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Wilkes the journalist

John Wilkes entered Parliament as MP for Aylesbury in 1757.  He lacked skills as a public speaker but made up for this through his writing and it was this which sparked political controversy and brought him into conflict with authority.  In April 1763 edition No 45 of Wilkes's publication 'The North Briton' attacked the Government and led to his arrest under a general warrant. At the same time his 'Essay on Woman',  a parody of Alexander Pope's 'Essay on Man', was branded an obscene libel by the House of Lords in an attempt to blacken him.

Wilkes's activities led to him being expelled from the House of Commons and he fled to France.  Whilst abroad he was convicted of publishing 'The North Briton' and the 'Essay on Woman' and upon his return to London in 1768 was imprisoned.

The issue of general warrants, which Wilkes had highlighted, raised real concerns in Parliament and in future they were no longer used for the arrest  of persons.


Appeal Cases and Writs of Error 1769: John Wilkes v The King



Catalogue number

Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JU/4/3/16