The Court of Chancery was distinctive from other courts of the common law in that its major function was to resolve disputes involving equity. Land disputes and the administration of trusts occupied much of the court’s time, though other matters of financial administration, such as the custodianship of estates in cases of insanity and the guardianship of orphans, were also dealt with there. Traditionally, the court was presided over by the Lord Chancellor and litigants were assisted by one the many barristers who worked there (depicted here).
The Court of Chancery was notorious for its slow pace, backlogs and protracted legal wrangles which quickly earned it a reputation for inefficiency and corruption. Many court officers were paid lucrative sinecures and the fees for litigants were often extortionate. Although significant reforms were made to the proceedings there during the first half of the 19th century, in 1852 Charles Dickens could still lampoon the interminable proceedings of Chancery in the famous fictional case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, featured in his novel Bleak House.
Background to the Microcosm of London collection of prints
The Microcosm of London was published in three volumes between 1808 and 1810 as a result of an ongoing collaboration between publisher Rudolph Ackermann, cartoonist and illustrator Thomas Rowlandson and architectural draughtsman Auguste Charles Pugin. The image shown here was first issued as a loose leaf number that was collated later into separate volumes, all of which proved highly successful as a commercial publishing enterprise.
The Microcosm of London tapped into the demand for highly-coloured prints of real-life subjects that proved something of a publishing sensation during the Regency period. As such, the prints stand as a fascinating historical record of London life in the early years of the 19th century. While Pugin’s fine architectural drawings capture the size and shape of the capital’s principal buildings (both externally and from within) Thomas Rowlandson’s keenly observed figures depict the sheer colour and vitality of late Georgian society, rich and poor alike.