Detail map of London, England, United Kingdom

A: London, England, United Kingdom

George Cruikshank Caricatures the Suspension of Habeas Corpus in the Context of Freedom of the Press

Liberty suspended! with the bulwark of the constitution! By George Cruikshank
Liberty suspended! with the bulwark of the constitution! By George Cruikshank
During the economic crisis following the Napoleonic Wars there was growing public discontent in England. In response to this the British government suspended habeas corpus in 1817. The right of challenging the lawfulness of detaining a prisoner, known as a writ of habeas corpus, was popularly, though erroneously, believed to have originated in Magna Carta. During the year in which the suspension of habeas corpus was in effect, the radical press repeated represented it as a serious infringement of ancient liberties.

Here is the British Museum description of George Cruikshank's caricature of the situtation, quoted in full:

"On a solid platform, the base of a dismantled printing-press, 'BRITISH PRESS', Castlereagh, Eldon, and Ellenborough display to armed ranks of Sinecurists below, the body of Liberty, gagged and bound, hanging from a gibbet which projects to the right from the press, which suggests a guillotine. She holds a document: 'Magna Charta', 'Bill of Rights', 'Habeas Corpus'; her gag is labelled 'Gagging Bill'. A three-legged stool has been kicked from under her feet. Castlereagh, wearing a court suit and Garter robes, stands at the edge of the platform and in front of his colleagues, holding up Liberty's broken staff on which is a 'Cap of Liberty'. He declaims, with an oratorical gesture: "It is better to do this, than "Stand Prostrate" at the feet of Anarchy." Eldon stands impassively, with the Purse of the Great Seal suspended from his neck, holding the mace with its head resting on the ground. With his left hand he supports a large 'Green Bag', grasping its neck; it rests on two cloven hoofs and above the neck are folds representing a grotesque sub-human face. It is inscribed: 'Evidence ags LIBERTY—Spencean's Plan Spa fields Plot An Old Stocking full of Gunpowder [see No. 12868] 3 or 4 rusty fire arms & a few bullets too large to fit the barrels!!' On the left of the platform, separated from the others by the upright printing-press, stands the Archbishop (Manners-Sutton), enclosed by wooden rails, intoning from a large open book: 'Prayers & thanksgiving for the Escape of the Regent from the Madness of the People" 28th Jany last.' He holds a crosier and wears a mitre inscribed 'Canterbury', with a grotesque clerical wig; his mouth is wide open and his eyes turned upwards.

"The audience (half length figures) surround the platform; paunchy civilians, wearing ribbons, gaze up delightedly, the centre figure (in back view) is placarded 'Muster Roll of Gentlemen Sinecurists'. They are surrounded by mounted Life Guards with plumed helmets and drawn swords, at attention, with a banner (left) 'Band of Gentlemen Pensioners'. In the background (right) is a hill beside a road on which a man drives towards the gibbet a plumed hearse inscribed: 'For the Funeral of British Liberty who died near St Stepens [sic]— March 1817—' On the hill sits John Bull weeping, four men in mourning cloaks and scarves stand round him: Cochrane (caricatured) on the extreme right, Cobbett, Hunt (wearing a hunting-cap), and Burdett" (

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