Satirical cartoons are designed to lampoon their intended targets. These are often, but not always, political in nature. Satirists sometimes portray their targets in stocks and pillories, a graphic and effective device for making the target appear ridiculous and undermining their credibility.

Here are some examples of satirical cartoons:

(Click on the pictures to make them larger)

Faro's Daughters

GillrayExultationFarosDaughters.jpg Albinia, Countess of Buckinghamshire, was notorious for her gambling parties in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. She was particularly fond of faro, an illegal gambling game. Albinia and her aristocratic lady friends were often attacked in satirical prints because of their gambling and decadent lifestyles.

In 1796 Lord Chief Justice Lord Kenyon had proclaimed: "If any prosecutions [against gambling] are fairly brought before me and the parties are justly convicted, whatever may be their rank or station in the country, though they should be the first ladies in the land, they shall certainly exhibit themselves in the Pillory".

All eyes turned to Lady Buckinghamshire's infamous gaming tables. Albinia and her friend, Lady Archer, were reported to the authorities for playing the illegal game of faro. They were charged and found guilty of running a faro table, and taking in a little too much money on it (Albinia was also a cheat). Despite Lord Kenyon's threat to have illicit gamblers pilloried, the aristocratic pair were merely fined.

This cartoon is entitled “Exaltation of Faro's daughters”. Albinia, Countess of Buckinghamshire (left) and Lady Archer are shown in the pillory, as the mob pelts them with rotten vegetables. Below, a notice reads: "Cure for Gambling, published by Lord Kenyon in the Court of King's Bench". Clearly the cartoon satirises Lord Kenyon as much as it does Albinia and Lady Archer.

Despite all this unwelcome attention, Albinia remained unrepentant. Her gambling and general decadence continued unabated until her death in 1816.

Other contemporary satirists could not resist Faro's Daughters. Here are some of their cartoons:

Discipline à la Kenyon (James Gillray March 1797).JPG. Faro's Daughters, or the Kenyonian blowup to Gamblers (Isaac Cruikshank May 1796).JPG. Female Gamblers in the Pillory (Richard Newton 13 May 1796).JPG.


fenians.jpg A forerunner to the IRA, the Fenians strove for the establishment of an independent Irish Republic in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They were either freedom fighters or terrorists, depending on your point of view.

This cartoon was published in Punch (a British magazine) on 21 October 1865. At that time, the Fenian movement was relatively new and was merely agitating for political change. In the cartoon the Fenians are being discussed in patronising tones by a bishop and a John Bull-like beadle, both recognisable establishment figures. The Fenians in the stocks are portrayed as uncouth savages, tapping in to British prejudice towards the Irish at that time.

The British government began to take the Fenians far more seriously following an armed uprising in 1867. When that failed, the Fenians began a terrorist campaign of bombings and political assassinations. Following the establishment of an independent Irish Republic in 1922, this terrorist campaign continued sporadically throughout the 20th century. The aim was to achieve independence for Northern Ireland, which remained under British rule.

Quack doctors

quack.jpg In previous centuries, it would have been difficult to distinguish between a genuine doctor and a quack doctor, as the level of medical knowledge was generally abysmal. Many people would entrust their care to a village “wise woman”, rather than turn to the medical practitioner. Doctors were expensive, and their remedies were as likely to kill as cure.

Things started to improve in the 19th century and, in 1858, the UK Parliament passed the Medical Act which provided for a register of qualified doctors. The Act also attempted to regulate the unqualified and unscrupulous “quacks” who often promoted their dubious cures on the streets, or in newspapers and magazines.

The threat of prosecution did little to deter the sale of unlicensed patent medicines (then and now), and the gullible continued to be taken in by extravagant claims to cure almost everything. At best these medicines were harmless placebos; at worst they were actively poisonous. It was not unknown for some of these cures to contain lead, arsenic and other proven toxins.

This cartoon was published on 17 December 1864, and depicts a quack doctor in the pillory. In addition to the traditional vegetables and dead cats, the quack is also being pelted with his own dubious medicines.


dreyfus.jpg The Dreyfus affair was a political scandal that divided France from its inception in 1894 until its resolution in 1906. It involved the conviction for treason in November 1894 of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent. Sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly having communicated French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, Dreyfus was sent to the penal colony at Devil's Island in French Guiana, where he spent almost five years.

Two years later, in 1896, evidence came to light identifying a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy as the real culprit. After high-ranking military officials suppressed the new evidence, a military court unanimously acquitted Esterhazy after the second day of his trial. The Army accused Dreyfus of additional charges based on false documents. Word of the military court's framing of Dreyfus and of an attendant cover-up began to spread, chiefly owing to “J’accuse”, a vehement open letter published in a Paris newspaper in January 1898 by the notable writer Émile Zola. Progressive activists put pressure on the government to reopen the case.

In this cartoon, the French generals who had attempted to frame Dreyfus (ostensibly for anti-semitic reasons) are in stocks and pillories, exposed to international condemnation. Their disgrace is being viewed by characters representing all the nations of the world, with Uncle Sam and John Bull prominently in the foreground.

In 1899, Dreyfus was brought to France for another trial. The intense political and judicial scandal that ensued divided French society between those who supported Dreyfus those who condemned him. The new trial resulted in another conviction and a 10-year sentence, but Dreyfus was given a pardon and set free.

Eventually, all the accusations against Alfred Dreyfus were demonstrated to be baseless. In 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army. He served during the whole of World War I, ending his service with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

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Last modified 30 November 2013.
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