Lecture “The Limits of Free Speech: Gillray, The Royals and Censorship” and Panel Discussion


Thursday, May 9, 2024 - 3:30pm to 5:30pm
Humanities Quadrangle, L01
320 York Street
New Haven, CT 06511

The Limits of Free Speech: Gillray, The Royals and Censorship by Tim Clayton with a panel discussion with Martin Rowson and Steve Bell

For a decade between 1785 and 1795 George III and Queen Charlotte were the most prominent faces in Gillray’s satire, and the scandalous love lives of their children added piquancy to a print culture that was distinctly libertine in tone. But the licence of printsellers provoked a backlash from the conservative wing of the establishment, especially after the French Revolution, and in late 1795 it became illegal to caricature the King. It is often claimed that caricaturists were immune to legal action, but some printsellers were punished and many prints were altered, suppressed or destroyed at this time. In this talk I shall discuss some of the liberties that caricaturists took and some of the penalties they came to face as they tested the extent of the freedom of the press – a burning issue then that remains highly relevant today.

Tim Clayton is a historian with special expertise in printed images of the long eighteenth century. The English Print 1688-1802 (1997) remains a standard guide to print production and consumption. Recently he has focused on caricature and the manipulation of public opinion in Bonaparte and the British (2015) and This Dark Business (2018). His latest book James Gillray: a Revolution in Satire won the Apollo Art Book of the Year award for 2023 and the Berger Prize for the best book on British Art.

Steve Bell studied art and qualified as a teacher before taking a sideways leap into cartooning full time in 1977. His original strip Maggie’s Farm appeared in Time Out and City Limits magazines from 1979 through to 1987 and, for 40 years from 1981 he wrote and drew the If… strip in the Guardian, covering every war since the Falklands crisis of 1982. From 1990 until his abrupt an unexplained sacking in 2023, he produced nearly 5000 large free-standing cartoons on the leader pages of the Guardian, from 2005 in full colour. He created the memorable image of John Major with his underpants worn outside his trousers and of Tony Blair with Margaret Thatcher’s rogue eyeball, and of George W Bush as a chimpanzee. His work has been published all over the world and he’s won numerous awards, including the What the Papers Say Cartoonist of the Year in 1993, the British Press Awards Cartoonist of the Year in 2002 and the Cartoon Arts Trust Award more times than he can remember. With Bob Godfrey he made a number of animated cartoons for TV, including a cartoon biography, Margaret Thatcher – Where Am I Now? Broadcast on Channel 4.

Martin Rowson is a multi award winning political cartoonist, illustrator, graphic novelist, writer, performer and poet. Over the past 41 years he has been published regularly in almost every British publication you can think of apart from The Sun & Private Eye, and is currently to be found on the pages of The Guardian, Byline Times, The New European & The Morning Star.

His books include comic book adaptations of The Waste Land, Tristram Shandy, Gulliver’s Travels and The Communist Manifesto, and his 2006 memoir about clearing his parents’ house, “Stuff”, was long listed for the Samuel Johnson Prize. He is currently working on an updated version of The Dunciad, or “A Conversation With Alexander Pope”, due for publication in December 2024.