This is a guest post by Fergus Butler-Gallie, an Anglican ordinand at Westcott House, Cambridge.
It was noted in the 1930s that the only three people whose opinion actually mattered were the editor of the Times, the Prime Minister, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the age of Twitter, where, in terms of the importance of opinions, to quote W.S. Gilbert, “everyone is somebody, and no one’s anybody”, we can no longer make such a claim for John Witherow, Theresa May and Justin Welby. However, these modern day incarnations of the Third, Second, and First Estates of the Ancien Regime are, undeniably, the pre-eminent types for the worlds of Press, State, and Church.
Much that his worthy and weighty has been written about the respective relationships between Press-State and Church-State relations – this short offering is not one of them. Instead it is a whirlwind tour of how an often confused and disinterested press has chosen to present that ultimate representative of the First Estate – the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Pictures are said to speak a thousand words and so, in the interest of brevity, humour, and to spare the reader repetitions of austere editorials ad nauseam, it is a study conducted entirely through analysis of press cartoons. How the incumbent of the Chair of Augustine has been portrayed has, inevitably, varied through the years, but the fact that the Primate of All England has always been, and remains, a figure worthy of portrayal by the cartoonist’s pen is, perhaps, some evidence that there’s life in the First Estate yet.
Our story begins with Archbishop Laud. The Puritans, though vigorous in their campaigning against religious imagery, were more than prepared to make use of secular imagery to mock ‘The Dwarf of Canterbury’.
Laud is portrayed as the worst of three degrees in the first image, where his attempt to assure a uniformity of liturgy was met by accusations of devilry from Puritanical fanatics.
In the second of our Laud cartoons, he’s offered a cardinal’s hat in exchange for a deal with the devil whilst being hemmed in by a butler peddling wine on the left and a salesman proffering the trappings of Romish worship on the right. With Church networking, strong drink, and an abundance of ecclesial paraphernalia, scholars have reason to believe this cartoon was the inspiration years later for the structure of General Synod.
Later archbishops managed to keep a tighter grip on the printing press, and there are tantalisingly few publicly available cartoons of archbishops until the 19th century, when the Church’s failings on issues of discipline, the Anglican Communion, and quibbles over doctrine piqued the interest of the Victorian satirical press. Plus ςa change, eh? Punch was at the forefront of this.
Our third cartoon is a satire on that favourite press topic – the Lambeth Conference. Mr Punch delivers the manifold problems of the infant Anglican Communion to Archbishop Charles Longley, here seen as a washerwoman with a mortarboard, who is trying to wash everything clean in the miracle soap of Mission. Truly there is nothing new under God’s sun – there is ever another Lambeth Conference one imagines, and whoever then occupies Longley’s place could be portrayed in exactly the same way.
The next scandal for cartoonists to focus on was ritualism and the failure to enforce discipline on clergy who broke the Church’s rules after widespread popular support for the mischief makers. No parallels here then, either. Here Archbishop Tait is portrayed as a shepherd desperately trying to stop the Ritualist black sheep from jumping the fence to Rome.
Below is a selection of more recent archbishops portrayed in various ways. There’s nowhere near enough room to include all of them, so here’s a few edited highlights:
Robert Runcie is here portrayed as driving a sort of gothic tour bus towards Gomorrah containing the General Synod, indicating, perhaps, a wider biblical knowledge as well as a deeper social conservatism among readers of the tabloids than might be expected today.
Runcie, renowned for his distinctive voice and the occasional banality of his statements, was often portrayed in ovine form. In this fifth image by Peter Brookes in the Times, Runcie is portrayed giving a sound-bite to a tape recorder in a puddle.
Fascinatingly, there are very few cartoons of George Carey on the internet. Perhaps the rigour of the King’s College London Student Union has extended to the internet as well as the University buildings, and the 103rd Archbishop’s views are considered unacceptable for a 21st-century Google search…
Rowan Williams was portrayed in a number of ways. Below we see the image largely proliferated in Church circles today: the 104th successor to St Augustine is beardy, erudite, prophetic, and, ineffectual. Whether he’s portrayed as Noah, Dr Who, or St Sebastian, the images of the black-clad Tait or diabolical Laud could not be further from the hirsute, bumbling academic whose comments on Communion affairs, climate change and Islam were seized upon by bishops and press alike, as portrayed in these images from the Guardian and Telegraph:
Yet Williams was not exclusively portrayed like this. When it suited various cartoonists, he could be portrayed as more of a ‘hard man’. Below, his attacks on David Cameron over tax rates see him portrayed as a daring Robin Hood, and his role in the Lords sees him portrayed (albeit in a Humanist magazine) as an authoritarian slave driver.
The appointment of Justin Portal Welby in 2012 marked a new era in ecclesiastical cartooning. Initially, given his relative outsider status, cartoonists were unsure of how to depict Welby. A number of publications picked up on his Etonian schooling, principally because looking up and portraying HTB was probably considered too complex. Here he’s portrayed, variously, as a slice of cheese, calling for his fag, and, finally, with a number of O.E members of the then government, in a very handsome triple-decker pulpit.
However, cartoonists soon realised that Welby is a considerably more sophisticated and complex figure:
His stringent opposition to government benefit changes was picked upon, as was his condemnation of Wonga. There’s a noticeable change from previous archbishops who, from Geoffrey Fisher onwards, were largely portrayed as Dick Emery’s vicar characters writ large – bumbling and ineffectual. By contrast, whether it’s marching to a song about ‘Bums on Pews’ or rebuking Iain Duncan Smith in the guise of Pontius Pilate, a much more formidable figure has emerged.
This was a trend that, ironically began with Rowan Williams (as in the Robin Hood cartoon above). Perhaps it’s an acknowledgement that the 21st-century looks set to be more religious than ever, and that, perhaps, whether he’s pictured in cope or lawn sleeves; depicted as Our Lord or as a slice of brie, the opinion and the figure of the Archbishop of Canterbury does matter to the press after all.