James Gillray and The Secret History Of Georgian London

Is this the first ever spanking picture?

jg 001

The Royal Joke, or Black Jack’s Delight, 1788 by James Gillray

Yes I know there were flagellation scenes painted on the walls of Pompeii, and even before that on the urns of ancient Greece. I suppose what I meant to say was “Is this the first MODERN spanking picture?”

The Royal Joke depicts George, Prince of Wales spanking a lady thought to be Mrs Fitzherbert his mistress. They were two of the most famous celebrities – the Posh and Becks or the Brad and Angelina – of the late 1700s. I love the old battleaxe on the far left who is wielding a horse whip and pointing at the aristocratic buttocks displayed before her with sadistic relish.

It has all the elements that we look for today in a good “mainstream spanking scene” – an adult female in an OTK position being brought down a peg with a good spanking. Add to the mix a bawdy tone with an amused crowd of onlookers and you could say that there’s nothing in the Gillray picture that John Wayne wouldn’t recognise and approve of. In fact, The Royal Joke is similar in many ways to stills from McLintock (1963).


McLintock print found on Richard Windsor’s excellent blog

Although oil painters and artists such as Max Ernst have tackled the subject of spanking; so far as I’m aware there are no pictures in “high” art that feature adult female over-the-knee spanking.

But ever since Gillray’s seminal work, adult female spanking has found a natural home in cartoons. As a subject, it strikes the right note of naughty slapstick without being obscene. There’s a couple of cartoon threads on the Spanking Scouts chat forum with many great examples mainly posted by Dan N who calls them “clean toons”.

I suppose the test of a clean toon would be one that you can show to a non-kinky person and they would be amused rather than freaked out. The Gillray picture passes that test, as does the great National Lampoon spanking cartoon from the 20th Century – just! It’s tempting to think that if Gillray, who was famous for his political and social satires, had been around in the 1970s, he probably would have worked for a magazine like Lampoon.


shgl 001The Royal Joke is used as an illustration in a new book by Dan Cruickshank called The Secret History Of Georgian London. According to Cruickshank, the capital in the 1700s was a city that that had overstepped all others in immorality and addiction to debauchery

Covent Garden was the centre of a vast sex trade strewn across hundreds of brothels and so-called coffee houses. Cruickshank believes that there were up to 62,500 ‘harlots’ – more than anywhere in Europe, and totalling a staggering one in five of the female population.

“No place in the world can be compared with London for wantonness” wrote a German visitor. “People go to church, to the inns, and to the prostitutes,” Voltaire noted with some surprise of the average Sunday in the city.

The book mentions that flagellation was a common Georgian deviancy. Clients used a scourge of birch twigs to beat pretty young Mollies, Pollies, Fannies and Kitties across their bare rumps. It was often administered in bagnios – bathing houses that doubled as brothels. After the sessions, girls were carried off in sedan chairs to have their blazing buttocks soothed with herbal remedies so that they could be ready to return to the fray as soon as possible.

For the first time in history, a thriving spanking publishing industry flourished, providing a lucrative sideline for otherwise respectable printers. Stories featured characters with names like Miss Birch and Sir Harry Flagellum. Even vanilla porn of the period such as Fanny Hill contained spankings. Against this background, it’s perhaps not surprising that one of the earliest and finest examples of spanking art emerged too.

It could perhaps be said that the format of the spanking fetish – as something quite distinct from other forms of sado-masochism, with it’s own attendant culture of paintings, books etc. – was first mapped out in Georgian England.


There was always great excitement when Moll Flanders updated her blogge.

One’s thing for sure, Gillray knew he would have a ready made audience of connoisseurs only too eager to pay good money for prints of Lady Fitzherbert being spanked in public. No doubt they quickly sold out, and the rest, as they say, is history!

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6 thoughts on “James Gillray and The Secret History Of Georgian London”

  1. A most intriguing and highly informative post, tho I’m not sure if i agree with your point here: “so far as I’m aware there are no pictures in “high” art that feature adult female over-the-knee spanking.”

    When I think of my collection of spankobilia, I do recall seeing some serious treatments, in my opinion, of spanking artwork as beautiful, real art. 🙂

    Keep up the fine blogging,

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