London Metropolitan Archives - Item Details


Date of Creation:


Reference Code:


Scope and Content:
  • Papers of John Wilkes, politician, including a narrative of events concerning his controversial political weekly "North Briton"; and letters from Wilkes regarding his political and social life and views, the Buckinghamshire militia and the pistol duel he fought with Lord Talbot, lord steward of the royal household, over an insult in the "North Briton".
Extent: 7 production units.
Former Reference: MS 02739, 02892, 14173- 14176, 31900
Site Location: London Metropolitan Archives
Level of Description:

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Administrative History:
  • John Wilkes was born in Clerkenwell in 1725. He was educated at the University of Leiden from 1744, where he developed life-long habits of vice and profligacy. In 1747 he returned to England to enter into an arranged marriage. The dowry was the manor of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. In London Wilkes was admitted to several clubs and moved in intellectual circles, while in Aylesbury he participated in local administration as a magistrate. In 1757 he stood for the Aylesbury Parliamentary seat in an uncontested by-election. In 1761 he again won the seat by bribing the voters. Wilkes began to write anonymous political pamphlets and in 1762 he established a political weekly, the "North Briton" which was highly critical of the Prime Minister Lord Bute and his successor, George Greville. In November 1763 the "North Briton" was declared to be seditious libel, leaving Wilkes exposed to punitive legal action. At the same time he was badly injured in a pistol duel with another MP. Wilkes fled to Paris to escape legal proceedings and was expelled from Parliament.

    In January 1764 Wilkes was convicted for publishing the "North Briton". He was summoned to appear at the court of the king's bench and when he failed to appear was outlawed. Wilkes therefore stayed abroad for four years as returning to England would mean imprisonment. In Paris he moved in intellectual circles and was praised as a champion of freedom, however, he was accruing serious debts. Between 1766 and 1767 he made brief return visits to London, hoping to be pardoned. In 1768 he returned permanently, living under a false name. He announced that he would attend the king's bench when the court next met, and declared his intention to run for Parliament. He contested for the Middlesex seat and ran a superbly organised campaign backed by popular enthusiasm, winning the seat in March by 1292 votes to 827.

    Wilkes was immediately expelled from Parliament as it was assumed he would be imprisoned when he attended court in April. The decision was reversed as it was feared that Wilkes' supporters would riot. In June Wilkes was sentenced to two years imprisonment in the King's Bench Prison. On 3 February 1769 he was again expelled from Parliament, only to be re-elected on 16 February in a by-election. He was expelled again but again re-elected in March, only to be expelled. At the April by-election Parliament produced a rival candidate who was soundly defeated, but nevertheless was awarded the Parliamentary seat. The resulting controversy forced the Prime Minister to resign.

    Released in 1770 Wilkes stood for election as alderman for the Ward of Farringdon Without in the City of London. In 1771 he was elected Sheriff and in 1774 Lord Mayor. In the same year he was again elected to the Parliamentary seat for Middlesex. He held this seat until 1790. In 1779 he became the City of London Chamberlain and after leaving Parliament concentrated on this post until his death in 1797.
Creator: Wilkes | John | 1725-1797 | politician
Copyright: City of London
Source of Acquisition:
  • Ms 2892 was donated to Guildhall Library in 1929 and was catalogued by a member of Guildhall Library staff in the same year. The provenance of Ms 03332 is not known; it was catalogued in 1936. Ms 14173-6 were bought by Guildhall Library from Sotheby's in 1970, and were catalogued in the same year. Ms 31900 was purchased by Guildhall Library and transferred to the Manuscripts Section in 2001. The Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section merged with the London Metropolitan Archives in 2009.
Access Restrictions: These records are available for public inspection, although records containing personal information are subject to access restrictions under the UK Data Protection Act, 2018
Arrangement: Records arranged by MS number, assigned during cataloguing at the Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section.
Related Material: For further material relating to John Wilkes see ACC/0967, ACC/0993 and CLC/253.