drum

Anon. Drumming out of the Regiment!!, 1797

The memoirs of the gossipy socialite Henry Angelo contain a wonderful anecdote about this print.

On 24th January 1798, leading members of the Whig opposition held a huge dinner to celebrate the 50th birthday of Charles James Fox at the Crown & Anchor tavern in the Strand. The event was one of the first public gatherings to bring members of the Whig party together with representatives of the radical London Corresponding Society and as such it was construed by many as being a formal deceleration of the Whig’s support for parliamentary reform. The Duke of Norfolk presided over a packed dinning hall and as the evening wore on and the wine flowed, the Duke began to make a series of impromptu and increasingly intemperate toasts. After comparing the assembled crowd to the members of the Continental Army who had rallied to George Washington and drinking to the rights of the people, to parliamentary reform and to the health of those labouring under government oppression in Ireland, Norfolk rose to his feet amid a thunder of acclamation, to propose a final toast to “Our Sovereign’s Health, the Majesty of the People.”

This kind of language would have been considered grossly inappropriate at the best of times but in early 1798, with the nation dogged by fears of a potential fifth column of Jacobins plotting revolution in England and Ireland, it was considered to be an outright act of sedition and supreme class-treachery. Within days of the first accounts of the dinner appearing the London press, Norfolk had been summoned to St James’s Palace, unceremoniously stripped of the office of Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding and ordered to immediately resign his commission as a Colonel in the 1st West Yorkshire Militia.

Naturally, the affair aroused a great deal of public interest and London’s caricaturists were quick to try and capitalise on this by producing a range of new satires that made light of Norfolk’s downfall. The demand for these prints was such that even publishers who were normally supportive of the Whigs began to cast aside their political loyalties in order to turn a good profit. The printseller William Holland was known to be sympathetic to the reformist cause and had even been imprisoned in 1794 for selling copies of Tom Paine’s The Rights of ManMore importantly, he also counted the Duke of Norfolk amongst his most loyal customers and was said to regularly send portfolios of newly published caricatures, carefully screened to avoid anything too critical of the Whigs, up to Norfolk’s London residence for the duke’s consideration. However, when an unidentified publisher offered Holland the chance to purchase copies of Drumming out of the Regiment!! he immediately “subscribed for half a hundred copies, shrewdly foreseeing that the print would have a rapid sale.” The prints arrived a few days later but as the publisher’s deliveryman deposited the bundled of freshly printed caricatures on Holland’s counter, the Duke of Norfolk himself strode through the shop door. 

When the duke entered, [he] address[ed] the printseller with, ” Well, Holland, what have you got there, hey? Anything new?” “Had it been the devil,” said Holland… ” like St. Dunstan, I might have taken him by the nose; but I stood dumb-founded in the presence of the earl marshal of all England — first peer in the land!” Having his wits about him, however, he rapidly rolled up the parcel, saying, “My Lord Duke, they are –  mere – old articles.” Unfortunately for Holland the duke was not to be thus fobbed off; so, with a civil sort of force, the earl marshal of England laid his powerful hand upon the prints, and, drawing one forth, cast his proud eye upon it, and, pressing his firm lips together, he ejaculated, “So, Mr. Holland!” When, deliberately rolling-it up, he put it into his capacious pocket, and turned his back upon his astounded merchant and protégé for ever.

It’s easy to see why the duke was unhappy. The print shows a dejected Norfolk being frogmarched out of St James’s Palace in disgrace. He is escorted by Dundas, Pitt and Windham, who are all dressed as soldiers of the regiment that Norfolk had until recently commanded. Their efforts are being encouraged by the King, who leans out of a window on the right and says “Drum away, Billy!! I wish they were all drummd out!!” A sign pinned to the Norfolk’s back reads: “Washington, 2000 Men, make the application, Champion of Liberty, Sovereign, Majesty [of the] People & &.” In the distance we can see Charles James Fox and Richard Brinsley Sheridan weeping at the sight of their colleagues humiliation. 

But not every politician took the criticism of the caricaturist quite as personally as Norfolk. On 1st May 1798 Charles James Fox followed Norfolk into political oblivion by proposing a toast to “the sovereignty of the British people” and “freedom in Ireland” at a meeting of the Whig Club. Within two days the King had retaliated by having Fox kicked off the Privy Council and his name publicly stricken from their citoyenrecords. A fortnight later, Fox was walking up St James’s Street when he noticed a copy of a newly published caricature by Gillray on display in the window. Meeting of the Unfortunate Citoyens (right) shows a bedraggled and miserable-looking Fox coming out of St James’s Palace to remonstrate with Norfolk, moments after having being stripped of office. After looking at the print for a moment, Fox pushed open the door of the shop and

…good humouredly addressed Mrs. Humphreys with, “Well, my good lady, I perceive you have something new in your window;” and, pointing to the very print, paid his eighteen pence for it, received his change out of half a crown, rolled it carefully up, and, putting it in his pocket also, smiled a “good morning to you” and gently shut the shop door on his departure.

Old mother Humphreys, albeit not much given to the melting mood, overcome with the gentle manner of Mr. Fox, the tear glistening in her eye, observed to Betty [her shop assistant], as the great statesman passed the window up St. James’s-street, “Ah, Betty, there goes the pattern for all gentlemen!” 

This was why, Angelo concludes, “everybody loved Mr Fox”.

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