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‘Sawney’s Defence’: Anti-Catholicism, Consumption and Performance in 18th-Century Britain

Danielle Thom

Assistant Curator, Prints, V&A


This article examines an 18th-century English transfer-printed quart mug, printed with an image derived from a popular anti-Catholic satire from about 1779. The article explores the relationship between object, image and audience, locating the mug within a nexus of Protestant masculine sociability that extended across the social hierarchy. Drawing upon existing forms of printed polemic, the mug shaped and was shaped by extra-Parliamentary political action, primarily in the form of toasting. This opened up possibilities for representation beyond those embedded in print culture, bringing a crucial performative element to an otherwise fixed point of polemical reference.


Despite the appealingly progressive narrative of ‘the Enlightenment’, the 18th century was not a period of homogenous religious toleration. In Protestant Britain, deist intellectuals such as Edward Gibbon and David Hume faced criticism and exclusion from university posts; while a fear of Catholic resurgence was still to be found outside the political elite, among the middling and poorer people, particularly in England.(1) An attempt by the ruling Whig party to emancipate Catholics from many legal restrictions, in 1778, caused a public uproar, and ultimately led to a riot in Edinburgh in February 1779, and the hugely destructive Gordon Riots in London, in June 1780.(2)

Quart mug

Figure 1. Quart mug, unknown maker, London or Liverpool, about 1779, transfer-printed creamware. Museum no. CIRC.70-1959. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The phenomenon of British anti-Catholicism was not purely sectarian or religiously informed, but intersected with questions of national identity, gender, class and consumption. In this article, I will use a ceramic mug in the collection of the V&A (fig. 1, CIRC.70-1959), as a lens through which to examine these questions, and their relationship to anti-Catholicism. In the first section, I examine the materiality of the mug: its manufacture, likely use, dissemination and location in wider networks of ceramic consumption and print culture. Secondly, I offer a close reading of the image printed on the mug, and interpret this in the context of 18th-century discourses on masculinity, religion and nationalism. Finally, I use the findings of the close reading process to assert that this object is indicative of a shared Anglo-Scottish, Protestant, masculine attitude towards British identity, which was manifested through shared rituals, polite social networks and their consumption of material goods. This attitude, and the object which represents it, crossed to some extent the divisions of class and social status, drawing upon older models of masculine sociability to bring together a demotic lexicon of anti-Catholic symbolism with bourgeois and elite male drinking rituals. In asserting this, I also claim that extra-parliamentary political participation was not merely augmented by the use of appropriately decorated objects, but that it was shaped by such usage; the objects themselves becoming ‘a tool as well as a site of discourse’.(3)

A transfer-printed quart mug: materiality and consumption

This ceramic is identifiable as a quart mug. Its dimensions (a diameter of 11 cm and height of 15.2 cm) suggest that it was designed to hold a ‘Treasury quart’, laid down by Act of Parliament in 1698 to standardise the retail of ale and beer.(4) Other printed 18th-century mugs in the V&A’s collection have similar dimensions, suggesting that this was a conventional shape and style.(5) The likelihood that such mugs were used for the consumption of beer, rather than wine, spirits or hot ‘soft’ drinks, is further suggested by a comic poem published in 1776: Ode on the Breaking of a China Quart Mug Belonging to the Buttery of Lincoln College, Oxford.(6) The anonymous author appears to allude to beer as he describes ‘how oft my Quart / Has sooth’d my care and warm’d my heart? / When barley lent its balmy aid / and all its liquid charms display’d! / When orange and the nut-brown toast / Swam mantling round the spicy coast!’. Barley, of course, is a key component in the brewing of beer.

Manufactured in creamware (a fine, light version of earthenware), it is transfer-printed with a scene taken from a satirical print published in 1779, and was itself probably produced around 1779-80 in order to capitalise on the events it references. It is possible that the printing, if not the firing of the ceramic, was done by the Liverpool firm of Sadler and Green, who pioneered the printing of satirical and sentimental images onto square tiles, as well as printing Wedgwood’s early wares under contract.(7) The print, titled Sawney’s Defence Against the Beast, Pope, Whore, and Devil, depicts the allegorical forces of Catholicism ranged in opposition to ‘Sawney’, a Scottish soldier in the British army (fig. 2).

Sawney’s Defence Against the Beast, Pope, Whore and Devil

Figure 2. Sawney’s Defence Against the Beast, Pope, Whore and Devil, print, unknown artist, London, 1778, etching. Museum no. 1868,0808.4588.+. © The Trustees of the British Museum, London

The relationship between the print and ceramic industries in the later 18th century is not entirely clear. Landscape and generic sentimental scenes were often taken from drawing books issued for that purpose by publishers, such as that issued by the publisher John Bowles in November 1756; from which images appear on printed wares by Worcester, by Cockpit Hill (Derby), and on tiles by Sadler and Green.(8) However, satirical images were not usually collated in this way. Books of satirical vignettes and caricature faces were published with the amateur artist in mind, such as Mary Darly’s A Book of Caricaturas, from around 1762-3, but volumes of collected satires do not appear to have been distributed with the express purpose of providing material for professional copyists.(9) It is difficult to establish whether those satirical images which were adapted for ceramic printing were selected on the basis of their sales figures, their aesthetic qualities, or their topical timeliness.

Also unclear is the issue of copyright and image ownership: were satirical prints reproduced with permission and encouragement, or were they simply copied or, as is the case with this object, adapted and simplified without reference to the print publisher? The visual differences between the original print on paper, and its iteration on this mug (which will be investigated later in this article), do suggest that such images were redesigned and re-engraved for the purposes of transfer printing onto ceramics, in part to adapt the scale of the two-dimensional print to the size and curvature of the mug. Other mugs of this type also show simplification of the images on which they are based; for example, one in the V&A’s collection, printed with a copy of Tythe in Kind, or the Sow’s Revenge, eliminates the trees and other background details present on paper.(10)

Before analysing the image on the mug, and comparing it to the original print on paper, it is worth considering how transfer-printed ceramics were produced and distributed. Thinking about technique and dissemination is a useful strategy for understanding the significance of an object such as this, and goes some way toward answering questions such as: who would have bought this object? How might it have been displayed? How rare or common might it have been? Creamware, developed in the Staffordshire Potteries during the 1740s, became a popular material for mid-range ceramics, thanks in no small part to its promotion by Josiah Wedgwood. More refined than earlier types of earthenware, but less expensive than porcelain, it was marketed as ‘Queen’s Ware’ or ‘pearl ware’, making it an aspirational purchase for the middle-class home.(11) Transfer-printing, meanwhile, was likely a Birmingham or a Liverpool invention, for which several patents were applied during the 1750s.(12) It involved an engraved copper plate of the type used for printing on paper, which was coated in linseed oil and then wiped down, leaving just a trace of oil in the engraved grooves of the plate. The method probably used to produce this mug required a thin and flexible sheet of gelatin pressed onto the copperplate, which would pick up the lines of oil that formed the image. This sheet was then rolled onto the glazed surface of the ceramic to transfer the oil. Ground powder would then be lightly applied to the ceramic, sticking to the oil and making the image visible, before the surface was cleaned and fired to make the image stick.(13)

Such wares were popular and relatively cheap. Printed creamware punchbowls, for example, retailed between two and five shillings – affordable to someone on a middling income above £100 per annum, but beyond the reach of a labourer or servant on £10-50 per annum.(14) This is in line with the values of stolen china quart mugs cited in criminal proceedings of the wider period; china mugs were rarer in theft proceedings than their more valuable silver counterparts, but when referenced they are priced between four and five shillings.(15) Other printed wares included plates, teapots and tiles, as well as mugs, produced in Staffordshire, Yorkshire, Liverpool and London.(16) They were functional and durable as well as decorative, and could be an attractive way for an individual to declare his or her beliefs and tastes to any visitor or friend when displayed in the home; although they did not constitute the most up to date, elite-led fashion in the manner of Wedgwood’s neoclassical wares.(17) In addition to the domestic interior, printed ceramic drinking vessels could be found in taverns and inns, allowing the proprietor to influence the conversation and custom of their establishment. Karen Harvey notes that printed and painted punchbowls were frequently found in commercial inns and taverns; I argue that quart mugs, another common drinking vessel, would also have been found there in printed form.(18)

Between around 1770 and 1800, satirical prints were a popular source for such transfer-printed decoration, reflecting the concerns and cultural discourses of the day, as were portraits, fashionable landscapes, sentimental scenes and patriotic events and heroes.(19) Before the development of transfer printing, other forms of political ceramics had been produced and sold throughout the 18th century – and earlier – with painted bowls and mugs manufactured to commemorate significant victories or movements. Admiral Vernon’s victory over the Spanish at Porto Bello, in 1739, prompted a flurry of polemical ceramics, as well as prints, bowls and medals.(20) Ditto the defeat of the 1745 Jacobite uprising, which was similarly inflected with anti-Catholic prejudice.(21) However, it was not until the expansion of transfer printing and the reproduction of satirical prints that new forms of interaction between audience, image and object became possible, as will become clear in the final section of this article.

Decorative ceramics were an important component of the 18th-century home. The purchase of small and decorative ceramics was perceived as the province of women, in their capacity as domestic managers and taste makers.(22) The acquisition and display of such objects constituted part of the narrative of respectable politeness in the 18th century; that is to say, the refinement of an individual’s comportment and surroundings, without ostentation or excessive formality.(23) Decorative ceramics were intrinsically linked with the development of drinking cultures, predominantly feminine cultures situated around the tea table. As Harvey notes, these objects were ‘the kernel of a new set of social practices centred on non-commercial sociability orchestrated by leisured women’.(24)

The Sawney mug disrupts this narrative. Its rather crude iconography and political context prevents it from being treated as a straightforwardly decorative object, and its function as a vessel for holding beer or ale inscribes it as an object with masculine associations. This is not to suggest that consumption of beer was limited to men in this period, nor was the tavern or alehouse socially coded as the exclusive preserve of men.(25) And yet, ‘certain ceramic objects, such as the smoking pipe, had strong associations with men’, and it is possible that a politically inflected mug such as this was one such object.(26) The likelihood that this mug was used for the performance of political toasts is suggestive of male use. Toasting, which is discussed in the final section of this article in the context of anti-Catholicism, was a predominantly male ritual, performed in clubs, associations, and masculine environments such as military or naval dinners.(27) While it is difficult to establish the gender of this object’s purchaser with any certainty, its polemical and political imagery, and function related to these, implies masculine usage. As Matthew McCormack has argued, the concept of the independent man was a key component of political participation in this period, with the performance of politicised actions construed as a means of asserting masculinity.(28)

As a vessel for the consumption of alcohol, potentially found within a public tavern or alehouse, the Sawney mug also connotes the possibility of drunkenness and its attendant dangers. While the ritualised consumption of alcohol was seen as a legitimate component of social interaction, actual drunkenness connoted impoliteness and an inability to control oneself – witness, for example, Lord Chesterfield’s frequent imprecations against it in his Letters to his Son.(29) As Dana Rabin notes, the moral and social implications of drunkenness were stratified by class in the 18th century, whereby the intoxication of the wealthy was seen as a private failure, but that of the poor was seen as a danger to the existing social order.(30) In light of this, we can regard the Sawney mug and its probable usage as existing on the threshold between acceptable, indeed necessary political performance, engendered by its imagery, and taboo loss of personal control and – by extension – independence, engendered by its function.

A mug and a message: nationalism, gender and social status

Sawney in the Boghouse

Figure 3. Sawney in the Boghouse, print, unknown artist, London, 1745, etching. Museum no. 1858,0417.511. © The Trustees of the British Museum, London

So, what of the imagery? The reproduction of the print on the mug can be read by following it counter-clockwise around the exterior of the mug, mimicking the left-to-right orientation of the print itself. Following that orientation, we first come across Sawney, the Scots soldier, who is recognisable by his uniform coat and plaid kilt. The origin of ‘Sawney’ as a nickname for the stereotypical Scot has its roots in the legend of Sawney Bean.(31) The development of Sawney as a tropic representation of the Scotsman in print culture slightly predates the appearance of John Bull, his English counterpart, first appearing in Sawney in the Boghouse (1745, fig. 3).(32) Before the publication of Sawney’s Defence, he was always presented in prints as a negative stereotype: boorish, violent and uncivilised. Here Sawney stands with his sword drawn in a defensive posture, holding in his other hand a pike from which the Union flag flies (fig. 4). Sawney is positioned to the left of the River Tweed (demarcating the border between Scotland and England), and is approached by a figure in clerical bands, and a bishop. On the right-hand side of the river, the Pope in his three-tiered Papal tiara, and a man in a wig and ministerial sash, stand in conversation. The minister is not identified by name, but may perhaps represent the Earl of Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice (1756-88) and a noted public sympathiser to Catholic emancipation; alternatively, he may be Edward Thurlow, Lord Chancellor (1778-92) and another proponent of official religious tolerance.(33) It is interesting to note that the he wears a long wig in a style not fashionable since the early 1760s, and does not resemble any other politician involved in the passage of the Papists’ Act of 1778, which would have released Catholics from their legal incapacity to own land, keep a school or join the Army.(34)

Detail of quart mug

Figure 4. Detail of quart mug, unknown maker, London or Liverpool, about 1779, transfer-printed creamware. Museum no. CIRC.70-1959. © Danielle Thom/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

To the right again, a seven-headed allegorical beast is ridden by the Whore of Babylon – here, a fashionable woman in court dress – who tramples the figure of John Bull underfoot, symbolising the oppression which Englishmen would suffer under a liberated Catholic Church. The Whore of Babylon was an atavistic figure, her anti-Catholic connotations harking back to the 16th-century Reformation – most notably, the 1534 and 1545 editions of Martin Luther’s vernacular German Bible contained a woodcut depicting her riding the seven-headed beast and wearing a papal tiara. She was briefly resurgent in English print culture around 1780, represented in anti-Catholic images such as that discussed here, and The Whore of Babylon’s Caravan with a cargo of Popish Blessings.(35) The beast and its rider are a direct reference to biblical passages in the Book of Revelations, which describes a beast with seven heads, ten horns and the feet of a bear.(36) The seven-headed beast is equated in Revelations with the Antichrist, which in early Protestant thought was considered the personification of the Catholic Church.(37) It can be interpreted as a reference to the Seven Hills of Rome, as well the Hydra of Herculean legend, suggesting the pernicious and invincible nature of the papacy.(38)

On the Sawney mug, she not only suggests the perceived immorality and corruption of the Church but, depicted as a woman of fashion and possibly a courtesan or prostitute, also underlines gender tensions of the period. With reference to the idea, persistent until the later 18th century, that women were inherently deceitful and, if left unchecked, prey to lustful urges, the Whore of Babylon stands proxy for female influence and sexual allure.(39) The lone female figure in an otherwise male-only scene, she plays on heterosexual male fears of luxury, effeminacy and moral degeneration, also associated with the Catholic Church. Indeed, the association between Catholicism and prostitution was a well-established one in 18th-century English visual culture, with prints celebrating the figures of the ‘nun’ and ‘abbess’ as euphemisms for prostitutes and procuresses respectively.(40)

Over the heads of all these figures, a winged devil flies in Sawney’s direction, clutching a crown. The message is explicit: Catholicism is equated with Satan, an evil practice rather than a simple confessional alternative to Protestantism, and threatens the Hanoverian succession of staunchly Protestant kings. Specifically, the image on this mug responds to the mooted extension of the Papists Act to Scotland, hence the focus on Sawney as the recipient of religious attentions.(41) Considering this object in the broader context of 18th-century Anglo-Scottish relations, it marks the shift from an English view of Scotland as a hotbed of sedition and Jacobitism, to an integral part of Protestant Britain.(42) Only three decades had passed since the Jacobite uprising of 1745, in which the Catholic Prince Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of the deposed James II, had led Scottish troops in an attempt to restore the Stuart line to the British throne.(43) It was only ten years since the radical politician John Wilkes had used recent memories of Jacobite rebellion to foment opposition against the Scottish politician Lord Bute, with popular prints of the day using the character of Sawney as a thuggish and uncivilised symbol of Scottishness.(44)

Here, then, the positive representation of Sawney as a Protestant figure – his aggression channelled legitimately into the British Army – indicates a significant change in English views of Scotland and Scottishness from the 1770s onwards. This change did not constitute an English acceptance of Scottish difference, but rather the co-existence of Scottishness alongside the wider entity that was Britain; its culture and distinct traditions eventually being diluted into a romantic and picturesque narrative.(45) What is also noteworthy about Sawney, aside from his Scottishness, is his class status. He was presented as an impoverished figure, as in Sawney in the Boghouse, initially as a means of alluding to the poverty and poor farming conditions of the Scottish Highlands; but on this mug he transcends these limitations to become a kind of Protestant folk hero, in contrast to his earlier, Catholic connotations. While his status as a private soldier does not permit him to escape his lower-class identity, it does enable him to inhabit a kind of patriotic Britishness alongside his Scottish roots.(46) The development of Highland dress, in the later 18th century, as an elite symbol of martial and cultural allegiance to Britain may have influenced this shift.(47) This intersection of religion, class and nationality is crucial to understanding the significance of this image located on a drinking vessel, as opposed to the original print from which it was derived.

A comparison of the mug with a surviving copy of the print on which it is based reveals noticeable differences, indicating that the image has been simplified for the purposes of transfer to the smaller, three-dimensional ceramic surface. The Whore of Babylon, for example, appears in a less elaborate dress and hairstyle here, compared to the print. Many of the captions indicating speech have been removed, leaving only those few that transmit the essential message of the image. Indeed, the title of the print does not appear on the mug itself, implying that those who used or viewed it must have been familiar with the print if they were to fully engage with the mug’s message.

While the reason for this simplification was almost certainly practical, as it would have been less labour intensive and minimised the possibility of smudging and wobbling during the transfer process, it does demarcate the mug as distinct from the print, with a separate-but-related set of functions and interpretive possibilities. It is entirely possible that the owner(s) of this mug would have been familiar with the print, perhaps even owning both or being spurred to purchase one by seeing the other; but the mug opens up possibilities of performance and ritual that the print does not. It is also worth remembering that the probable price of the mug, at two to five shillings, puts it in a higher bracket of consumption than the print, the average retail price of which was 6d.(48) Prints were designed to be looked at – on a wall, in a portfolio or as single sheets – whereas drinking vessels such as this quart mug were designed to be used and handled; their physical function informing their didactic possibilities. The print would have enjoyed a wider distribution and dissemination – in addition to its more accessible price, it would have had a potential print run in the region of 2,000-3,000 copies before the copper plate needed to be re-engraved from wearing.(49) However, its relatively static mode of display and consumption would have prevented it from encompassing the range of performative possibilities encoded in the mug.

Interior detail of quart mug

Figure 5. Interior detail of quart mug, unknown maker, London or Liverpool, about 1779, transfer-printed creamware. Museum no. CIRC.70-1959. © Danielle Thom/Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The interior motif on this mug – a floral wreath enclosing the monogram ‘DD’ – is unusual, in that it has been printed (fig. 5). While personalised initials, names or inscriptions are common on 18th-century creamware, they were virtually always painted individually, as is the case with two Lowestoft porcelain mugs in the collection of the British Museum, both about 1780, painted with ‘Rob’t Haward’ and ‘Sarah Smy’ respectively.(50) The employment of printing here suggests that multiples were made with this same motif, since the production of a copperplate for a single printed monogram would have been wasteful and expensive.(51) The presence of (painted) initials would usually suggest that an object had been personal property, and was therefore used in a domestic context. Here, however, the probable duplication of the initials opens up the possibility that this mug was part of a set commissioned for a commercial inn, or possibly a club, society or other association that met for the purposes of conversation, affinity and ritual. Both were environments in which masculine toasting was expected, and which coalesced around or promoted a particular political stance. Clubs, in particular, flourished in the 1770s after steadily growing in numbers throughout the preceding century.(52) While no other multiples of this mug have been found to definitively prove that it was part of a set, it is reasonable to posit that ‘DD’ might stand for the name of a landlord, a club, or a patron. Indeed, it may represent the continuance of a ‘mug club’, the like of which flourished in the 1710s, in which ‘each member had his own mug for loyal toasts [...] as well as political and drinking songs. Principally concerned to support the Hanoverian settlement, the mug-house clubs launched fierce attacks on their Tory and Jacobite opponents’.(53) The anti-Catholic theme of Sawney’s Defence would certainly suit a club whose ideological basis was a shared opposition to Tory politics and Jacobite incursion, with its implications of tyrannical, absolutist rule and undermining of English, Protestant liberty. Another possible source for this object might be one of the many radical Wilkesite clubs which had existed since the 1760s, formed in support of the populist MP John Wilkes and his inflammatory anti-Catholic, anti-Scots rhetoric.(54)

Loyal toasts and political performance

The mug’s iconography is related to its use, and vice versa, as one shapes the other. The political and religious context of the image would have shaped the social aspect of drinking, particularly in the context of toasting, which was a codified way of publicly expressing beliefs and loyalties. Just as the consumption and display of ceramic objects could act as a confirmation of one’s politics, so too could the uses towards which those objects were put, particularly in a public or semi-public social environment. Toasting was a longstanding ritual inflected by gender and class – predominantly masculine, its significance could be determined not only by the verbal content of the toast, but also the vessels used. As Angela McShane has established, the performance of loyal toasting became enmeshed with Protestant ritual in the later 17th and early 18th centuries, with the act of toasting being regarded as almost akin to the communion sacrament. As a result, in material culture terms there was a high degree of interchangeability between the vessels used for each mode of drinking, as Protestant theologists sought to reframe communion as distinct from the Catholic sacrament with its ornate chalices.(55) In this light, we can view the Sawney mug as a kind of quasi-sacred vessel: its overt anti-Catholic imagery reinforcing any loyal Protestant toast with which it was performed. It is not unreasonable to posit that the mug would have been used to perform loyal toasts (that is to say, toasts to the King, particularly in his capacity as head of the Church of England, and to Britain). Precedents exist for matching drinking vessels to specific toasts, such as the boot-shaped glasses in the collection of the British Museum, which were used to drink damnation to the unpopular Lord Bute; the boot a verbal and visual pun on both his name and his physique.(56)

Beer, which was served in quart mugs such as the one examined here, was an inexpensive drink, served in alehouses and consumed predominantly by working people.(57) It was celebrated as such by William Hogarth in his 1751 etching, Beer Street. It also had patriotic connotations, brewed locally rather than imported – unlike wine, which could connote political sympathy for the importing nation, with Catholics and Jacobite sympathisers tending to consume smuggled French claret.(58) Thinking about the status implications of beer, and its relationship to a conception of British identity, it is possible to understand how the type of ritual drinking associated with the Sawney mug elided certain social distinctions. While beer had plebeian associations, its consumption was not necessarily incompatible with bourgeois or elite manliness, particularly as this period saw a ‘resurgence of older styles of masculinity as politeness waned at the end of the 18th century’.(59)

The possibilities that the Sawney mug was used in a gentlemanly club context, and that it represented a special commission, also point to it having been used and understood in an environment which referenced the bourgeois public sphere without fully mapping onto it. As Mark Knights points out, printed polemic (of which, I argue below, this mug constitutes an example) developed in the 18th century as a form of debate which ‘exposed the irrationality and abusive nature of a good deal of public discourse’.(60) That is to say, while the material and social contexts of loyal toasting were derived from 18th-century politeness – ceramics collecting, gentlemanly club society, Anglican ritual – the actual performance of toasting also drew heavily on older, more demotic and abusive tropes and values – the Whore of Babylon, the acceptance of potential drunkenness – in a way which did not adhere to the Habermasian conception of rational-critical discourse underpinning the development of public political debate.(61) McShane notes that social drinking, particularly toasting, was defined by ‘contrarieties of good fellowship and violence’, indicating the fluid nature of the act and the capacity for it to be situated in a broad range of social contexts.(62)

Returning to the idea that the Sawney mug constitutes an example of ‘printed polemic’, it is clear that the interaction of printed image and three-dimensional, functional object produced a discursive tool which shaped polemical debate, in addition to representing a fixed polemical message. Lifting the printed image off the page and locating it, in manipulated form, on the mug, gave it greater flexibility, and broadened the potential range of viewer-responses. The ‘mugness’ of the mug – its shape, function, commodity status – allowed the images borne on its surfaces to take on narrative qualities that informed its uses. Thus, these images took on an essentially fictitious nature, the mug presenting ‘a world of imagination and invention’ which used a nexus of historic tropes and contemporary references to ‘spread fears about phenomena that were apparent or even imagined’.(63) The exaggerated and grotesque nature of anti-Catholic polemic, represented visually on this mug and more broadly in print between 1778-80, cohered with the violence and fear manifested in public reactions to emancipation.(64) It is fitting, then, that the mug acted as a site on which polemic and social reaction could meet.

The mug and its uses support a narrative of masculine British loyalty informed by both polite social interaction and older forms of ritual. It is not clear whether the owner, whoever they were, might have been English or Scottish – there was an active consuming class in polite Lowland Scots society, and the subject matter certainly pertained to Scottish interests, given the violent response to Catholic emancipation in Edinburgh.(65) The use of Sawney, however, with his pejorative history and anti-Scottish associations, is suggestive of an English market, as is the mug’s probable place of production. Whoever the owner might have been, their possession of this ceramic is indicative of a desire on their part to own and use objects as a means of giving form and visibility to their affiliations and identity. Judging by the usual price of objects such as this one, its possessor will have been economically comfortable (either as an individual or as a business owner), with enough disposable income to spend the equivalent of a labourer’s daily wage on a decorative drinking vessel – and, perhaps, to spend more if purchasing multiples of this mug as a set.


The Sawney mug embodies many of the key developments in political visual culture which took place during the 18th century: the increasing importance of polemic; commercial intervention; wider dissemination of images; and the growth of the club as a venue for political debate and performance. At the same time, it has atavistic connotations, demonstrating the persistence of older types of image-making, and the resurgence of older types of sociability and masculinity. The mug represents, therefore, the various tensions that characterised the formation of the 18th-century middle class, in which the imperatives of feminised fashion and polite consumption competed with the masculine desire for patriotic independence and traditional modes of socialisation. It highlights the question of Scottish culture and identity in relation to England, and calls into question the longstanding status of Scotland as an enemy ‘other’, marking the shift from separate English and Scottish identities to a united Britishness. Thinking about the ways in which this object may have been consumed, owned, used and viewed, it is apparent that the performance of politics, in its broadest extra-Parliamentary sense, formed and was formed by material objects designed with this performance in mind. In this respect, Sawney’s Defence does not only comment upon anti-Catholic sentiment in 1770s Britain, but also contributes to it: its probable use as a vessel for toasting and shared social drinking making it part of an ongoing conversation between a socially broad range of groups and persons.


1. Paul Langford, A Polite and Commercial People: England 1727-1783, 2nd edn. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 549-51.

2. Colin Haydon, Anti-Catholicism in Eighteenth-Century England, c.1714-80: A Political and Social Study (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993), 212-6.

3. Mark Knights, Representation and Misrepresentation in Later Stuart Britain: Partisanship and Political Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 235.

4. British History Online, 'William III, 1698-9: An Act for the ascertaining the Measures for retailing Ale and Beer. [Chapter XV. Rot. Parl. 11 Gul. III. p. 3. n. 6.]’, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/statutes-realm/vol7/pp604-605.

5. Other V&A objects include: Tythe in Kind or The Sow's Revenge, quart mug, unknown maker, about 1785. Museum no. 3626-1901; Quart mug, unknown maker, about 1800. Museum no. 789-1899; Quart mug, unknown maker, about 1780-90. Museum no. CIRC.29-1962.

6. ‘Ode on the Breaking of a China Quart Mug belonging to the buttery of Lincoln College, Oxford’, first published in The Annual Register, vol. 19 (London: James Dodsley, 1776), 225.

7. Peter Hyland, The Herculaneum Pottery: Liverpool’s Forgotten Glory (Liverpool: National Museums Liverpool, 2005), 10-12.

8. Design, print, unknown maker, about 1760. Museum no. E.1288-1988.

9. A Book of Caricatures, Mary Darly after Leonardo Di Vinci, 1756-63. The British Museum, no. 1920,1012.7.1-60.

10. Tythe in Kind or The Sow's Revenge, quart mug, unknown maker, about 1785. Museum no. 3626-1901.

11. Hyland, The Herculaneum Pottery, 12-14.

12. Bernard Watney, ‘Petitions for Patents concerning Porcelain, Glass and Enamels with special reference to Birmingham, “The Great Toyshop of Europe”’, English Ceramic Circle: Transactions 6 (1966): 57-69.

13. David Drakard, Printed English Pottery: History and Humour in the Reign of George III (London: Jonathan Horne Publications, 1992), 30-32.

14. Karen Harvey, ‘Barbarity in a Teacup? Punch, Domesticity and Gender in the Eighteenth Century’, Journal of Design History 21 (2008): 207.

15. See: February 1751, trial of John Martin (t17510227-5); and January 1754, trial of Sarah Conyers (t17540116-28), Old Bailey Proceedings Online, version 7.2, www.oldbaileyonline.org.

16. Hyland, The Herculaneum Pottery, 11-12.

17. Langford, A Polite and Commercial People, 665-6.

18. Harvey, ‘Barbarity in a Teacup’, 207.

19. See note 5.

20. Kathleen Wilson, The Sense of the People: Politics, Culture and Imperialism in England 1715-1785 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 140-44.

21. Danielle Thom, ‘William, the Princely Youth: The Duke of Cumberland and Anti-Jacobite Visual Strategy, 1745-46’, Visual Culture in Britain 16 (2015): 269-86.

22. Amanda Vickery, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 126, 271-3.

23. Sarah Richards, Eighteenth-Century Ceramics: Products for a Civilised Society (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999), 37-42.

24. Karen Harvey, ‘Politics by Design: Consumption, Identity and Allegiance’, in Drink in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries: Perspectives in Economic and Social History, ed. by Susanne Schmid and Barbara Schmidt-Haberkamp, (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2014), 11.

25. Mark Hailwood, Alehouses and Good Fellowship in Early Modern England (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2014), 213, 225-6.

26. Harvey, ‘Politics by Design’, 20.

27. See, for example, Holger Hoock, ‘From Beefsteak to Turtle: Artists' Dinner Culture in Eighteenth-Century London’, Huntington Library Quarterly 66 (2002): 27-54. For a wider European analysis, see Heather Morrison, ‘“Making Degenerates into Men” by Doing Shots, Breaking Plates, and Embracing Brothers in Eighteenth-Century Freemasonry’, Journal of Social History 46 (2012): 48-65.

28. Matthew McCormack, The Independent Man: Citizenship and Gender Politics in Georgian England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), 33-49.

29. Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, Lord Chesterfield’s Letters, ed. by David Roberts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 48-51.

30. Dana Rabin, ‘Drunkenness and Responsibility for Crime in the Eighteenth Century’, Journal of British Studies 44 (2005): 457-77.

31. Sandy Hobbs & David Cornwell, ‘Sawney Bean, the Scottish Cannibal’, Folklore 108 (1997): 49-54.

32. Sawney in the Bog-house, print, Charles Mosley, 1745. The British Museum, no. 1858,0417.511.

33. James Oldham, ‘Murray, William, first earl of Mansfield (1705–1793)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/19655, and G. M. Ditchfield, ‘Thurlow, Edward, first Baron Thurlow (1731–1806)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/27406.

34. The Act itself was introduced to the House of Commons by the Yorkshire MP Sir George Savile, who was for a time vilified as a Catholic sympathiser. Savile’s bust by Joseph Nollekens (A.16-1942) bears no resemblance to this caricature.

35. The Whore of Babylon's Caravan, with a Cargo of Popish Blessings, print, published by William Richardson, 1780. The British Museum, no. 1868,0808.4717.

36. The Bible (King James Version), Revelations 13:1-10.

37. Bernard McGinn, Anti-Christ – Two Thousand Years of the Human Fascination with Evil (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 56.

38. McGinn, Anti-Christ, 56.

39. On the subject of female lustfulness, see the work of Laqueur, who posits that a ‘one sex’ model of the human body prevailed until the late 18th century, in which women constituted ‘inverted’ versions of men, more lustful and less rational. Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990). Though Laqueur’s thesis has been subsequently critiqued, Harvey argues that the libidinous woman remained a figure in male-oriented erotica throughout the period. Karen Harvey, Reading Sex in the Eighteenth Century: Bodies and Gender in English Erotic Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 102-4.

40. Cindy McCreery, The Satirical Gaze: Prints of Women in Late Eighteenth-Century England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 85, 134.

41. Haydon, Anti-Catholicism in Eighteenth-Century England, 212-3.

42. On the shift from Anglo-Scottish enmity to British cohesion, see Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1887 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1992). While Colley argues that Scottish identities were gradually absorbed into a homogenous, Protestant-based Britishness, Kidd counters that in fact the development of Britishness was predicated upon a shared ‘Gothic’ heritage, and that Scottish, Irish and American ethnic identities could co-exist alongside Britishness. Colin Kidd, British Identities Before Nationalism: Ethnicity and Nationhood in the Atlantic World, 1600-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).

43. James II (1633-1701) succeeded his brother Charles II in 1685. After publicly converting to Catholicism, and producing a Catholic heir, he was forced into exile during the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James’s daughter Mary, and her Protestant husband William of Orange, were invited to co-rule in his place.

44. Danielle Thom, ‘Visualising Politeness and Patriotism: the Public Sphere in English Satirical Prints, 1745-84’, (PhD thesis, University College London, 2013): 164-5.

45. See note 42.

46. Richard Holmes, Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket (London: HarperCollins, 2001), 131.

47. Matthew Dziennik, ‘Whig Tartan: Material Culture and its Use in the Scottish Highlands, 1746-1815’, Past and Present 217 (2012): 117-47.

48. Timothy Clayton, The English Print 1688-1802 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997), 118.

49. Clayton, The English Print 1688-1802, 227-8.

50. Drinking-glass, unknown maker, 18th century. The British Museum, no. 1925,0325.1.CR; Drinking-glass, unknown maker, about 1765. The British Museum, no. 1934,0117.6.CR.

51. The monogram does not match any known makers’ marks of the period.

52.  Peter Clark, British Clubs and Societies 1580-1800: The Origins of an Associational World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 128.

53. Clark, British Clubs and Societies, 73.

54. Clark, British Clubs and Societies, 99.

55. Angela McShane, ‘Material Culture and Political Drinking in Seventeenth-Century England’, Past and Present 222 (2014): 247-76.

56. Mug, Lowestoft Porcelain Factory, 1781. The British Museum, no. 1887,0307,XI.4; Mug, Factory of Robert Browne & Co., 1780. The British Museum, no. 1887,0307,XI.3.

57. Harvey, ‘Barbarity in a Teacup’, 206-7.

58. Charles Ludington, The Politics of Wine in Britain: A New Cultural History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 106-13.

59. Harvey, ‘Politics by Design’, 20.

60. Knights, Representation and Misrepresentation, 248.

61. Juergen Habermas, trans. by Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989), 27-9.

62. McShane, ‘Material Culture and Political Drinking’, 266.

63. Knights, Representation and Misrepresentation, 215, 235.

64. Haydon, Anti-Catholicism in Eighteenth-Century England, 207-8.

65. On ceramics consumption in Scotland, see Richards, Eighteenth-Century Ceramics, 127-9