The genuine popular demand for anti-Napoleonic propaganda gave lyricists, dramatists and others a rich fund of material to work with. This was a good time in particular to be a talented caricaturist. Napoleon (also known as 'Boney' and 'the Corsican Monster') was lampooned in prints by all the leading illustrators of the day, including Gillray and Cruikshank. By all accounts, the publishers of these satirical prints did a roaring trade. One French émigré wrote to the journalist Jacques Mallet du Pan of the enthusiasm surrounding a new print, describing the 'madness' as 'people box their way through the crowd' to the print shop. Towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars, another French observer described 'a large crowd that had gathered in front of a shop on the Strand. The meeting was a noisy one and the agitation suggested that some people were actually boxing. We soon learned that a new caricature was the reason for all the upheaval. What a triumph for the artist!'
The first night of my wedding, or, little Boney no match for an Arch Dutchess (1810)
Marie Louise: Still says sly old Hodge, says he, Great talkers do the least d'ye see. Well well there's one hope left - I shall quickly carry him to his Journeys end
Napoleon: Mort de ma Vie I must I must brush off to Compiegne and order seperate Beds
This cartoon is clearly about Napoleon's alleged impotence. Marie-Louise, Napoleon's second wife, quotes from Charles Dibdin's comic opera, The Wives Revenged, while using a crown-shaped chamberpot as a footstool. Napoleon, looking rather the worse for wear, drinks some sort of reviving potion, has a bowl of 'cock-broth' on the table and plans to buy separate beds as soon as possible, presumably to save himself from the rampant sexual demands of his new wife.
The Arch Dutchess Maria Louisa going to take her Nap
Marie-Louise: My dear Nap. your bed accommodations are very indifferent! Too short by a Yard! I wonder how Josephine put up with such things over as long as she did!!!
Napoleon: Indeed, Maria I do not well understand you: the Empress Josephine who knew things better than I hope you do, never grumbled - Le Diable! I see I never will be able to get what I want after all!!!This print mocks both Napoleon's alleged stature and the fact that his first wife, Josephine, was sexually experienced when he met her, whereas Marie-Louise was meant to be the blushing virgin who would give him a healthy heir, a role she fulfilled admirably.
More politically-oriented cartoons spanned a broad spectrum, ranging from the brash trumpeting of British superiority to more subtle takes on Napoleonic foreign policy.
TIDDY-DOLL the great French Gingerbread-Baker, drawing out a new Batch of Kings. - his Man, Hopping Talley, mixing the dough (before 1806)
Comparative anatomy or Bone-y's new Conscripts filling up the Skeletons of the Old Regiments (1813)
An accurate representation of the floating machine Invented by the French for invading England. and Acts on the principals of both Wind & Water Mills, carries 60-000 Men & 600 Cannon (c. 1805)
Little Boney gone to Pot (1814)
Caricatures were, of course, not the only form of anti-Napoleonic propaganda in Britain. Handbills denouncing Napoleon and containing gruesome accounts of supposed French atrocities were manufactured almost daily and distributed throughout the kingdom, probably reaching even the illiterate majority of the population. Patriotic plays were put on to whip up national sentiment, and anti-French broadside ballads were common. Clergy thundered against the Corsican Monster from the pulpit, and millenarian preachers warned that Napoleon's evil Empire was surely a sign of the end time.
Eighteenth-century English men and women were characterised as 'a polite and commercial people' in Paul Langford's contribution to the New Oxford History of England. When it came to anti-Napoleonic propaganda, the English were hardly polite, but some of them were certainly commercially-minded. Canny manufacturers took advantage of popular sentiment and produced all sorts of anti-French memorabilia. Perhaps the most remarkable example I have seen is a chamber-pot featuring a small bust of Napoleon in the middle. How edifying it must have been for those consumers who were now able to express patriotic sentiment even when exercising their most basic functions!
|A chamberpot featuring a bust of Napoleon, c. 1805 |
(Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)
~ By Caecilia Dance