Guest Post – William Hogarth’s ‘The March of the Guards to Finchley’

I am delighted to welcome guest author and blogger Jeremy Bell who is going to tell you more about a couple of hidden secrets , which he’s sure that many people will not have noticed before, within Hogarth’s painting.

The March to Finchley. Courtesy of The foundling Museum
The March to Finchley. Courtesy of The foundling Museum

Much has been written about the characters in William Hogarth’s painting The March of the Guards to Finchley (1751). However, there are two figures that the artist concealed within the painting, and this is the perfect year for them both to be exposed.

In this, the tricentennial anniversary of the birth of Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), the prince and his nemesis, the Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765) have been discovered, along with details of their face-off at Culloden.

Cumberland’s Charge
Cumberland’s Charge

Take a look at the central detail in which a grenadier marches in step with his pregnant wife. They are assaulted by a Catholic woman, identified by her cross and priest-like robes. She attacks the couple with some verbal abuse and a Jacobite newspaper!

Another soldier seems to charge at her from behind and drive her back with his halberd. Although he is standing several yards behind the woman, Hogarth uses a trick of perspective to make it seem like he is running her through.

On closer inspection, this soldier’s swarthy face is similar to a portrait of the Duke of Cumberland which the protestant woman carries in her basket. It is covered by a copy of ‘God Save the King’, a reference to rumours of the Duke’s aspirations to rule.

Hogarth often employed such visual tricks (trompe l’oeil) to tell his stories. Notice how the artists darkened the place where the rolled-up newspaper seems to make contact with the soldier’s shoulder.

The publication’s full title – ‘The Remembrancer or weekly Slap in the Face of the Ministry’ had attacked the Duke in the year of the painting, by criticising his proposal for army discipline. The scene of rowdy soldiers begs for this necessary reform.

This Catholic woman represents the Jacobite forces which were camped just 100 miles away from London. Her charge being repelled by the pikeman is a premonition of the imminent conflict. The other end of the halberd axe appears to threaten the mother and child in the cart (positioned many yards behind him). I believe that this trompe l’oeil refers to the alleged atrocities that took place after the battle of Culloden.

Although these details are obvious once it is pointed out, I do not believe that anyone has written about this example of Hogarth’s storytelling. The artist also included a depiction of the leader of the Jacobite forces. How wonderful to discover several hints that identify Charles Edward Stuart in the year of his 300th birthday.

You don’t have to search long to find a miniature portrait of the Stuart prince – he is the only one looking to the North. A first account description describes him as a tall, slender, upright man. It was noted that his neck was ‘long, but not ungracefully so, …. with a slender stock buckled behind.’ This conforms to Hogarth’s tiny depiction of him.

Charles Edward Stuart
Charles Edward Stuart

Hogarth has imagined that Charles has disguised himself as a British officer. He has come down from his camp in Derby to spy on the enemy’s position. He is actually being pointed out by his accomplice who crouches behind him. This man’s red hair identifies him as a Scotsman. The bayonet that overlaps his head is another trompe that hints at the Jacobite inevitable slaughter.

A Scotsman behind Charles Edward Stuart
A Scotsman behind Charles Edward Stuart

Hogarth obfuscates the Scotsman’s finger-pointing by painting him in the act of stealing some alcohol from a barrel (that is a gimlet in his mouth). His finger-to-the-nose sign was always reported as ‘quiet don’t tell anyone.’ In this new context, he is actually telling us not to give the prince away.

Hogarth presents us with a whole line of thieves. One man steals milk from a maid, while another ‘steals’ a kiss. A third soldier points all this out to a pieman, and then steals from him in the process.

Hogarth was famous for including clever word games within his art. I wonder if he continued this line of thievery to the Scotsman (who is stealing from the barrel), and the prince who is ‘stealing away’. Commentators focus on the painter’s disrespect of the troops. However, Hogarth’s intention might have been to create this visual pun.

He who would be Charles III, is riding away from the Charles II tavern sign. In the distance we can see that Charles Edward is headed towards a barren tree – a symbol of the impending disaster that awaits the House of Stuart. It compares to a healthy tree on the other side.

Charles Edward Stuart rides towards his death
Charles Edward Stuart rides towards his death

While we, the viewer, can see this tree from our position, the branches lie just out of the prince’s sight. The symbol of his imminent defeat lies ‘just around the corner’. (My red arrow shows the prince’s sight line with the dead tree coloured in red). At this particular moment in time, Charles was still confident that he would win the day. However, the painter knows the full story. With a clever addition, Hogarth has given away the ending with a forewarning of the atrocities that will follow.

Ending on a less depressing note, I think it a wonderful coincidence that the Scottish spy who accompanies the Young Pretender looks like a character from Outlander – Jamie Fraser (played by Sam Heughan). The series, based on the wildly popular books by Diane Gabaldon, concerns time travel to the Jacobite times – here is your proof in oil!

The figure looks like Jamie Fraser from Outlander
The figure looks like Jamie Fraser from Outlander

Jeremy Bell’s book William Hogarth – A Freemason’s Harlot (2017) was written to coincide with the 300th anniversary of formation of the United Grand Lodge of England.

Over 300 illustrations show how Hogarth actually hid previously unnoticed portraits of himself within his work, along with the signs, passwords and ‘secret knocks’ of the Freemasons. It explains how Jacobite Freemasonry (which is the true original Scottish form), was used to infiltrate London gentry, and suggests that the Duke of Burlington built Chiswick Villa as a stage to welcome the return of a restored Stuart king. Indeed, the ‘failed’ waterfall at Chiswick was actually a cleverly constructed ‘carriage splash’ that would welcome ‘The King Over the Water’.

The book can be ordered via Jeremy’s website , he can also be contacted at

12 thoughts on “Guest Post – William Hogarth’s ‘The March of the Guards to Finchley’

  1. Jennifer Newbold

    I love Hogarth; his art is like the thinking man’s ‘Where’s Waldo?’ (Although he was possibly the most cynical artist of the eighteenth century.)

    Thank you for the delightful post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sarah Murden

      So do I Jennifer, there’s so much to read into to it, if you take the time to look. The closer you look, the more you can find 🙂


  2. Gretchen Gerzina

    Fascinating interpretation. But surely the “swarthy face” is actually someone of African origin? We know from David Dabydeen’s work that Hogarth frequently inserted black characters in his work as a form of social commentary. To me, any resemblance to the Duke of Cumberland is quite minimal.


    1. Thank you for your comment. You are right that Dabydeen identifies Africans in Hogarth’s work, but I do not believe Hogarth would have done this here. The first black officer in the British army served in WWI.

      Maybe the word ‘swarthy’ is not the best choice here. I have been through all my notes trying to find the citation that described Cumberland as having a dark complexion. Any Georgian Sleuths out there that can help me find this description of him?

      I do agree that this is not a great facial similarity, but that is why it has never been picked up before. There are many other hints that this is meant to be Cumberland: he is repelling the Catholic woman; a copy of his portrait is covered in the basket; both leaders are ‘hidden’.

      Another hint (that I give in my book) concerns the other end of Cumberland’s halberd axe. It threatens the woman and child in the wagon many yards behind, and ties into the ‘Butcher’ nickname.

      This ‘double-trompe’ is mirrored by the drunk soldier with the gun (far right). In one hand he threatens the Scot with a bayonet to the head, while his rifle is aimed at a man who rejoices at the Jacobite advancement, (by raising his hat to the sign of Charles II).

      Lastly, Hogarth did paint Cumberland as a young boy, and this painting has the same British flag flying behind him, just as we see here in Finchley.

      I will gladly send you a pdf of my book with even more details and I thank you for your comment.


  3. hendel12

    Wait I’m confused but William is brittish why would he put Freemanson stuff and why would he cover them what was the purpose? What was his goal? Does he hate Scottish people?
    I Literally did not expect the ending lol it actually shocked me!


    1. Hendel, Thanks for your questions.

      Hogarth was initiated into the (English) Grand Lodge in 1725. He hid nearly 100 Masonic clues within A Harlot’s Progress alone. I believe he did this to sell more prints to his ‘brothers’. He also enjoyed adding riddles to his ‘conversation pieces’.

      Yes, Hogarth hated the Scots, as did most of England at the time. They almost took London 275 years ago. It would get worse when the Earl of Bute arrived on the scene.

      But we all love Jamie Fraser! I added that bit at the end as a joke, but there is a facial similarity between these two redheads!


        1. Sorry Hendel, I meant his Masonic ‘brothers’. Freemasons call each other ‘brother’.

          Hogarth was famous for producing art that had something hidden within the painting, or maybe a some narrative between the figures that had to be worked out. This might create a conversation about the piece, hence the name of this fascinating genre.

          Nearly every painting of Hogarth’s has a little detail that has to be worked out. Many were of a Masonic nature, and I am the first to expose many of them in three centuries!

          I am hoping to reveal many of them on this wonderful site. Join me here and become a fellow Georgian Sleuth!

          Liked by 1 person

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