Little Bits of History

May 10

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 10, 2017

1768: John Wilkes is imprisoned in London. He was born in central London in 1727 to a distiller, the second of six children. He was able to receive an education at Hertford and then by private tutors. He eventually went to the University of Leinden in the Dutch Republic. He married in 1747 and came into the possession of an estate and its income. They had a daughter, but the marriage didn’t last. They divorced and Wilkes never married again, although he fathered at least five more children. He was elected a Fellow at the Royal Society and entered into politics, eventually holding a seat in the British Parliament. He was notoriously ugly and was called the ugliest man in England. He had charm and wit so this did not seem to slow him down much.

Wilkes was also a radical journalist. He began a newspaper called The North Briton in which he was able to lambast the political issues of the day. It was a direct response to a paper called The Briton, a pro-government sheet started by Tobias Smollett. The North Briton came out weekly and its most famous edition was Issue 45. Dated from April 23, 1763, the issue criticized King George III’s royal speech praising the Treaty of Paris and accusing the King of lying. The King felt personally insulted and Wilkes was charged with libel. He and 48 others were arrested but the warrants were unpopular. Wilkes claimed he was under parliamentary privilege as an MP and charges were dropped.

Wilkes and Thomas Potter wrote a pornographic poem dedicated to Fanny Murray, mistress of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, with whom Wilkes had a long standing feud. The Earl was not amused and had the poem declared obscene and Wilkes was to be arrested but fled to Paris instead. On January 19, 1764 he was tried in absentia and declared to be an outlaw. By 1768 he was running out of money in France and had to return to England. His first move was to run again for a seat in Parliament and he was elected as a Radical from Middlesex. He surrendered himself to the King’s Bench and was found guilty. He was fined £1000 and given a two year prison sentence by Judge Joseph Yates.

His supporters were outraged with the prison sentence. They appeared, en masse, before the King’s Bench, London. A crowd of as many as 15,000 people had been read the Riot Act demanding they disperse. Four Justices of the peace from Surrey called for troops to be sent in. There was a particuarly obnoxious man in a red coat, insulting the soldiers but he fled when guns were leveled. Troops followed and entered a bar, killing a man in a red coat, but not the man from the crowd. This enraged the crowd, which became more belligerent. The soldiers fired on the crowd of unarmed men (some firing into the crowd, some firing over their heads), killing seven (some reports listed 11) and wounding another 15. The incident became known as the St. George’s Fields Massacre. Wilkes served out his two years in prison and was then made sheriff of London and in 1774 became Lord Mayor of London.

What’s the difference between art and pornography… a government grant! – Peter Griffin

Pornography. That which excites, whether from approval or disapproval. – Leonard Rossiter

Pornography exists for the lonesome, the ugly, the fearful – It’s made for the losers. – Rita Mae Brown

It’s very difficult to fail at pornography. – Michael Chabon

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