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1784: Fox, Pitt, and the Westminster election

Although he had been working as a satirical printmaker since at least 1780, Thomas Rowlandson’s big break came with the squabbles over the Westminster election of early 1784.

Billy Lackbeard and Charley Blackbeard Playing football, by Rowlandson©

After a coalition formed by Charles James Fox (a Whig) and Lord North collapsed, William Pitt the Younger (a Tory) formed a weak administration. Although he had little general support, Pitt was George III’s preferred politician. A general election provided a key test of public support for Pitt and Fox. Pitt was returned as Member of Parliament for the University of Cambridge. Fox was one of three candidates for two seats in the constituency of Westminster. His campaign, which was supported by the elegant Duchess of Devonshire, secured him one of the seats on 17 May 1784.

Rowlandson produced numerous satires on Fox and Pitt’s rivalry, mainly for the publisher William Humphrey, who was based near Covent Garden where much of the campaigning took place. Rowlandson lampooned the burly Fox by placing him in increasingly comical poses and contrasting him with the thin Pitt. He worked for both sides, and apparently for money rather than conviction.

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