Wednesday, 14 August 2019
Mary Ann Hunn - Always something new
The National Portrait Gallery in London has recently acquired a political cartoon from 1820 in which a devilish George Canning, his face alive with malice, envy and ambition, is shown with bellows labelled "Mother Hunn" fanning the flames beneath the three witches' cauldron, the three witches being (I think) Lords Castlereagh, Liverpool and Sidmouth. The King and the Duke of York look on, while the Duke of Wellington holds a poker labelled "Waterloo". You can see it on the National Portrait Gallery's website.
Throughout Canning's career his radical enemies taunted him over the pension paid to his mother. It was always good for a cheer at public meetings. As the 200th anniversary of Peterloo approaches, recalling the political passions of those days, I'm reminded that I too would have cheered the enemies of Canning. Like William Cobbett, like Henry "Orator" Hunt, I would have jeered Canning for grabbing a pension from public funds to support his mother, rather than supporting her himself. Things were not so simple, of course, but political cartoons and violent political events force us to take sides.
One of the questions I address in my book is how gravely George's career was threatened by what the public knew about Mary Ann. Would cartoons such as this do him serious damage? And was it this that made him insist that Mary Ann lived far away from him and his family?