The Uncovering of Mrs Sawbridge

Meet Mrs Anne Sawbridge (c. 1740-1805), the wife of the London alderman, former Lord Mayor and reforming Member of Parliament, John Sawbridge (1732-95):

She’s going to receive scandalous treatment at the hands of the satirist James Gillray (1756-1815) and his publisher, Samuel William Fores (1761-1838). And also, in a different way, at the hands of a royal personage.

Gillray was at an early stage of a distinguished career as an illustrator and caricaturist when, in 1788, he produced ‘The Royal Joke, or Black Jack’s Delight’, an etching showing an imaginary incident involving the Sawbridges and the Prince of Wales, the debauched future King George IV:

‘Black Jack’ was Sawbridge’s nickname and, as a republican, he was no friend of the Prince, though they seem here to be cooperating on reasonable terms, with Sawbridge fiddling while the Prince makes his wife’s bottom burn. To the left of the picture is the Sawbridges’ teenage daughter, apparently distressed by what is happening to her mother and perhaps worried by the prospect of what Lady Sarah Archer, the hook-nosed woman to her right, might be planning to do with her riding whip.

The print was published on April 25, and Fores offered copies that were hand-colored, like this:

But others were issued with amendments, including an altered caption to identify ‘Black Jack’ unambiguously, to say nothing of what the opportunistic colorist did to the unfortunate Mrs Sawbridge’s skirt:

And that wasn’t the end of it. here’s a variant that was colored before the subtitle was changed from ‘Black Jack’s Delight’:

The most immediately noticeable difference is the pink garters that are visible through the exposed petticoat, with a subtler use of watercolor to make the undergarment more diaphanous: there’s a clear color change where the blue stockings end and the pink thighs begin.

And then Gillray amended the original and new plates were struck. This version has a new title, ‘The Royal Minuet’. And, more to the point, it’s bad news for Anne Sawbridge:

So Gillray and Fores made their satire progressively raunchier, as if testing how far they could go. And, it seems, the answer was, this far…


2 thoughts on “The Uncovering of Mrs Sawbridge

    • Harry says:

      Not that I know of. Fores was a commercial print-maker, so arguably it would have been in his interests to publish something that would appeal in different ways to both sides, thereby maximizing his market – and you could see this particular drawing as reflecting just as badly on the Prince of Wales as on Sawbridge.


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