A satire about a Prime Minister

hieroglyphs 001 smallWe have bought an very unusual satirical broadside (AP.6.213.06): it attacks the unpopular Prime Minister John Stuart, third Earl of Bute (1713-1792). It’s written in the form of a letter from Beelzebub, or the Devil, to the Earl of Bute. At the top is a portrait of Lord Bute, which, unusually, is not a caricature but is a faithful representation of Allan Ramsay’s portrait of Bute, and there is an illustration of the Devil with a fork for a foot.

The letter suggests that, following Bute’s ‘diabolic’ conclusion of the peace with France in 1762 and the ‘master stroke’ of the cider tax, Bute should introduce taxes on other food and drink. Sarcastically, the writer asks, “for why should the Vulgar (who are no more than Brutes in your Opinion) have anything to Eat above Grass without paying Tribute to their Superiors?”

The cider tax had actually been proposed by Bute’s Chancellor of the Exchequer as a means of paying off the government’s debts that it had accrued whilst waging the Seven Years War. It was passed on 1 April 1763 and became a huge bone of contention because it gave excise men the right to search private dwellings. Riots broke out in the West Country and in the streets of London, where Lord Bute’s windows were smashed.

This broadside, dated “Pandemonium 1st April 1763“, was part of the protest against Bute and his government. His opponents did not have long to wait to see Bute’s downfall. Only 8 days after the bill was passed Bute had resigned from office. The cider tax was eventually repealed in 1765, but Bute remained the target of satirists throughout the 1760s, being suspected of influencing the government from behind the scenes.

Find out more about the Earl of Bute in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessible through NLS Licensed Digital Collections).