Napoléon Bonaparte ('Maniac-ravings - or - little Boney in a strong fit - ')

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Napoléon Bonaparte ('Maniac-ravings - or - little Boney in a strong fit - ')

by and published by James Gillray
hand-coloured etching, published 24 May 1803
10 3/8 in. x 13 7/8 in. (262 mm x 353 mm) plate size; 11 1/4 in. x 14 3/4 in. (285 mm x 376 mm) paper size
Purchased, 1947
Reference Collection
NPG D12811

Sitterback to top

  • Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821), Emperor of France 1804-14. Sitter associated with 91 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • James Gillray (1756-1815), Caricaturist. Artist or producer associated with 887 portraits, Sitter in 7 portraits.

This portraitback to top

War between Britain and France had resumed only a week before this caricature was published. It followed Britain's refusal to evacuate Malta and fears of a French invasion of Egypt. Napoleon Bonaparte, called 'Little Boney', is shown stamping in fury with words swirling around his head, condemning the British press and Parliament and threatening a large-scale invasion. Napoleon's short temper had become notorious after an outburst during a meeting with the British Ambassador Lord Whitworth, to whom the print is dedicated. The evolution of Gillray's representation of Napoleon cleverly kept pace with national feeling. At first a strapping Republican commander, his physical stature became increasingly diminutive as he posed more of a threat to Britain. 'Little Boney' was finally born in a print of January 1803. It was to become one of Gillray's most enduring creations and was much copied by other satirists.

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Events of 1803back to top

Current affairs

The Vice Society is formally established by John Reeves and his associates to campaign against blasphemy and immorality, particularly that perpetrated by Thomas Paine and the Edinburgh Review.

Art and science

Erasmus Darwin's Temple of Nature published posthumously. A scientific treaty in the form of an elaborate couplet poem, its content anticipated some of the evolutionary ideas developed by his grandson, Charles Darwin, fifty years later.
Construction of the Caledonian Canal begins.


War with France resumes, sparking new fears of a cross-channel invasion.
United Irishman, Robert Emmett's attempted uprising in Dublin. Planned to coincide with Napoleon's expected invasion, it aimed to overthrow the English administration but ended in failure. Emmett is hanged along with several other conspirators.

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