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Last updated:28 May 2015

William Hone's 1819 pamphlet 'The political house that Jack built'

From 19 to 25 November is Parliament Week, which aims to raise people's awareness of and engagement with parliamentary democracy. Given that so much of the collection here at the WCML is given to charting the fight for recognition by parliament, the object of the month which we have chosen is a pamphlet from 1819 which satirises the lack of parliamentary democracy. The aim is to show that voting, now seen as a right, was not so long ago a distant dream for the majority of people.

The radical printer William Hone published The Political House that Jack Built in 1819, just after the Peterloo Massacre. The pamphlet is a combination of Hone's pithy rhyming couplets and illustrations by George Cruikshank, who rose to fame on the back of working for Hone. The pamphlet attacks the power and corruption of privilege. For instance Cruikshank drew the then Prince Regent as a fat, bloated dullard, a cork-screw hanging from his pocket to point towards the volume of his majesty's drinking. The lines Hone included with the image were some of the pamphlet's most biting:

‘The Dandy of Sixty,
who bows with a grace,
and has taste in wigs, collars,
cuirasses and lace,
Who, to tricksters, and fools,
leaves the state and its treasure,
And, when Britain's in tears,
sails about at his pleasure'.


the people all tattered and torn

Towards the end of the pamphlet there is an image of ‘The People all tattered and torn'. In the background of Cruikshank's image of despair you can see yeomen attacking the people at Peterloo.

These were people described by Hone as:


‘Who, peaceably Meeting to ask for Reform,
Were sabred by Yeomanry Cavalry,
Were thank'd by THE MAN,
all shaven and shorn'


reform banner imageIt was not until 1929 that universal adult suffrage arrived in Britain. With the recent expenses scandal and the apparent apathy of many towards voting, parliamentary democracy may not seem something with which many people are keen to engage. As Parliament Week seeks to celebrate democracy it is worth remembering, however, those who gave up their liberty, and in some cases their lives, to fight for it.Later still Cruikshank drew a banner with the slogan ‘Reform' written upon it. Underneath Hone described this as ‘the watchword, the talisman word', which during the period it was. Very few people had the vote, and the majority were denied access to their democratic rights. People fought and died for the right to vote. Hone suffered too. In 1817 he was tried for the inflammatory nature of his publications, although he was acquitted.

On the final page of The House that Jack Built is a remarkable drawing of a cap of liberty, from which rays emanate (the sun being a historic symbol for political rebirth). Underneath this image are words from William Cowper's epic poem Task which are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them in 1785, or when Hone used them again in 1819.

‘Tis Liberty alone, that gives the flow'r
Of fleeting life its lustre and perfume;
And we are weeds without it'.

November 2012

This piece was written by Chris Burgess, Collections Access Officer with the new  Esmee Fairbairn Foundation- funded joint project betwen the Library and the People's History Museum

Click here for more information about protest, politics and campaigning for change


Resources by and about William Hone in the library collection

William Hone, The political house that Jack built (1819) - Shelfmark: D05

William Hone, The Queen that Jack found - with thirteen cuts 5th ed. (1820) - Shelfmark: D15

William Hone, Aspersions answered: an explanatory statement, addressed to the public at large, and to every reader of the Quarterly review in particular 5th ed. (1824) - Shelfmark: D08

William Hone and others, Radical squibs and loyal ripostes: satirical pamphlets of the Regency Period, 1819-1821 (1971) - Shelfmark: D04

William Hone, The green bag: "a dainty dish to set before a King" - a ballad of the nineteenth century 8th ed. (1820) - Shelfmark: D12

William Hone, Full annals of the revolution in France, 1830... 2nd ed. (1830) - Shelfmark: D16

William Hone, The Queen's matrimonial ladder: a national joy, with fourteen step scenes; and illustrations in verse, with eighteen other cuts 6th ed. (1820) - Shelfmark: D08 

William Hone, The political litany, diligently revised; to be said or sung until the appointed change come, throughout the dominion of England and Wales and the town of Berwick upon Tweed by special command (1817) - Shelfmark: D27 (Part of Hone, etc.)

William Hone, The sinecurist's creed, or belief: as the same can or may be sung or said throughout the kingdom by Authority (1817) - Shelfmark: 22cm  (Part of Hone etc.)

William Hone, The Bullet Te Deum: with the canticle of the stone (1817) - Shelfmark: D27 (Part of Hone etc.)

William Hone, Official account of the noble lord's bite! and his dangerous condition, with who went to see him, and what was said, sung, and done, on the melancholy occasion: published for the instruction and edification of all ranks and conditions of men by the author of Buonaparte-phobia; or, cursing made easy (1817) - Shelfmark: D31

William Hone, The trial of the dog, for biting the noble lord: with the whole of the evidence at length - taken in shorthand (1918)) - Shelfmark: D31

William Hone, The right divine of kings to govern wrong! (no date) - Shelfmark: J21/15

William Hone, The political "A, apple-pie": or, the extraordinary red book versified; for the instruction and amusement of the rising generation 20th ed. (1820) - Shelfmark: J21/15

William Hone, Hone's reformists' register and weekly commentary, vols 1 and 2 (1817) - Shelfmark: D43

The three trials of William Hone - for publishing three parodies: viz., The late John Wilkes's catechism, The political litany, and The sinecurist's creed, at Guildhall, London, before three special juries, and Mr Justice Abbott on the first day, December 18th, 1817, and Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough on the two last days, December 19th and 20th (1876) - Shelfmark: D34

Trial by jury and liberty of the press: the proceedings at the public meeting, December 29, 1817, at the City of London Tavern, for the purpose of enabling William Hone to surmount the difficulties in which he has been placed by being selected by the ministers of the Crown as the object of their persecution 4th ed. (1818) - Shelfmark: D20

Frederick Wm. Hackwood, William Hone: his life and times (1912) - Shelfmark: B12

Ben Wilson, The laughter of triumph: William Hone and the fight for the free press (2005) - Shelfmark: X11

John Wardroper, The world of William Hone: a new look at the Romantic age in words and pictures of the day (1997) - Shelfmark: K36

Marcus Wood, Radical satire and print culture, 1790-1822 (1994) - Shelfmark: Q26