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The Shrievalty – 1770-1778
WILKES’S first task after leaving prison was to find a suitable residence for his daughter and himself. Having £4000 in ready cash and a yearly income of nearly £1400, there was no reason why he should remain in his old lodgings at Mrs. Henley’s. A few days after his release, with characteristic unselfishness, he allowed Polly to pay a visit to Paris, at the invitation of Madame de Chantereine, in order that she might see the Dauphin’s wedding, so his house-hunting had to be done alone. Wishing to live near his old home, he secured a lease of No. 7 Prince’s Court, the last house at the end of Great George Street, by Storey’s Gate, with its windows facing Birdcage Walk, paying the moderate rent of fifty guineas a year. At the same time, deeming it necessary to have a country cottage during the summer months, he took a furnished villa in Elysium Row, Fulham.
For a short period he hesitated to devote himself seriously to civic affairs, feeling instinctively that he would be out of his element. “I am determined not to be sheriff unless Parliament be dissolved before midsummer,” he informed his daughter soon after he had made his debut in the Guildhall, wisely regarding the shrievalty as a matter of minor consequence. At that moment, however, there was no other career to occupy his restless energy, and it seemed probable that the Government would remain in office for another five years. Fearing, perhaps, that he might fall into obscurity, he allowed his new friends to persuade him to join in the struggle against the court party in the city. It was a fall as stupendous as that of Lucifer! In descending from imperial to local politics, Wilkes found himself involved in a hundred petty squabbles and ignoble jealousies with which he need have had no concern. Men like Sawbridge, Townsend, and Oliver, to whom he was immeasurably superior in wisdom and intelligence, would have accepted him as their political leader without question instead of regarding him as an unwelcome rival, had he not invaded their own special domain. It was a tactical error of the greatest magnitude and the only one that Wilkes ever made.
Excerpt from Life of John Wilkes by Horace Bleackley – 1907
Chapter 15 The Shrievalty
Further Reading and External Links
The National Archives – The second half of the 18th century saw a flowering of ideas concerning popular rights. In the 1760s, many of these concern John Wilkes MP.
Remember John Wilkes
The radical, journalist and politician, John Wilkes, is remembered by a statue on Fetter Lane in the City of London.
John Wilkes on Google Books