The Hellfire Club, that glorious collection of drunk noblemen and hot hookers dressed as nuns, was covered in an earlier column (Link
), but one of its member really deserves a column in his own right. That person is the rabble-rousing, porn-writing, law-breaking and baboon-bothering John Wilkes (1727- 1797).
One of the most colourful characters ever to enter British politics, Wilkes is almost a personal hero of mine. We'll deal with that "almost" later. He was an ugly little man with a hideous squint, and a face that could be fairly compared a bulldog licking piss off a nettle. However, he compensated for his looks with lightning wit and a formidable talent with words that allowed him to charm his way into numerous high society beds.18th century England had a considerable lady-boner for plain men if they had a slick line in comic sonnets, it seems. Let the Incel community take note of that.
His early life was "relatively" quiet, in that he chose to spend most of his time participating in orgiastic and heretical rituals with the Hellfire Club. In that setting, his anarchic sense of humour was given free rein- this culminated with an infamous prank he played on another Hellfire member, Lord Sandwich (yes- the actual inventor of the bready snack). During an everyday attempt to summon Satan in the Hellfire Club’s caverns, Wilkes sneaked in a pet baboon (well, of course he had a pet baboon. Why wouldn’t he?) into the chamber, and set it loose on Sandwich who (believing he had been seized by the Devil) passed a bowel motion consisting of raw, solid fear. This sparked off a long-running feud between the pair, typified by the following exchange between them-
Sandwich- "You, Sir, will die either on the gallows or from the pox!"
Wilkes- "That would depend on whether I embrace your Lordship's principles or your mistress."
When he wasn't taking part in heretical debauchery, he tended to pass his time publishing pornography. By far his most famous example was a bawdy parody of Pope's "Essay on Man", entitled "Essay on Woman". The 94-line poem opens with...
"Awake my Fanny! Leave all meaner things:
This morn shall prove what rapture swiving brings!
...and ends with...
"Hope humbly then clean Girls; nor vainly soar ;
But fuck the Cunt at hand, and God adore.
What future Fucks he gives not thee to know,
But gives that Cunt to be thy Blessing now.
OK, it's not "Hamlet", is it? It's much better.
Becoming inexplicably bored with porn and Satanism, Wilkes took the obvious career progression and decided to become a politician, and it’s safe to say that his election strategies were a little unorthodox. His first attempt to get elected saw him bribe a ship's captain to take a ship-load of opposition voters to Norway rather than their intended destination of Berwick-upon-Tweed, but he still lost the vote. His second attempt saw him resort to the less creative approach of massive bribery, spending the huge sum of £6,000 buying the votes to get himself elected.
Entering Parliament in 1757, he quickly became a strident critic of Lord Bute and King George III and started publishing a regular satirical paper "The North Briton" to attack them. The 18th century was the golden age of political satire in Britain, and Wilkes’ paper quickly became hugely popular due to his incredibly vicious and obscene attacks on politicians. Things really heated up when Lord Bute became Prime Minister, because Wilkes really had it in for Bute. Man, they hated each other. Issue 45 of "The North Briton" directly accused the King of lying on behalf of Bute in his speech to Parliament, and got Wilkes thrown into the Tower of London while his papers were publicly burned by the hangman. However, the rebellious Wilkes was now enormously popular with the general public, and the burning of "Issue 45" saw the hangman attacked by the crowd, and most of the papers rescued to be freely distributed.
Wilkes was soon freed on the grounds of Parliamentary privilege, but was promptly charged with Obscene Libel for his "Essay on Woman" as well as Seditious Libel for "The North Briton", and he was subsequently expelled from Parliament.
He repeatedly stood for re-election, despite being an outlaw, and won every time due to his massive popular support- though each time the result was overturned by Parliament. The cry "Wilkes for liberty!" was commonly heard aired by the London Mob. Eventually he was arrested again and spent two years in prison. He then stood successfully for Lord Mayor of London in 1774, and re-entered Parliament as a Radical the same year. He was the pioneering champion of the freedom of the press to report politics in whatever manner it chose.
So why isn't he a hero of mine? Because he proved to be the biggest sell-out in history. On re-entering Parliament, he freely admitted that his radical stance was purely adopted to win public support. He became increasing conservative, and in 1780 he brutally suppressed protestors in the Gordon Riots, causing the streets to run red with blood. The expression "Wilkes for Liberty!" became a joke, and his popular support disappeared leaving him a faded non-entity.
Moral of the story? Politicians suck, and we should never underestimate their capacity to dick us over. So turn your back on their weasel words, and place your faith in men who stick to hot nuns and baboons.