James Gillray, Monstrous Craws, at a New Coalition Feast, Published by S.W. Fores 29th May 1787

If the exit polls in today’s general election are anything to go by then the title of this print by James Gillray is likely to be a prophetic summary of the state of British politics in the week ahead. Of course the image itself was never intended as a satire on parliamentary coalitions; these were thoroughly commonplace affairs in the eighteenth-century, with all governments being coalitions of different factions held together by a combination of patronage (read: bribery), ideology, tradition, family connections and naked self-interest.The term coalition is used here to refer to the brief reconciliation between the King, Queen and the Prince of Wales, which took place in the spring of 1787, after the Prince agreed to denounce his secret marriage to Maria Fitzherbert in exchange for a huge government bribe. Part of this deal also included the granting of all future revenues from the Duchy of Cornwall to the Prince of Wales, an arrangement which, as anyone has bought a packet of ludicrously over-priced biscuits recently will tell you, is still the case today.

The image plays on familiar themes of Gillray’s other royal satires: the profligacy and stupidity of the Prince; the greed and miserliness of his parents; and the acrimony that characterised relations between the monarch and his eldest son. The three royals sit greedily shoveling public money into their mouths from a gigantic silver trough labelled ‘John Bull’s Blood’. The King eyes his son suspiciously through narrowed eyes, while George give his mother an equally disparaging sideways glance which clearly indicates the superficial and self-serving nature of their reconciliation.

Gillray’s opinion on the character of the royals is neatly conveyed through their clothing and posture: George III being dressed as an old woman, his son wearing a fools cap and the Queen as grotesquely ugly and stupid old hag. All three of them sport ‘monstrous craws’ or goiters, which resemble money bags under their necks. The Prince’s is symbolically empty despite his best efforts to stuff as much public money into his face as possible, while the King and Queen continue to gorge even though their craws appear full to bursting. Gillray undoubtedly took inspiration for the print from a pubic exhibition which had occurred in London earlier that month of “three wild human beings, each with a Monsterous Craw, being two females and a male, with natural large craws under their throats full of big moving glands which astonishingly play all the way within their craws, according as stimulated by either their eating, speaking, or laughing”. An engraved image of the trio onstage was published by Carington Bowles a fortnight before Gillray’s print appeared and may been used as a basis for this design.