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King Billy's crude propaganda prints brought satire to Britain, says historian


Ross Wilson's William of Orange mural in Sandy Row

Ross Wilson's William of Orange mural in Sandy Row

Ross Wilson's William of Orange mural in Sandy Row

Not only did King Billy give us the Twelfth and colourful murals featuring portraits of himself, it has now emerged the Protestant king also gifted satire to the British.

Forget Monty Python, Private Eye and Have I Got News For You?, it seems William of Orange saw the funny side first, cleverly commissioning a series of crude prints to undermine his rival and father-in-law, the Catholic James II.

Desperate to win the propaganda war and ensure the backing and financial support of key figures in the Netherlands for his bid to topple James and take the throne, Dutch William turned to the prolific printmaker and painter Romeyn de Hooghe.

And new research reveals de Hooghe didn’t disappoint, producing a raft of humorous, often crude prints between 1688 to 1690 that portrayed William as the sober, brave defender of Protestantism taking on a cowardly, cuckolded James.

The cartoons depict James as in thrall to Jesuits and his cousin, Louis XIV of France, who is drawn as an unstable megalomaniac who defecates on his allies.

In one print Louis balances on a globe, with his naked buttocks squashing Ireland, where he backed James’s attempt to retake the throne.

Another print shows a frightened James fleeing England, riding pillion with Louis. James’ son is carried in the arms of Father Petre, the Queen’s Jesuit confessor who was rumoured to be the boy’s real father.

De Hooghe’s artistic efforts would appear to have helped William’s cause – he landed in England in 1688, deposing James shortly afterwards.

James attempted to regain the crown in 1690 but was famously defeated by William at the Battle of the Boyne, commemorated every July 12 by tens of thousands of Orange brethren.

The new findings are the work of Meredith Hale, a historian from the University of Exeter, who has carried out the first detailed analysis of the satires (including translating the annotations into English).

Her research shows how De Hooghe was able to quickly respond to the rapid unfolding of events in England and the Netherlands.

The golden age of British satire has long been thought to have originated in the coffee houses of 18th century London when the likes of William Hogarth and James Gillray first started to produce savage cartoons undermining the wealthy and powerful.

But Hale, whose new book The Birth of Modern Political Satire: Romeyn de Hooghe and the Glorious Revolution is published by Oxford University Press, argues de Hooghe’s work for King Billy are the first images that can be classed as modern political satire.

“Political satire has long been considered to an 18th-century British phenomenon, generated by London’s news-driven coffee-house culture,” she told the Times.

“I believe political satire as we know it in fact emerged earlier, in the late 17th century Netherlands in the contentious political milieu surrounding William III’s invasion of England.”

She added: “Romeyn de Hooghe’s satires were at the heart of the most important development in the history of printed political imagery. The prints established many of the qualities that define the genre to this day, the crude treatment of the body, text and images used together and serialised production.”

Belfast Telegraph