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1788: George III’s illness and the Prince of Wales

In late 1788, George III developed a serious illness. Initially suffering from severe stomach pains, he became increasingly confused and by December was unable to rule the country. It appeared that his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, would need to act as regent, and parliamentary wrangling immediately began over the nature of his powers. A Regency Bill, which gave the Prince limited control, was finally agreed and was due to take effect on 20 February, but the King’s recovery was announced just a few days before it came into force. The Prince was not created Regent until his father became permanently incapacitated in 1811.

Filial Piety, by Rowlandson©

As with the arguments surrounding the Westminster election campaign, satirical prints were employed to influence public opinion. Rowlandson made a number of prints criticising the Prince’s aspiration to become regent. These centred on criticisms of the 26-year-old Prince’s immaturity and immoral lifestyle. At the same time, surviving documents make clear that Rowlandson was paid by the Prince to make a number of satirical prints. These, which were published anonymously, were to be circulated by mail coach around the country in support of the Prince’s claim.

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