King Killing


This single sheet handbill published by Richard Lee in 1795 illustrates a striking republican sentiment rarely seen in British publications at the end of the 18th century. In the wake of the French Revolution the British government had become increasingly nervous about the activities of political radicals, particularly members of the London Corresponding Society whom they actively pursued, arresting them for sedition. Although Lee was associated with radical protest (his pamphlet went on sale at a meeting of the London Corresponding Society in Islington in October 1795) it is particularly remarkable for the way it suggests that killing the king was a duty among patriots.

Radical politics during the 1790s were in fact relatively restrained, and few if any other figures campaigning for political reform went as far as to advocate the actual murder of the king. Lee’s hand-bill was nevertheless cited in parliamentary debates as evidence of the dangerous nature of radicalism and may have contributed to the period of government repression known as ‘Pitt’s Reign of Terror’. This included the creation of ‘Gagging Acts’ that banned outspoken criticism of the government and the convening of political meetings of more than 50 people without prior permission from magistrates.

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King Killing [A handbill, reprinted from one entitled 'Tyrannicide.'] MS. Notes
estimated 1797, probably London
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Public Domain
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British Library

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