Reviled as a traitor, a rake, a libertine and a prankster, John Wilkes must be one of the most colourful characters ever to have sat in the House of Commons. A fierce defender of individual liberties and the freedom of the press, Wilkes's persistent attacks on King George III (who called him "that devil Wilkes") and the abuse of parliamentary privileges did much to invigorate popular radicalism in his day. He supported the American colonists, was refused entry to Parliament on three occasions, and when his newspaper the "North Briton" attacked the King's ministers, a General Warrant was issued for his arrest and Wilkes was forced to flee to Paris. His personal life was even more extraordinary. Notoriously ugly, he was confident of his ability to charm any woman. A member of the infamous Hellfire Club and a wit who crossed swords with Dr Johnson, his "Essay on Women", a satire on Pope, was proclaimed libellous. Although in later life he became more conservative - he opposed the French Revolution - Wilkes always championed the concepts of freedom and democracy. Raymond Postgate's biography brings his complex and sometimes contradictory character vividly to life.
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