Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Charles James Fox (1749-1806) 1780s

Samuel Cotes 

Portrait of Charles James Fox (1749-1806), Samuel Cotes
Pastel on paper
18th Century
31 x 24 3/4 inches 78.7 x 62.9 cm
Private Collection.
Charles Fox, the son of the Henry Fox, a leading politician in the House of Commons, was born on 24th January, 1749. After being educated at Eton and Oxford University, Fox was elected to represent Midhurst in the House of Commons when he was only nineteen. At the age of twenty-one, Fox was appointed by Frederick North, the prime minister, as the Junior Lord of the Admiralty. In December 1772 Fox became Lord of the Treasury until his dismissal in 1744. Out of office, Charles Fox opposed North''s policy towards America. He denounced the taxation of the Americans without their consent. After 1780 Fox became a supporter of parliamentary reform. He advocated the disfranchisement of rotten and pocket boroughs and the redistribution of these seats to the fast growing industrial towns. When Lord Frederick North''s government fell in March 1782, Fox became Foreign Secretary in Rockingham''s Whig government. Fox left the government in July 1782, on the death of the Marquis of Rockingham as he was unwilling to serve under the new prime minister, Lord Sherburne. Sherburne appointed the twenty-three year old William Pitt as his Chancellor of the Exchequer. Pitt had been a close political friend of Fox and after this the two men became bitter enemies. When the French Revolution broke out in 1789 Charles Fox was initially enthusiastic describing it as the greatest event that has happened in the history of the world. He expected the creation of a liberal, constitutional monarchy and was horrified when King Louis XVI was executed. When war broke out between Britain and France in February 1793, Fox criticised the government and called for a negotiated end to the dispute. Although Fox''s views were supported by the Radicals, many people regarded him as defeatist and unpatriotic. Fox disapproved of the ideas of Tom Paine and criticised Rights of Man. However, he consistently opposed measures that attempted to curtail traditional freedoms. He attacked plans to suspend habeas corpus in May 1794 and denounced the trials of Thomas Muir , Thomas Hardy, John Thelwall and John Horne Tooke. Fox also promoted Catholic Emancipation and opposed the slave trade. Fox continued to support parliamentary reform but he rejected the idea of universal suffrage and instead argued for the vote to be given to all male householders. When Lord Grenville became prime minister in 1806 he appointed Charles Fox as his Foreign Secretary. Fox began negotiating with the French but was unable to bring an end to the war. After making a passionate speech in favour of the Abolition of the Slave Trade bill in the House of Commons on 10th June 1806, Fox was taken ill. His health deteriorated rapidly and he died three months later on 13th September, 1806. Samuel Cotes was the younger brother of the fashionable portraitist, Francis Cotes RA. He worked primarily in miniatures and in crayon, and enjoyed a large and successful practice.
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Charles James Fox is a figure so titanic in an understanding of late eighteenth century politics, that the observer might be forgiven for imagining that he had been Prime Minister or at the very least that he had regularly held the highest offices. This could not be further from the truth, and with the exception of a brief period as Foreign Secretary, significant position eluded him.
He remains a figure of such note, however, for particular reasons of his genius and, it must be said, of his birth. He was placed in the very heart of the Whig establishment as the son of the brilliant Henry Fox Lord Holland, Paymaster General of the Forces and Minister to King George II and Lady Caroline Lennox, daughter of the second Duke of Richmond. By the time that he came of age, in addition to the alliances and interests that his father had husbanded in his behalf, his uncle was the third Duke of Richmond, a political ally and the disposer of immense patronage.

In addition to these advantages, Fox was undeniably gifted with one of the most agile minds of his age and with an exceptionally winning personality. Only an addiction to gambling, which resulted in vast debts that his father paid unhesitatingly, hinted at the dissipation that would haunt him for the rest of his life. Unlike the shambling figure that would later be caricatured by Gillray Fox in his youth had once been known as one of London's foremost macaronis.

These convivial qualities never left Fox, and the allies who commissioned portrait busts of him where his friends and dinner companions as well as his political disciples.
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