John Bull

Fictional character, representing the ordinary British man, often shown as a peace-loving though devotedly patriotic farmer. Gillray usually shows him as a fat man with thick lips, a blotched face and straggling hair, who struggles to understand contemporary political situations and speaks with a country accent.

Edmund Burke (1729-97)

Statesman and writer, born and educated in Dublin. In the 1780s leader of the Whig group supporting Charles James Fox, strongly opposed to the war against revolutionary America. In 1790 published the hugely influential Reflections on the Revolution in France, decrying the effects of the Revolution and in 1791 broke with Fox, who was more sympathetic, and joined the ministerial party. A life-long Anglican, though a fierce supporter of the Irish Catholic cause, hence Gillray’s depiction of him in Jesuit hat and robes.

Edward Smith-Stanley, Lord Derby (1752-1834) and Elizabeth Farren

Lord Derby was an MP from 1774-6 and a prominent Whig, but was best known for his love of hunting, as well as for his affair with the actress Elizabeth Farren, whom he married with indecent haste soon after his wife’s death.

George, Prince of Wales (1762-1830) and Mrs Maria Anne Fitzherbert (1756-1837)

Eldest son of George III and Queen Charlotte, became Regent in 1811, and ruled as George IV from 1820-30. A handsome, vain man notorious for his debauched lifestyle. His London palace, Carlton House, was a centre for the group surrounding Charles James Fox, who opposed the ruling Tory ministry. In 1785 the Prince married, illegally, a twice-widowed Catholic, Mrs Fitzherbert. The marriage was kept a secret, and in 

1795 the Prince was married, legitimately, to Caroline of Brunswick, who brought much-needed wealth, helping to pay off the Prince’s ever-mounting debts.

Charles James Fox (1749-1806)

The great political character of his age. A democratic Whig, an advocate of parliamentary reform and a strenuous opponent of the war with America. Friend and ally of the Prince of Wales. An enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution and a prominent exponent of revolutionary principles throughout the 1790s. By the end of this decade he had no real political support, and led the opposition into effective retirement. A hard-drinking gambler, almost constantly in debt. Gillray made the most of his paunchy, untidy appearance, swarthy skin and shaggy black eyebrows, though he was also a man of extraordinary charm, intelligence and good temper.

Frederick Augustus, Duke of York (1763-1827)

The second son of George III and Queen Charlotte, and a professional soldier. Married to a Prussian Princess, but also had a string of mistresses. Most remembered as the ‘grand old Duke of York’ in the nursery-rhyme.

George III (1738-1820) and Queen Charlotte (1744-1818)

George III came to the throne in 1760, and married German-born Charlotte Sophia, Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, in 1761. 

Of their fifteen children, the behaviour of the seven surviving sons caused them particular embarrassment. The king’s bumbling character earned him some popularity, though Queen Charlotte fared less well. In 1788 George III suffered the first of his breakdowns, now seen as resulting from porphyria, an inherited disease which attacks the nervous system. His illness triggered a national crisis, with the Prince of Wales and his supporters eager to assume the reins of power. He recovered by the following year, but subsequently played a lesser role in national affairs.

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

Radical writer, famous for the publication of The Rights of Man, 1791-2, celebrating the Revolution in France and forecasting further revolutions. The book became a by-word for radical views, and caused ferocious political reaction in Britain. Under threat of arrest, Paine escaped to France, where he was welcomed in 1793, but denounced and imprisoned when he voiced his opposition to the execution of Louis XVI. Narrowly escaped execution, and emigrated to America in 1802.

William Pitt (‘the Younger’) (1759-1806)

Alongside Fox, the most famous and visible statesman of the era. Leader of the Tories, in opposition to Fox’s Whig party. Became Prime Minister in 1783-4, before reaching the age of 25. Following the outbreak of war with France in 1793, he introduced harshly repressive measures against the political radicalism seen to have spread from across the Channel. In contrast to Fox, his personal reputation was spotless; Gillray also made the most of their physical differences, showing Pitt as tall and skinny, with a long, sharply-pointed nose.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816)

Politician and playwright, author of The School for Scandal. Had a successful theatrical career before entering politics in 1780. A supporter of Fox and a member of the social circle surrounding the Prince of Wales. In Parliament he was considered a great speaker, though in later life the effects of his drinking made him a figure of fun.