and losing the war to prevent the independence of the American colonies the British were forced to capitulate and sign a peace agreement known as the Treaty of Paris in September 1783. This left the British state with massive debts to pay off which was done by levying taxes of all kinds on the ordinary working people of Britain. In this drawing, “A New Way to Pay the National Debt” (1786), Gillray shows how, while ordinary taxpayers were made to suffer, the elite and the Royal family profited from enormous grants authorized by Parliament.

The immediate political background to the drawing was the introduction by Prime Minister William Pitt of a bill in Parliament on 3 April 1786 to reduce the size of the debt, and the continuing refusal of George III to assume responsibility for the large personal debts run up by his son George, the Prince of Wales. Pitt submitted his bill before Parliament and debates began 5 and 6 April, 1786. One of the clauses of the bill concerned a supplementary grant to the “Civil List” (the annual payment to the Royal family and their entourage) of £210,000 to discharge their personal debts. By one estimate, the war against the American colonies had cost the government about £80 million which had increased the size of the national debt to about £250 million. To raise additional funds, the Pitt government imposed taxes a range of goods such as the following: wine, windows, spirits, tobacco, bricks and tiles, gold and silver plate, imported silk, men’s hats, women’s ribbons, perfume, hair powder, horse and carriages, and sporting licenses.

The drawing shows the arched entrance of the Royal Treasury outside of which are gathered in a semi-circle around King George and Charlotte a group of uniformed men playing their instruments and who have their pockets overflowing with coins. They represent the “placemen” who have received sinecures from the Crown and are now “playing George’s tune”. George III and Charlotte stand before a wheel barrow filled with sacks of money and their pockets are literally bulging with coins. George is holding a sack of money on which is written £100,000. Charlotte is also seen taking snuff out of a gold box. The Prime Minister William Pitt, also with pockets bulging with cash, is handing George III yet another large sack of money. On the wall behind them are wall posters and flyers with revealing slogans and titles on them. The central group is framed by a poor armless and legless beggar (possibly a disabled naval veteran) sitting on the ground to the left with his begging hat sitting empty between his legs; and to the right is the figure of George, the Prince of Wales, disheveled and wearing torn clothing receiving a supplementary bag of money with a note which reads “Accept £200000 from your Friend Orleans”, from a well-dressed Frenchman who perhaps is a representative of the French aristocrat, the Duc d’Orléans).

Although depicted as disheveled and impoverished, George the Prince of Wales had received and continued to receive substantial amounts of money from Parliament to fund his decadent lifestyle. When he turned 21 in 1783 he was granted a one off payment of £60,000 from Parliament and an annual income of £50,000. This generous amount was insufficient to cover his gambling and racing debts, and the expensive renovations to his home. To cover these additional expenses Parliament granted him a further £24,000 in 1787 to cover them.

Below the drawing are some amusing dedications, such as “Designed by Helagabalis” (a profligate Roman emperor), “Dedicated to Mons. Necker” (the French Minister of Finance who tried, and failed, to reorganize the French taxation system before the French Revolution), and “Executed by Sejanus” (the head of the Praetorian Guard under emperor Tiberius).

Concerning the posters on the rear wall, one commentator has deciphered them as:

To the left of the arch, for instance, is a notice headed with a violin and bow, announcing the arrival of large assortment of musicians from Germany for the royal entertainment. (Music was one of George’s passions.) This is juxtaposed to another notice containing “Last Dying Speech of Fifty-Four Malefactors executed for robbing a Hen-Roost,” suggestive of the plight of a desperate and starving British populace. The juxtaposition of the two may be intended to recall the cruel emperor Nero who, in the popular phrase, “fiddled while Rome burned.” A third notice suggests that charity from such a king is “a Romance,” an implausible fiction.

To the right of the arch, the handbills lament the spending of the King and Court with “Oeconomy, an old Song,” and suggest the feelings of the British electorate, imposed upon by Pitt’s succession of taxes with: “British Property a Farce,” and “Just published for the benefit of Posterity: The Dying Groans of Liberty.”

The British Museum entry for this drawing notes further that:

On the Treasury wall is a number of placards and torn shreds of paper: ‘Charity A Romance’ (torn); ‘God save the King’ (torn); ‘Last Dying Speech of Fifty-Four Malefactors executed for robbing a Hen-Roost’, headed by a number of bodies hanging from a gibbet (an allusion to the king’s farming activities at Windsor, see BMSat 6918, &c.); a bill headed by a violin and bow and inscribed ‘From Germany just arrived a large & Royal Asortment’ (on the king’s fondness for German musicians); ‘Œconomy an old Song’ (torn); ‘British Property a Farce’ (torn); ‘Just publish’d for the Benefit of Posterity: The Dying Groans of Liberty’; a placard with the Prince of Wales’s feathers and the motto ‘Ich Starve’ (torn), in place of ‘Ich dien’, and another with two clasped hands and the word ‘Orleans’ (torn). The last two are above the heads of the Prince and the Duc d’Orléans.

In the drawing “Frying Sprats, Toasting Muffins” (28 November 1791) Gillray mocks the supposed parsimoniousness of the King and Queen who, despite their vast wealth, cook meals for themselves (sprats or small fish, and muffins which were regarded as food which the poor would eat) over an open fire in order to save money. This is belied by the bulging sack of coins tied to the Queen’s waist. Their claim to be poor was a ploy to justify not spending their wealth on improving the lot of the poor of England or paying off their son’s very large debts, which they expected the Parliament to cover in a grant.

Another drawing mocking the frugality of the King and Queen was “Temperance enjoying a Frugal Meal” (28 July 1792) where George eats a couple of boiled eggs and the Queen a simple green salad.

Other indications of their frugality is the pitcher of water (not wine) standing beside the table, an empty picture frame on the wall showing that they do not spend money on frivolous artistic decorations, and the fact that the King’s britches have been mended with a patch.

The Physical and Moral Deficiencies of the Royals

One of the great myths of monarchy was, and still is to some degree, that those who were destined to rule over us are somehow physically, morally, and spiritually superior to us normal, mortal creatures, that they were somehow chosen by god, by destiny, or by history to assume this important role. But, given the behaviour of the royals in the 1790s and 1810, it was not difficult for Gillray to demonstrate the exact opposite, that they were gluttons, had serial mistresses, fathered children out of wedlock, amassed huge gambling and other debts, and had various physical disabilities, the least of which was being feeble sighted and the worst being feeble minded or even insane in the case of George III (after 1811).

George III was a gift to caricaturists given his many physical weaknesses and obsessive behavior. For starters, he was obsessed with saving money (parsimoniousness) on trivial matters (symbolized by him re-using half finished wax candles) when the regime was in dire financial straits because of the massive cost of the wars waged during his reign. His health deteriorated, his eyesight began to fail, he suffered from dementia, and ultimately was declared unfit to rule, thus ushering in a period of regency after 1811 when his dissolute son, the future George IV ruled in his place. So it was an open invitation for caricaturists to link his physical weaknesses and failures to his political ones.

In the following two drawings Gillray links George III’s physical nearsightedness to his inability to see the two kinds of threat to his regime. One from the Republican or Cromwellian threat from within; and the second from Napoleon from without.

In “A Connoisseur Examining A Cooper” (18 June 1792) we see depicted George III squinting, even under the bright light of his stub of a candle (used to save money), to see the details of a small picture of Oliver Cromwell, who had ruled England as “Protector” between 1653 and 1658 following the overthrow and execution of Charles I in 1649. The picture of Cromwell had been painted by Samuel Cooper and George is supposed to be a connoisseur of fine art, hence the title of the drawing. The North American colonies had of course seceded from the British Crown in 1776 and the French had deposed King Louis XVI in September 1792 and executed him in January 1793. Many in England thought George might be next, including Gillray perhaps, as his very speculative though detailed drawing of a meeting of post-revolutionary British politicians planning the next step in “L’Assemblée Nationale, or Grand Co-operative Meeting in St. Ann’s Hill” (18 June 1804) seems to show (see below).

In the quite similar “The King of Brobdingnag and Gulliver” (26 June 1803) we have George III dressed in a military uniform examining through a spy glass a miniature Napoleon whom he is holding in the palm of his hand.

Gillray depicts Napoleon as Gulliver (from Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels (1726)) and George as the King of the fictional land of giants named Brobdingnag. The speech bubble is a quote from the novel where the King replies to Gulliver’s description of what English society and government was like:

My little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable panegyric upon Yourself and Country, but from what I can gather from your own relation & the answers I have with much pains wringed & extorted from you, I cannot but conclude you to be one of the most pernicious, little – odious -reptiles, that nature ever suffer’d to crawl upon the surface of the Earth.

The joke of course might be that Gillray has reversed matters and that King George is the “Lilliputian” and Napoleon the giant. Napoleon would not be cut down to size until a few years after this drawing was done in 1803, when his invasion of Spain (1808) began to fail and then his disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812 led to the complete route of his massive army.

The moral deficiencies of the royal family were numerous and often the subject of Gillray’s barbs. One particularly damning drawing focused on four of the royals’ ”deadly sins” or vices, namely avarice, drunkenness, gambling, and debauchery – “Vices Overlook’d in the New Proclamation” (1792).

The drawing was a direct response to George III’s crackdown on the dissemination of revolutionary republican tracts like Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man which appeared on the streets of London in March 1791 and February 1792. The King issued a “Royal Proclamation Against Seditious Writings and Publications” in which he made a personal appeal to the people of England , his “faithful and loving subjects”, to resist such seditious material and to the magistrates to hunt down the authors, printers and distributors of such “wicked and seditious writings.”

Gillray used this drawing to point out the hypocrisy of the King acting against the “vice” of sedition while ignoring the vices committed by him, his wife, and his three sons, which he made explicit in the statement at the bottom:

To the Commons of Great Britain, this representation of Vices, which remain unforbidden by Proclamation, is dedicated, as proper for imitation, and in place of the more dangerous ones of Thinking, Speaking & Writing, now forbidden by Authority.

In the first panel is shown the vice of “avarice” in which the King and Queen are hugging large sacks of money while seated at a table in their pyjamas. The queen has two sacks each marked as containing three million pounds, while the King has two five million pound sacks. Open on the table is an account book on which is written “Account of Money at interest in Germany”, a reference to the rumor that the Queen kept secret accounts in banks in her native German state of Mecklenburg.

The second panel, called “drunkenness” shows a very drunk George (their eldest son, the Prince of Wales) being escorted out of a tavern cum brothel which serves strong “Neat Wines” (i.e. not watered down) by two burly looking nightwatchmen. The third panel shows another son Frederick, the Duke of York, standing at a gambling table surrounded by other gamblers getting further into debt. The fourth panel, called “debauchery”, shows Prince William Henry, the Duke of Clarence, wearing a naval officer’s jacket and striped pants, on a divan with his mistress Mrs. Jordan, whose name also appears as the title of picture on the wall, “A Jordan”, of a chamber pot.

Gillray thought that the excesses of George, the Prince of Wales (or Whales as he was sometimes derisively called) deserved a drawing of its own. In “A Voluptuary under the Horrors of Digestion” (2 July 1792) we have a picture in which large circles predominate, thus emphasizing the circumference of his bloated belly in the middle of the picture.

George is reclining on a chair at his dining table having finished his meal. He picks his teeth with a fork, which is also part of his coat of arms hanging on the wall behind him – a crossed knife and fork surrounded by a wine bottle and wine glass each holding a candle. Beneath that is a multi-level cake server with all the medicines his diet and lifestyle requires – remedies for venereal disease, piles, and bad breath. Beneath that in turn is a chamber pot overflowing with his excrement which acts as a paper weight for all his unpaid bills.

On the floor are dice and some books about horse racing and gambling. Through the window at the top left of the picture is the outline of the unfinished and hugely expensive renovations he demanded for his home.

The Dangers faced by Royals when Living in a Revolutionary and Republican Age

“Taking physick – or – the news of shooting the King of Sweden!” (1792).

George III and Charlotte are brought the news that yet another monarch has been killed (“done over”) by revolutionaries – this time the King of Sweden. They are both sitting in the lavatory literally shitting themselves in fear.

If a political assassination did not remove George III then another possibility was an uprising to install a constitutional monarchy. Gillray satirically imagined such a possibility in the very detailed and quite complex drawing of a meeting of an English equivalent of the French National Assembly of 1789: “L’Assemblée Nationale, or Grand Cooperative Meeting in St. Ann’s Hill” (18 June 1804).

Among the throng of people who were supposed to be the leaders and supporters of a new English Republic we can see in the centre Charles Fox and his wife. They are hosting a reception attended by the two major parties of the Opposition, the supporters of Fox and the supporters of Grenville, who might form a “coalition” or “co-operation” to run the republic. There is also a suggestion that with George III out of the way, his son might be persuaded to join the group as a figure-head. The half-figure on the right, dressed in a blue jacket is George (the Prince of Wales). He might be bought off to support the coup if they agreed to pay off his considerable gambling debts. For a more detailed description and attempt to identify all the figures present see the commentary at the British Museum website.

For those who like trivia, some of the incidental detail in the drawing is quite interesting. For example, the Prince of Wales has a paper in his back pocket on which is a quote from Shakespeare’s play Henry IV Part I, where Prince Hal says how he will appear to go along with their “unyoked humour” until such time as he decides to throw off “this loose behaviour” and redeem himself:

I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyoked humour of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend to make offence a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.

And adorning the back wall of the room are some interesting pictures described at the British Museum page as follows:

The room is palatial. The centre decoration of the wall is an elaborately carved candelabra on a bracket: Napoleon, crowned, naked, and grotesquely emaciated, supports on his shoulders a terrestrial globe, straddling across his large inverted Republican cocked hat (see BMSat 10247, &c.). He looks intently down at Fox. On the left. and in shadow is an oval bust portrait of George III, ‘Pater Patriae’. The frame is decorated with palm-branches. On the r., in a tropical landscape, Indians kneel or prostrate themselves with gestures of adoration before an enormous rising sun. They are ‘Worshipers of the Rising Sun’. The ornate frame is garlanded with grapes and surmounted by the Prince of Wales’s coronet and feathers.

The “Big Picture” of Kings, Politicians, and Emperors carving up the world for their own benefit

By 1805 when these two drawings were made Gillray had come to realize that the behaviour of kings and emperors, and politicians were very similar whether they were dealing with internal matters or foreign affairs. They behaved like “epicurean” diners who were willing to carve up the world for their own or their party’s (and supporters) benefit.

In “The Honors of the Sitting!! a Cabinet Picture” (January 30, 1805) we see George III sitting down to tea with the Tory politician Henry Addington who had been Prime Minister between 1801 and 1804. Peering anxiously through the window is Willam Pitt who had been PM between 1783-1801 and then again after Addington between 1804-1806. George is clearly playing one politician off against the other for his own benefit. At the table he shows Addington a multi-level serving platter with examples of all the kinds of “political goodies” he has to offer if Addington would come over to his side.

Addington had been made a Viscount and was now known as Viscount Sidmouth, which could be twisted to mean “Side-Mouth” or even “Side Board”. The commentary on the British Museum page) for this drawing describes the offerings as follows:

On the table stands a four-tiered dumb waiter. On the top-most shelf is a ducal coronet below are earl’s coronets, a star, and a ribbon; below again are (?) patents’ and on the lowest and largest shelf are loaves and fishes. Sidmouth sits grasping a knife and fork; on his plate is a fish, beside it a ‘loaf’ and a bottle of ‘Imperial Tokay’, the bottle stoppered with a crown. The King says: “Help yourself Doctor [cf. BMSat 9849] there is every thing you can wish for on the Side Board”. Addington answers, glancing sideways towards it, “They are indeed very inviting I cannot help turning a Side-mouth to them.” Pitt, outside a window immediately behind him (r.), looks into the room registering angry alarm; he says, “Zounds that Fellow will get all the Pickings.”

When transferred to the international sphere the political game of “the victor taking the spoils” is much the same in principle only with larger stakes. In “The plumb-pudding in danger: -or- State Epicures taking un Petit Souper” (1805) Pitt is back in office as Prime Minister and is show having dinner with Emperor Napoleon carving up a large plum pudding shaped like the earth.

Since Britain was the great naval power, Pitt has a fork shaped like a trident and is shown carving up the Atlantic Ocean to the west of Britain and including the West Indies. Napoleon, being the leader of a great land army uses a sword to cut off a large section of Europe including France Holland, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, and the Mediterranean, but leaving Sweden and Russia behind. Below the title at the top there is a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest iv. 1. : “the great Globe itself, and all which it inherit” with the further comment that it “ is too small to satisfy such insatiable appetites.”

In Act IV, sc. 1 of The Tempest Prospero finally gives his blessing to the marriage of Miranda and Ferdinand and then angrily and somewhat sadly reflects upon “this insubstantial pageant” which so preoccupied rulers to build and rule over “cloud-capp’d towers, gorgeous palaces, solemn temples, (and) the great globe itself”:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex’d;
Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled:
Be not disturb’d with my infirmity:
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I’ll walk,
To still my beating mind.

Posted in Art

Making and Breaking the Image of King Charles I

Here we have an official a portrait of Charles Stuart (1600-1649) done in the studio of Anthony van Dyck c. 1636. He is of course at the height of his powers and in his full regal regalia. He ruled from 1625 to 1649 when he was executed by Parliament.

When he was in prison awaiting his sentence and then execution Charles Stuart (King Charles I) wrote a defence of himself, his position, and his actions during the Civil Wars which he called “The Image or Icon of the King” (“Eikon Basilke” in Greek) which included some self-serving images, most notably a very detailed Frontispiece.

The full title of the book was: Εἰκὼν Βασιλική (the Image of the King), The Pourtrature of His Sacred Majestie in His Solitudes and Sufferings (1649) which we have put online. See the facs. PDF of the first edition – with the frontispiece and one without. Also an HTML version of the 1904 edition by Almack.

There were two demolitions of this “iconography of the king”, one a satirical image suggesting he was a mere puppet of the Catholic Church, and one in print by Milton denouncing Charles as a tyrant who deserved his death, in Eikonoklastes (the “iconoclast” or the destroyer of images) [HTML] and The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates [HTML] which Milton also published in 1649 and which was his second defence of regicide. As he subtitled The Tenure of Kings, “That it is Lawfull, and hath been held so through all Ages, for any who have the Power, to call to account a Tyrant, or wicked KING, and after due conviction, to depose and put him to death; if the ordinary MAGISTRATE have neglected or deny’d to doe it”.

The Official Frontispiece

See also a slightly different and larger version: larger size 3162×2717 pixels.

Charles is depicted dressed in his finest robes and kneeling in what appears to be a small chapel. A beam of light from heaven (“sacred heat”) breaks through the dark clouds outside on the left and strikes him on the top of his head. At the same moment he is looking heavensward towards the upper right and sees one of the three crowns in the picture. This is “his” “Starrie Crown
of Gloirie ” which will be his after his execution. The world outside the chapel on the left is a scene of physical and man-made torment. Nature is pounding the rock (Charles is the rock) with violent waves and fierce storms (the civil wars and revolution of the past 7 years), but it/he stands “unmov’d triumphant”. In the fields stands a palm tree (another symbol of Charles) on which have been hung two heavy weights which one would think were designed to prevent it growing too tall (constitutional limits on his power?) but which have the opposite effect of causing it/him to grow (more straight and high). At his feet there is the second crown (his earthly crown) in the picture which lies at his feet (knocked from his head by the Parliamentary regicides and republicans) and which he now “disdains”, He now turns for solace to the Bible while holding the third crown, Christ’s “crown of thorns”, as he sees himslef as a martyr to the cause of monarchy and God.

In one edition from 1649 there is this “Explanation of the Frontispiece”:

A Sacred heat inspires my Soul to trie
If Pray’rs can give Me what the Warres denie,
Three Crowns distinctly here in order do
Present their objects to my knowing view,
Earths Crown lies humbled at my foot, disdain,
‘Twas bright, but heavie, and withal but vain,
And now by Grace a Crown of Thorns I greet.
Sharp was this Crown, but not so sharp as sweet
This was Christs crown, my book upon my bord
Explains my heart, My hope is in thy Word.
My Starrie Crown
of Gloirie last I see,
As full of Blisse, as of Eternitie.
Now look behind, and midst most troubled skies
Behold, how clearer I from darknesse rise,
And stand unmov’d triumphant, like a Rock,
‘Gainst all the waves, & winds tempestuous shock
So like the Psalm, which heaviest weights do trie,
Virtue opprest, doth grow more straight and high.

In another editon there is a Latin and English key to the emblems:

The English reads:

Though clogg’d with weights of miseries
Palm-like Depress’d, I higher rise.

And as th’unmoved Rock out-brave’s
The boist’rous Windes and rageing waves
So triumph I. And shine more bright
In sad Affliction’s Darksom night.

That Splendid, but yet toilsom Crown
Regardlessly I trample down.

With joie I take this Crown of thorn,
Though sharp, yet easy to be born.

That heavn’nly Crown, already mine,
I view with eies of Faith divine.

I slight vain things: and do embrace
Glorie, the just reward of Grace.

The Latin incrsiptions and labels in the large version of the Frontispiece are as follows in a literal translation:

  • IMMOTA, TRIVMPHANS — “Unmoved, Triumphant” (scroll around the rock);
  • Clarior é tenebris — “Brighter through the darkness” (beam from the clouds);
  • CRESCIT SUB PONDERE VIRTVS — “Virtue grows beneath weights” (scroll around the tree);
  • Beatam & Æternam — “Blessed and Eternal” (around the heavenly crown marked GLORIA (“Glory”); meant to be contrasted with:
    • Splendidam & Gravem — “Splendid and Heavy” (around the Crown of England, removed from the King’s head and lying on the ground), with the motto Vanitas (“vanity“); and
    • Asperam & Levem — “Bitter and Light”, the martyr’s crown of thorns held by Charles; contains the motto Gratia (“grace”);
  • Coeli Specto — “I look to Heaven”;
  • IN VERBO TVO SPES MEA — “In Thy Word is My Hope”;
  • Christi Tracto — “I entreat Christ” or “By the word of Christ”;
  • Mundi Calco — “I tread on the world”.


A Satirical Version of the Frontispiece

There is a satirical print held by the British Museum <> from a book called Eikon alethine (The True Ikon or Image)) which mocks the idea that Charles had the brains to write a defense of his monarchy and that he had been manipulated as a puppet of the Church.

The image has the title “Spectatum admissi risum teneatis” (If you saw such a thing, could you restrain your laughter – a quote from Horace, Ars Poetica V) and reveals a cleric who had been hiding behind a curtain which has been pulled back by a hand reaching down from above (much like a hand in the Monty Python TV show). The poem below the image states:

The Curtain’s drawne; All may perceive the plot,
And Him who truely the blacke Babe begot:
Whose sable mantle makes me bold to say
A Phaeton Sol’s chariot ruled that day.
Presumptuous Priest to skip into the throne,
And make his King his Bastard Issue owne.
The Author therefore hath conceiv’d it meet,
The Doctor should doe pennance in this sheet.


Milton’s “Iconoclasm”, or the Smashing of Political Idolatry

Milton was very aware of what Charles and his supporters were attemtping to do in publishing the Eikon Basilike with its emblems of power in the Frontispiece, as these comments in the Preface show very clearly. I have put in bold some of the most striking passages:

First, then, that some men (whether this were by him intended, or by his friends) have by policy accomplished after death that revenge upon their enemies, which in life they were not able, hath been oft related. And among other examples we find, that the last will of Cæsar being read to the people, and what bounteous legacies he had bequeathed them, wrought more in that vulgar audience to the avenging of his death, than all the art he could ever use to win their favour in his lifetime. And how much their intent, who published these overlate apologies and meditations of the dead king, drives to the same end of stirring up the people to bring him that honour, that affection, and by consequence that revenge to his dead corpse, which he himself living could never gain to his person, it appears both by the conceited portraiture before his book, drawn out to the full measure of a masking scene, and set there to catch fools and silly gazers; and by those Latin words after the end, Vota dabunt quæ bella negarunt; intimating, that what he could not compass by war, he should achieve by his meditations: for in words which admit of various sense, the liberty is ours, to choose that interpretation, which may best mind us of what our restless enemies endeavour, and what we are timely to prevent. And here may be well observed the loose and negligent curiosity of those, who took upon them to adorn the setting out of this book; for though the picture set in front would martyr him and saint him to befool the people, yet the Latin motto in the end [Vota dabunt, quae bella negârunt], which they understand not, leaves him, as it were, a politic contriver to bring about that interest, by fair and plausible words, which the force of arms denied him. But quaint emblems and devices, begged from the old pageantry of some twelfthnight’s entertainment at Whitehall, will do but ill to make a saint or martyr: and if the people resolve to take him sainted at the rate of such a canonizing, I shall suspect their calendar more than the Gregorian. In one thing I must commend his openness, who gave the title to this book, Εἰκὼν Βασιλική, that is to say, The King’s Image; and by the shrine he dresses out for him, certainly would have the people come and worship him. For which reason this answer also is entitled, Iconoclastes, the famous surname of many Greek emperors, who in their zeal to the command of God, after long tradition of idolatry in the church, took courage and broke all superstitious images to pieces. But the people, exorbitant and excessive in all their motions, are prone ofttimes not to a religious only, but to a civil kind of idolatry, in idolizing their kings: though never more mistaken in the object of their worship; heretofore being won’t to repute for saints those faithful and courageous barons, who lost their lives in the field, making glorious war against tyrants for the common liberty; as Simon de Momfort, earl of Leicester, against Henry the IIId; Thomas Plantagenet, earl of Lancaster, against Edward IId. But now, with a besotted and degenerate baseness of spirit, except some few who yet retain in them the old English fortitude and love of freedom, and have testified it by their matchless deeds, the rest, imbastardized from the ancient nobleness of their ancestors, are ready to fall flat and give adoration to the image and memory of this man, who hath offered at more cunning fetches to undermine our liberties, and put tyranny into an art, than any British king before him: …

A very hard-hitting and quite funny rhetorical device which is so typical of Milton the political pamphleteer was to compare the desire of Charles to dominate Parliament (the “mother” of English liberty) and usurp its law-making capacity to that of the sun giving life-giving energy to the soil before anything could grow, or even more wickedly to compare Charles to a “mother-fucker” (the masculine tyrant raping “mother” Parliament) as this passage discussing Section XI “Upon the Nineteen Propositions” shows:

Yet so far doth self opinion or false principles delude and transport him, as to think “the concurrence of his reason” to the votes of parliament, not only political, but natural, “and as necessary to the begetting,” or bringing forth of any one “complete act of public wisdom as the sun’s influence is necessary to all nature’s productions.” So that the parliament, it seems, is but a female, and without his procreative reason, the laws which they can produce are but wind-eggs: wisdom, it seems, to a king is natural, to a parliament not natural, but by conjunction with the king; yet he professes to hold his kingly right by law; and if no law could be made but by the great council of a nation, which we now term a parliament, then certainly it was a parliament that first created kings; and not only made laws before a king was in being, but those laws especially whereby he holds his crown. He ought then to have so thought of a parliament, if he count it not male, as of his mother, which to civil being created both him and the royalty he wore. And if it hath been anciently interpreted the presaging sign of a future tyrant, but to dream of copulation with his mother, what can it be less than actual tyranny to affirm waking, that the parliament, which is his mother, can neither conceive or bring forth “any authoritative act” without his masculine coition? Nay, that his reason is as celestial and life-giving to the parliament, as the sun’s influence is to the earth: what other notions but these, or such like, could swell up Caligula to think himself a god?

No wonder that that the restored Stuarts put a price on Milton’s head and wanted to destroy all his books and pamphlets.