These prints are the work of illustrator John Doyle (using the familiar pseudonym of ‘H.B.’), who for over 20 years during the early 19th century produced an astonishing number of political cartoons. Unlike earlier cartoonists such as James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson, John Doyle refused to portray his subjects as grotesque caricatures, preferring instead to produce faithful likenesses of his subjects and to jibe them politely with his subtle wit. Doyle’s most easily recognised images are those he issued at the time of the three parliamentary reform bills introduced in the early 1830s and the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832. Many leading politicians of the day received his studied attention, particularly Lord Grey and the Duke of Wellington.

The 1832 Reform Act extended the size of the British electorate from 500,000 to more than 800,000 voters, gave new voting rights to previously disenfranchised industrial towns in the north, swept away ‘rotten boroughs’ who had returned MPs despite having virtually no inhabitants, and strengthened parliamentary sovereignty. These reforms, however, did little for the working class. Around 90% of the British population still possessed no vote (including all women). Only once the Second Reform Act was passed in 1867 were many of these failures finally addressed.