George IV, pictured as a guard, stands before a door, holding a pole with an evidence bag which reads "BEWARE of the Report of a BAD HOUSE." From the house's open window, Queen Caroline holds a torch, labeled “DEFENCE,” to the bag. Two men, identified as Brougham and Denman, watch the scene from within the window (George 80). The accompanying text draws attention to the head of Queen Caroline: “They found that they couldn’t well cut off her head.” Queen Caroline’s head is indeed attached to her body within the image, though visually separated by means of her collar; of special importance here are the multiple disembodied heads within the illustration. The door itself holds a door knocker in the shape of Athena’s head. The evidence bag and Queen Caroline’s handbag both echo the shape of George IV’s head. Caroline’s hand bag is a pun on the word “reticule”—it is “her ridicule at his ‘Report’!” (George 80)
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
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The image was originally published in William Hone's pamphlet, The Queen's Matrimonial Ladder. The pamphlet, which went through over 44 editions, was inspired by a children's toy (Hunt 714). Sold along with the pamphlet was a cardboard "ladder" which illustrated the poem's 14 stages with different allegorical engravings, also designed and engraved by Cruikshank. It was later collected in Geo. Cruikshanks Illustrations to W. Hone.
Bill of Pains and Penalties (1820)
In 1820 King George IV introduced the Bill of Pains and Penalties in order to publicly accuse and convict his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, of adultery and deny her the title of Queen. The bill was passed in November of 1820, but was subsequently withdrawn. Queen Caroline’s trial held the public’s interest completely; more caricatures were created as commentary on the trial than for any other event of the 1800s or 1810s (Hunt 699).
The popular interest in Caroline’s trial resulted in large part from its tendency to bring together disparate political groups, uniting the middle classes and artisanal community with more radical reformers (Laqueur 12). One reason for this unification was a growing perception of the monarchy as accountable for its virtuous (or immoral) behavior. As Hunt explains, “this episode clearly reveals a new emphasis on morality and respectability indicating a strong desire on the part of the public that the monarch exercise moral leadership” (722). Critics of the Bill of Pains and Penalties perceived its “possibly illegal” attempts to dethrone Caroline as one of George IV’s many abuses of his imperial power; radicals pointed to the secrecy surrounding the trial and to the government’s responses to greater political unrest as indicative of tyrannical misuse of power (Hunt 702-703).
William Hone (1780-1842)
William Hone was a political satirist and publisher who often collaborated with George Cruikshank in creating radical political pamphlets (Martin). Hone was extremely involved in the creation of propaganda during Queen Caroline’s trial: he sold 100,000 copies of Peek at the Peers, a pamphlet accusing the House of Lords of corruption, and produced several other pieces—including The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder—that were also enormously popular (Laqueur 429).
King George IV (1762-1830)
The son of George III, George IV ascended the English throne in 1820. While still serving as Prince Regent, George IV praised the Yeomanry for prompt action against a meeting of reformers in Manchester, which had resulted in the deaths and injuries of several men, women, and children (Hunt 699). George IV’s attempt to divorce his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, shortly after this event produced an outcry among a public already upset with the Manchester Massacre. George IV was also criticized for his excessive spending and extra-marital affairs; indeed, The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder suggests (as did many contemporary satires) that the Prince Regent had only married Caroline for her wealth (Hunt 714).
Queen Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821)
Caroline married George IV in 1795 at the command of George III and against George IV’s wishes. The couple lived together for one year and produced a single child, Charlotte Augusta, in 1797. Denied access to both the court and, to a large extent, her daughter, Caroline left England for the Continent in 1814 in exchange for £35,000 per annum (Laqueur 418). Her relationship with Bartolomeo Bergami while on her travels led to George IV’s accusations of adultery upon her return to England in 1820 (Smith). Though many people believed Queen Caroline was guilty of the accusations, the media surrounding her trail reveal that her affairs were overlooked in order that she might be “portrayed as an example of English womanhood and also as a moral counterweight to the king” (Hunt 718). Caroline’s symbolic portrayal “provided a shield behind which to defy and confront authority in relative safety” (Laqueur 421).
The Queen's Matrimonial Ladder (1820), by William Hone
The text below, also entitled "Accusation," constitutes the part of Hone’s larger work associated with this specific image:
On searching for precedents, much to their dread,
They found that they couldn’t well cut off her head;
And the ‘House of Incurables’ raised a ‘Report’
She was not a fit person to live in his Court.
How like an OLD CHARLEY they then made him stand,
In his lantern a leech the ‘Report’ in his hand.
‘Good folks be so good as not go near that door
For, though my own wife, she is —I could say more
But it’s all in this Bag, and there’ll be a fine pother,
I shall get rid of her, and I’ll then get another!’
Yet he thought, to himself,--‘twas a thought most distressing,--
‘If she should discover I’ve been M—ch—ss—g,
There’s an end of the whole! D—rs C—ns, of course,
If my own hands are dirty, won’t grant a D—ce!’
He tried to look wise, but only look’d wild;
The women laugh’d out, and the grave even smiled;
The old frown’d upon him—the children made sport,
And his wife held her ridicule at his ‘Report’!
Be warn’d by his fate
Married, single, and all;
Ye elderly Gentlemen,
Pity his fall!
Accusation (1820) reveals Cruikshank’s early interest in “reading” heads, even before the growth of phrenology as a popular science. Visual echoes within this image allow several ways to read the head of George IV, here presented as a watchman. One such "echo" is seen in the resemblance of George IV's head to the shape of the evidence bag. The evidence bag was commonly shown in political caricatures concerning both the Queen Caroline affair and the 1817 treason trials as a symbol of the secrecy of the British government (Laqueur 436). The visual echo of the evidence bag in the shape of George IV’s head may suggest that George’s character can be “read” in the same way—that is, we can interpret this parallel imagery as indicative of the secrecy and underhandedness of George IV’s own moral state and political action.
Adultery. Marriage. Media culture. Conspiracy. Regency. Trial. Morality.
George Cruikshank and William Hone's The Queen's Matrimonial Ladder is typical of their collaboration on political pamphlets. Along with the text and other illustrations of the pamphlet, Accusation reflects popular moral and political criticism of George IV's adulterous relationships. Caroline's neglected rights—as a wife, mother, and accused citizen—were equated with the rights of all citizens in radical political pamphlets. Hunt calls the Ladder “perhaps the most successful portrayal of the queen” as a mother figure (714). Ladder was part of the larger media frenzy portraying the Queen Caroline affair; the caricatures of the trial provide “testimony that suggests a changing cultural significance of the monarchy, which was evident in a growing demand for royal morality” (Hunt 721).
Political pamphlets were used by both supporters and critics of George IV to reflect and to influence public opinion. Because they could be made and sold cheaply, the pamphlets reached a huge audience and played a key role in both distributing news about George IV's affairs and entertaining their audience.
George, M. Dorothy. Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. Vol. 10. London: Oxford UP, 1952. Print.
Hone, William. The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder. Bound subsequent to publication in Geo. Cruikshanks Illustrations to W. Hone. London, 1820. Print.
Hunt, Tamara. "Morality and Monarchy in the Queen Caroline Affair." Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 23.4 (1991): 697-722. Print.
Ledger, Sally. Dickens and the Popular Radical Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print.
Laqueur, Thomas. "The Queen Caroline Affair: Politics as Art in the Reign of George IV." The Journal of Modern History 54.3 (1982): 417-466. Print.
Martin, Philip W. “Hone, William (1780–1842).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Web. 4 Apr. 2009.
Patten, Robert L. “Cruikshank, George (1792–1878).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Web. 4 Apr. 2009.
"The Queen's Matrimonial Ladder, a National Toy, with Fourteen Step Scenes and Illustrations in Verse, 8vo. pp. 22. Hone." The Gentleman's Magazine Oct. 1820: 340-4. Print.
Smith, E. A. “Caroline (1768–1821).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Web. 29 Apr. 2009.
Wood, Marcus. Radical Satire and Print Culture, 1790-1822. New York: Clarendon Press of Oxford University Press, 1994. Print.
"--A Burning Shame!" -----I will kill thee, if thou dost deny Thou hast made me a cuckold -------What false Italian (As poisonous tongued as handed) hat prevailed On thy too ready hearing?