John Wilkes (17th October 1725 – 26 December 1797)
John Wilkes was an English radical, journalist and politician.
First elected to Parliament in 1757. In the Middlesex election dispute he fought for the rights of his voters rather than that of the House of Commons to ensure they were represented in Parliament.
Famous for his support of the American rebels in the American War of Independence.
He was also a regular contributor to The Monitor (the only other known contributor to the paper alongside Arthur Beardmore).
Famous for establishing the satirical paper the North Briton in reponse to the John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute coming to the head of Government in 1762. Bute was Scottish and so the paper attacked him using an anti-scots tone. The satirical title of the paper was in response to a paper entitled the Briton. Bute published many of policies through this paper. He chose the journalist Smollett to write all of his political articles.
It is also believed that Wilkes venom against Bute and the establishment was, in part, also due to the fact that he’d been banned from the Hellfire Club.
A little bit about the Hellfire Club – the Hellfire Club was a name for several exclusive groups for high society rakes in Britain and Ireland. These clubs were rumoured to be meeting places of ‘persons of quality’ who wished to take part in immoral acts – members were often involved in politics. Membership to these clubs was often secret so it can be quite difficult to ascertain who were members etc.
Wilkes was outlawed on the 19th January 1764 after having written a pornographic poem with Thomas Potter dedicated to the courtier Fanny Murray entitled An Essay on Woman. Wilkes fled to Paris but was tried and found guilty in abstentia of obscene libel and seditious libel.
In 1768 Wilkes moves back to London after his French creditors began to pressure him.
Wilkes was not arrested immediately as Parliament felt it would insight too much protest. Wilkes immediately runs for a seat in Parliament on an anti-government ticket. He finishes last out of the seven candidates, however, it is not long until he’s elected as an MP for Middlesex (where most of his support lay).
He surrendered himself to the King’s Bench in April 1768 and waived his rights to parliamentary immunity. He was sentenced by the judge Joseph Yates to two years and fined £1000. The HoL overturned his outlawry. He was imprisoned by on 10th May 1968 in the King’s Bench Prison. His supporters rallied against this and appearing before King’s Bench demanded his release , shouting “No Liberty, No King”. Troops opened fire on the protestors killing seven and wounding 15 – this event was later to be called the St George’s Field Massacre.