Visualising elite political women in the reign of Queen Charlotte, 1761–1818
Carroll, Heather Nicole
This thesis examines the visual representations of elite women, who wielded and were seen to transgress, gendered political roles through their activity in the elite socio-political spheres of eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century Britain. In analysing the portraits and satirical prints of this select breed of women, this study questions the common bifurcation of gender debates in existing secondary literature, which include, but are not limited to, the porosity of traditionally conceived public and private spheres, contested masculine and feminine identities, and the gendering of morals and vices. The study will explore how predominantly male artists represented these women alongside an examination of how elite women were able to manipulate and choreograph their own portrayal. As such, it will probe how these political women utilised portraiture as a crucial means of self-fashioning; and likewise how their satirical representation was routinely subjugated to the male gaze. In doing so, it will reveal the varieties, vagaries and subtleties of the political power held by women and how this could be iterated, celebrated, or criticised in the visual culture of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century Britain. Four case studies form this examination. The first, argues that three women from Rockingham-Whig social networks, Lady Elizabeth Melbourne, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and Hon. Anne Damer, used portraiture as a form of self-fashioning to both celebrate their friendship and declare their burgeoning political agency. Chapter two revisits the 1784 Westminster election, to probe the theme of rivalry in satirical prints representing female canvassers. It argues that the visual vocabulary expressed in such prints pertains to wider cultural debates concerning class and gender that crucially came to a head during this political event. The third chapter introduces the dialogues between portraiture and satirical prints through its examination of the visual media that politicised Scottish Pittite hostess, Jane, Duchess of Gordon. Whilst the duchess used painted portraiture to proclaim her adherence to culturally-inscribed gender roles, satirical prints attacked her for her perceived political access, acquired through her daughters’ marriages and through her close proximity with prominent members of the Pittite government. The thesis concludes with a study of arguably the most political woman in the period of study: Queen Charlotte, consort of George III. This chapter revisits her reputation, arguing that a close examination of visual culture reveals that the queen, long thought to be an uncontroversial figure, became deeply problematic after the king’s bout with ‘madness’. In seeking to connect the visual aspects of women’s political engagement, this thesis expands on previous work in gender, social, cultural, and art histories such as those by Elaine Chalus, Cindy McCreery, Marcia Pointon, and Kate Retford to further our understanding of women’s political activity and eighteenth-century visual culture.