Open Educational Resources

The Age of Satire

The end of censorship in 1695 in England led to a dramatic change in the way people read and consumed political information.  Occasional satires (often circulated in manuscript form among the elite) gave way to cheap printed commentaries on society, crown and court.  A decline in illiteracy and a 'print explosion' of pamphlets, journals, newspapers and ballads fed a public eager for news, comment, rumour and gossip. 

This began the 'golden age of satire' and many of its most famous names including Swift, Defoe, Pope and Hogarth soon made a name for themselves in blistering attacks on politics and society. Satirical images were sporadic but after the rise of Robert Walpole became a permanent feature of British political life. These visual commentaries eventually evolved into the rich and colourful caricatures of the later 18th century, masterminded by cartoonists like James Gillray. 

This course aims to look at the development of British politics in the 'long eighteenth century' through the lens of both literary and visual satire. Although the techniques and development of the medium will be touched upon this is a secondary consideration compared to its impact on the public sphere. We will in particular focus on continuity and change over time as well as the key events, people and issues that were the frequent subject of lampoons.

The course is divided up into broadly chronological sessions and each will contain the necessary contemporary context in order to complement the rich text and visuals of the satires chosen for that week.  Some sessions will revolve around particularly important individuals such as Swift and Hogarth whilst others will take a more broad-sweep approach. 

The course ends with the reform act of 1832 and the close of the long eighteenth century. Although satire itself did not end at this time, the beginning of democratic politics changed satirical priorities and focus.  Humorous magazines like Punch and later Private Eye would begin to cater to this larger and more educated audience.

Date created:

2019-10-07 12:01
Course type: 

Resources for this course

Displaying 1 - 40 of 43
Type Resource Description People Full details
Link Week 1 - The True Born Englishman

A satire by Daniel Defoe, highlighting British Xenophobia against William III

Link Week 1 -The Shortest Way with the Dissenters

Satire mocking the extreme language that high church preachers employed against dissenters (Quakers, Presbyterians etc)

Link Week 1 - The Whig's Medley (1711)

Satire attacking the Whigs 

Link Week 1 - An Answer to the Whigs Medley (1711)

Satire against the Tories 

Link Week 2 - Gulliver's Travels

Swift's seminal satirical work, please read chapters 4, 14, 21 and 35

Link Week 2 - A Modest Proposal

Satire on British treatment of Ireland 

Link Week 3 - History of the Norfolk Steward

Satire on Robert Walpole 

Link Week 3 - A voyage to Cacklogallinia

Satire on Robert Walpole in the style of Gulliver's Travels , please read pages 36-8 and in particular the description of 'Brusqauallio...

Link Week 3 - Robin Will be Out at Last

A satirical ballad relating to Robert Walpole on pages 107-8. Robin's Panegyrick  or The Norfolk Miscellany contains many other ballads,...

Link Week 3 - The Craftsman, Volume 5

Please read The Craftsman  No.172, the premier anti-Walpole journal. pp. 152-8 in Volume 5.

Link Week 4 - The Prevailing Candidate

A satire on the General Election of 1722, listing all the abuses of power from the Whigs 

Link Week 4 - Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

A rather tame satire, like 'Prevailing Candidate' this is only indirectly referencing Walpole 

Link Week 4 - Excise in Triumph

A satire on the Excise Scheme, Walpole is mocked for his determination to cut the land taxe but raising excise taxes on wine and tobacco,...

Link Week 4 - idol Worship

Satire on the power and influence of Walpole, highlighting the corruption in the system

Link Week 4 - The Protest

A satire which highlights the difficulty of removing Robert Walpole 

Link Week 5 - The Harlot's Progress Plate 1

Analysis of plate 1. 

Link Week 5 - The Harlot's Progress Plate 2

Analysis of plate 2 

Link Week 5 - The Harlot's Progress Plate 3

analysis of plate 3 

Link Week 5 - The Harlot's Progress Plate 5

Analysis of plate 5 

Link Week 5 - The Harlot's Progress Plate 4

aalysis of plate 4 

Link Week 5 - The Harlot's Progress Plate 6

Analysis of plate 6 

Link Week 5 - Gin Lane and Beer Street

Analysis of Gin lane/ Beer Street 

Link Week 6 - Surprising History of a Late Long Administration

in 1746 the 'silly little ministry' took office for two days. It was the nadir of a long period of post-Walpoleon chaos, where ministries and...

Link Week 6 - The Fox and Goose

Satire on Henry Fox and the Duke of Newcastle. Newcastle was in power but Fox was seen as running the show. Notice how there is beggining to be a...

Link Week 6 - The North Briton No. 45

A satire on the administration of the Earl of Bute. Xenephobic or does it have something else to say about the power and privilege of the monarchy...

Link Week 6 - The Jack-Boot, Exalted

A typical satirical image of the Earl of Bute. 

Link Week 7 - The Bostonians in Distress

This was a British cartoon about the plight of Boston following the closure of its port in 1774. Nearly all of the British Cartoonists were...

Link Week 7 - The Mother Country: A Song

A satirical ditty by Benjamin Franklin. What do you think this says about colonial views of Britain? 

Link Week 7 - Peter Pindar, The Lousiad

This is a satire about monarchy, and a critique of despotic power. George III is terrified of a louse in his soup and overreacts. Please read...

Link Week 7 - A voluptuary under the horrors of digestion

A satirical image by Gillray, highlighting contemporary views of the prince of Wales,

Link Week 7 - Temperance enjoying a frugal meal

Gillray's contrasting satire on George III. Is this anymore complementary?

Link Week 8 - Two Pair of Portraits

A satire which highlights the rivalry between Pitt and Fox. Gillray painted this in response to Horne Tooke supposed 'impartial pamphlet'...

Link Week 8 - The British Butcher

An attack on Pitt's handling of the economy and prices. 

Link Week 8 - Midas

A satire mocking the paper money reforms of Pitt

Link Week 8 - An Excrescence

Satire on Pitt's power and influence 

Link Week 9 -France. Britain. Slavery

An early print which highlights that even Gillray at the beggining may have seen some positives in the French revolution 

Link Week 9 - Smelling out a rat

Burke a champion of the new conservatism forsaw many of the dangers of the French revolution

Link Week 9 - Birmingham Toast

As the French Revolutiion became increasingly troubled, Fox and the 'Jacobin' opposition would become more isolated in their opinions 

Link Week 9 - Britannia Between Scylla and Charybdis

Another classical metaphor. This appeared in the Anti=Jacobin Review, a Conservative Periodicle which highlights Gillray's conservative leanings...

Link Week 9 - The Plumb-Pudding in Danger

Probably Gillray's most famous satirical image, still reused by modern cartoonists. It highlights the state of the world in the early 1800s with...