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Gossip and Satire in Regency England

Our current fascination with gossip and scandal is nothing new. Regency England reveled in ‘tittletattle,’ and had its own colorful scandalsheets and “paparazzi.” Newspapers and pamphlets reported in lurid detail on the celebrity bad boys—and bad girls—of high society. Like today, sex, money and politics were hot topics. As for pictures, there were, of course, no cameras to capture candid snapshots and personal transgressions. But the artists of the Regency could be even more cutting than modern-day photographers, and their sharp wit make them famous in their own right.

The art of satire was honed to a fine edge in the Regency London. The top printmakersof the day, in particular James Gilray, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank, were masters at creating caricatures of famous figures of the day—anyone from leading politicians to notorious courtesans. Irreverent and scathingly satirical, the prints were wildly popular with the public, and and serve as a wonderful social and cultural record of the era. In his book, City of Laughter, Vic Gatrell estimates that 20,000 prints were published between 1770 and 1830. Here are just a few samples:


Fashionable Contrasts
Or, The Duchess’s Little Shoe
Yielding To The Magnitude of the Duke’s Foot
by James Gillray


A View of the R-g-t's Bomb
by George Cruikshank


Mrs. Gibbs The Notorious Sreet Walker & Extorter
by James Gillray


Discomforts Of An Epicure
by Thomas Rowlandson


Miseries of London
by Thomas Rowlandson


The Wine Duty
Or The Triumph of Bacchus and Silenus With John Bull
by James Gillray


A Dandy Fainting
Or An Exquisite in Fits
by George Cruikshank


Royal Embarkation
Or Bearing Brittannia's Hope From A Bathing Machine
To A Royal Barge
by George Cruikshank


The Harlot's Progress
by William Hogarth


The Rake's Progress
by William Hogarth



James Gillray


Thomas Rowlandson


George Cruikshank


William Hogarth