John Wilkes: A Friend to Liberty

John Wilkes: A Friend to Liberty

John Wilkes: A Friend to Liberty

John Wilkes: A Friend to Liberty


Often deemed the founder of British radicalism, John Wilkes (1725-1797) had a shattering impact on the politics of his time. His audacity in challenging government authority was matched by his skill and determination in attaining his objectives: the freedom of the press to criticize ministers and report Parliament; enhanced security for individuals and their property from arbitrary arrest and seizure; and the rights of electors. In this fascinating and original biography, Peter Thomas provides an intriguing portrait of the man George III referred to as `that Devil, Wilkes'.


John Wilkes is a well-known personality of modern British history, albeit for reasons of prurience as well as political significance. Yet no researched biography of him has appeared since the thorough but now dated study by Horace Bleackley in 1917. My debt to that book and to other accounts of Wilkes and of radicalism will be obvious. This biography, while primarily a political study, seeks to present a rounded view of Wilkes by consideration also of his social and sexual life, financial problems, administrative skills, and cultural interests.

News that I was writing a biography of John Wilkes led to various offers of help, not all of which I was able to utilize, for there was a danger of being inundated with information, such was the interest that Wilkes generated among his contemporaries. I am nevertheless grateful for all of this assistance, and especially to Martin Fitzpatrick, Graham Gibbs, Clare Wilkinson, and David Wilkinson; and, above all, to Nicola Jones (née Davies) for a copy of her unpublished thesis on the Bill of Rights Society. Useful advice has come from anonymous readers for the Clarendon Press.

Research and writing is expensive and time consuming. I am grateful to the British Academy for a grant that enabled me to purchase microfilms of Wilkes MSS and to do research in London manuscript repositories and libraries; to the Leverhulme Trust, for an award that enabled the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, to grant me a term's study leave, and also financed research in Winchester and London; and to that University for permitting that leave and for providing a grant from its Research Fund. Claire Swatheridge converted my holograph into a text fit for the printer.

For help with my research I am indebted to the staffs of the Hampshire County Record Office; the British Library; the Guildhall Library; the National Maritime Museum; the Public Record Office; the W. L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, especially for the loan of microfilms; the National Library of Wales; the Institute of Historical Research; the History of Parliament Trust; and the Library of the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

For permission to use manuscripts I owe thanks to the Earl of Malmesbury, and to the Trustees of both the National Maritime Museum and the British Library I am grateful to the editors of Parliamentary History and Historical Research . . .

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