Today the red flag has, predominantly, become a symbol of socialism and communism. Its European origins date back to the Middle Ages, when a red streamer flying from the mast of a warship signalled a willingness to fight to the death, with no surrender. But its radical political roots lie firmly in the Age of Revolution.
Hannah More (1745-1833) was a poet, playwright, anti-slavery campaigner and one of the most influential female philanthropists of the Age of Revolution. Seen by some as an early feminist, and others as an anti-feminist, she remains a controversial figure today.
The writer, William Godwin is perhaps not the most famous but was one of the most influential British radicals and political philosophers of the Age of Revolution. He was married to the revolutionary feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, and was the father of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley. He established the Juvenile Library and had a powerful influence on the Romantic poets, including William Wordsworth and his son-in-law Percy Shelley.
Red Phrygian or ‘liberty’ caps were long associated with the theme of liberty in European and colonial cultures. They were used as icons during the American Revolution and worn during the French Revolution in the late 1700s and came to symbolise allegiance to the republican cause. Along with the red, white and blue cockade, pinned to these and other hats, they became a lasting symbol of revolutionary France.
Cosette, is a central character in Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables, an epic story with revolution at its very heart. First published in 1862, Hugo’s tale is one of the longest novels in history. It is widely considered to be a masterpiece and has been adapted countless times for stage and screen.
Marie Antoinette was the wife of the last King of France, Louis XVI, before the French Revolution overthrew the monarchy. She was known for extravagance and indulgence, and was despised by the people of France. She came to symbolise the Ancien Régime – a long-standing system where the monarchy, aristocracy and Catholic Church held absolute power and privilege over ordinary people.
Dartmoor prison was built between 1806 and 1809, mainly to confine thousands of prisoners of war. It was built in Princetown, a bleak part of Dartmoor and an ideal location because of its remoteness. It was designed by Daniel Asher Alexander, with buildings arranged like the spokes in a wheel, surrounded by a high perimeter wall. It was one of Britain’s first purpose-built prisons designed for 6,000 prisoners, and still remains a prison today, though now with a maximum capacity of just 659.
This print was one of over a thousand satires produced by the celebrated caricaturist, James Gillray, who became known as the ‘father of the political cartoon’. In the 18th century, cartoons and caricatures were a popular way of mocking the establishment and calling them to account. They would be discussed and enjoyed in shop windows, coffee houses and taverns. The arrival of the industrial printing press in the 1800s helped to spread them far and wide, through broadsides (posters), newspapers and pamphlets. This one was inspired by the resumed hostilities and ongoing rivalry between Britain and France in 1805.
Napoleon rose to power during the French Revolution, crowning himself Emperor of France in 1804. He had ambitions to carve out a vast empire and dynasty, and successfully invaded and conquered countries across the European continent in a series of bloody battles, before he was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. These became known as the Napoleonic wars.
Travelling in Europe was very popular among the British nobility, gentry, and professionals of the 1700s and 1800s. It became traditional for upper class men and women to embark on a lengthy ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, where they would experience the languages and history of the continent while showing off their own status and wealth. It was also popular with British artists, writers and thinkers of the time, keen to broaden their experience and exchange ideas – particularly with their counterparts and the new celebrities and centres thrown up by the upheavals of revolution.