John Wilkes (1725-1797) was the son of Israel Wilkes, a wealthy distiller, and Mary Heaton. Marked out by his parents for the life of a gentleman, in 1757 he was elected to Parliament for Aylesbury thanks to the interest of his friend, Thomas Potter, and the Grenville faction. Wilkes was initially disappointed with his reception in the Commons. He proved a poor orator and was overlooked for ministerial posts.
Turning to journalism, he found his metier as a propagandist. In 1762 he launched a paper, the 'North Briton', aimed at countering the policy of the administration headed by the Scottish Earl of Bute to make peace with France. Bute resigned and was replaced with Wilkes’s erstwhile patron, George Grenville (1712-1770).
Wilkes continued his campaign but in issue No. 45 he went too far and criticized the King directly. The result was the issuing of a general warrant seeking the arrest of the authors and publishers. Wilkes successfully claimed his privilege as an MP to secure his release but soon after fell foul of separate actions against him. He was forced to go into exile, remaining abroad for the next five years.
(John Wilkes: a friend to liberty? is based on text written by Dr Robin Eagles of the History of Parliament.)