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Gillray's cartoon, Substitutes for bread

Cartoon by James Gillray. Substitutes for bread, or, right honorables, saving the loaves, & dividing the fishes. 1795. British Museum, London Cartoon by James Gillray. Substitutes for bread, or, right honorables, saving the loaves, & dividing the fishes. 1795. British Museum, LondonKing George III’s reign was marked by a series of expensive wars, including the Seven Years’ War, the War of American Independence and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. These were financed by regressive fiscal policies that caused hardship and riots in almost every decade of his rule, but particularly during the 1790s.

Caricatures of the period – such as the one reproduced here, by the renowned printmaker James Gillray (1756-1815) – play on gross disparities of wealth and the unashamed gluttony of ruling politicians.

Dedicated ‘To the Charitable Committee, for reducing the high price of Corn, by providing substitutes for bread in their own Families’, it shows five cabinet ministers – William Wyndham, Henry Dundas, Baron Loughborough, Richard Pepper Arden and the prime minister, William Pitt the Younger – gorging themselves on fish whose scales take the form of gold coins.

A menu on the wall sets out substitutes for bread, which include venison, roast beef and poultry, turtle soup and fish boiled in wine. Heaps of other bread substitutes on the table also take the form of gold coinage, together with a sign which reads ‘Product of New Taxes.’

Gillray depicts politicians quite literally eating the taxes of the populace. Whilst waiters bring in yet more food, the eye is drawn to the view of the ‘swinish multitude’ through the window, its petitions and signboards announcing ‘Starving Swine’ and imploring the diners to ‘Grant us the Crumbs which drop from your Table.’

This image is used under a Creative Commons licence and was made available by the British Museum, London. ©Trustees of the British Museum.

James Gillray. Substitutes for bread, or right honorables, saving the loaves, & dividing the fishes. 1795 British Museum, London

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