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Caricatures — Tabloids of the Regency

Caricatures were extremely popular during the Regency era. Thousands were produced, ranging from mild criticism to biting satire, and included political, social, and personal commentary. They were printed from etchings or engravings and sold to whoever would pay for them.

Gillray - A Voluptuary under the Horrors of DigestionPoliticians and aristocrats were frequently lampooned. For example, there were caricatures of the Four-Horse Club’s meetings, of gaming clubs, of young bloods slumming it with low folk. There were caricatures showing similarities between great ladies and prostitutes. The Prince of Wales, both before and after becoming Prince Regent, was mocked so often that he had printers prosecuted for sedition or bribed them to suppress the prints. One of the first caricatures to mock rather than flatter the prince was “A Voluptuary under the Horrors of Digestion” by James Gillray. Its detail attacks his gluttony, drinking, gambling, sexual vices, laziness and indifference.

Frequently, the wealthy had standing orders with print shops for their caricatures. Alternatively, they would send servants to buy the latest prints. Some scandalous prints (such as one about the secret marriage of the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Fitzherbert) were so popular that the printer couldn’t produce them quickly enough. People who couldn’t afford to buy prints were able to view those on display in the print shop window. A crowd would gather, and those who were literate would read aloud whatever wording was on the prints.  Gillray - Very Slippy Weather

Most of the caricaturists were from relatively poor backgrounds; some were educated, some not. They were considered disreputable, for they would generally (usually out of necessity) take whatever work offered. However, they quite rightly criticized the bad behavior of all levels of society.

One of the most famous, Thomas Rowlandson, had a certain amount of access to the rich and powerful, and was even commissioned by the Prince of Wales to produce prints attacking his political enemies. However, many of his prints were quite bawdy—too bawdy for a PG blog! I find his caricature of the bluestockings interesting because he shows the women no more mercy than he does men when portraying their drunken debauchery.  Rowlandson was usually good-humored in his mockery and even caricatured himself.

Rowlandson-Bluestockings There is plenty of fodder for stories in the world of the caricaturists and the rich and famous people they lampooned. My July 2012 novella for Harlequin Undone, To Rescue or Ravish?, touches on this world, for the heroine faces being caricatured in a print shop window for all London to see. Looking at it from her point of view, it’s not much different from being in the tabloids of today!

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This article by Barbara Monajem was originally published in 2012 as a guest post on the blog of author Lesley-Anne McLeod.


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  1. A nice overview of the place caricatures and other prints held in Regency society. You are quite right, the caricaturists and the printers who employed them could be just as vicious as the tabloid publications and television shows of today. In some cases, I think they might have been worse. I hope your heroine was able to avoid the embarrassment of being caricatured in your story.

    Last year, I was asked to write the Foreword to Before the Bicycle. It is a book of prints on hobby-horses, the vehicle which Georgette Heyer called the “pedestrian curricle” in her Regency novel, Frederica. During my research into caricatures and prints, I learned that many of the better print shops also compiled albums of prints on certain themes. There were albums on political topics, fashions of the day and the misbehavior of the Royal family, among others. But one of the most popular album themes was prints which were so bawdy they could not even be displayed in the print shop windows. Print shop owners would rent these albums out, usually to upscale gentlemen, who would invite their friends to their homes to view the latest print album. In many cases, the host would make the album the centerpiece of an evening of drinking and lewd stories. Although, it seems that albums of politically themed prints were almost as popular for an evening of drinking and ribald comments on the targets of the prints.

    Apparently, a number of the top print shops made a tidy profit on the rental of their themed print albums, though a few wealthy gentlemen purchased such albums for their libraries. As you said, there are many ways by with caricatures and prints could be employed in a Regency romance.


  2. For some reason I find this subject fascinating, and nowadays I look at the tabloids with new eyes.

    My heroine does get caricatured (although that happens after the story ends), but she’s not the one who’s mocked and mortified. 🙂

  3. Hmm, can’t find this novella. Is it still available? Caricatures were very powerful during the Revolutionary War in America as well. Interesting article.

    1. Yes, it’s still available. I just checked on Amazon.com. I’m not sure whether I am allowed to post a buy link here, so I won’t. I’ll email you, Ashley.

      I didn’t know about caricatures during the Revolutionary War — thanks!

  4. I used caricatures and accompanying limericks in Royal Regard (so fun to write!). I’ve been looking for an artist to create them ever since. 😉 These “tabloids” were so much more expressive than today.

      1. Awww, that is awesome to hear! Thank you! I hope you enjoy it. 🙂

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