Government as a Bed of Roses

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This scene features members of the newly installed ‘ministry of all the talents,’ following the death of prime minister William Pitt (1759-1806). Playwright and statesman Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1775-1816) can be seen reclining at the center, talking with his ally Charles James Fox (1749-1806). Fox had just been named Foreign Secretary and Sheridan treasurer of the navy. Rigidly upright behind Fox is Francis Rawdon-Hastings (1754-1826), known as The Earl of Moira at this time and master-general of the Ordnance.

They are all laying in a bed of roses, as the Fox administration was described in April 1806 by Robert Stewart, known as Lord Castlereagh (1769-1822). Fox replied, “Really it is insulting, to tell me I am on a bed of roses, when I feel myself torn and stung by brambles and nettles, whichever way I turn.”

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Charles Williams (1797-1830), Reposing on a Bed of Roses, April 1806. Hand colored etching. Published by John Walker (1789-1813 flourished).
Graphic Arts GA 2013- in process

Charles Williams wasn’t the only British caricaturist to pick up on the symbolism (Williams made three caricatures on the subject). James Gillray (1756-1815) completed a print the same month, followed by one by Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) in May.

Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827), The Bed of Roses, 1806. Etching.
Gift of Dickson Q. Brown, Class of 1895.

James Gillray (1756-1815), Comfort’s of a Bed of Roses, 1806. Etching.
GA 2006.01395

Charles Williams, The Full-Blown-Rose and Petty Mushroom!!, 1806. Etching. British Museum