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Richard Brothers and the Millennium

The Prophet of the Hebrews... P.344-1948
The Prophet of the Hebrews... P.344-1948

Are you, William Pitt, to whom I wrote in May and June 1792, informing you of the consequences of this war to your country when war was not intended, so insensible to your own preservation and the benefit of your Brother, as to continue any longer a war that will involve both him and you in certain death?

Richard Brothers, A Revealed Knowledge of the Prophecies and Times - Book the Second, 1794

The Canadian-born Richard Brothers was an eighteenth-century prophet. Or as he put it himself 'God's almighty nephew'. He once signed a letter to a supporter,

the man that will be revealed to the Hebrews as their Prince, to all Nations as their Governor, according to the covenant to King David, immediately under God.

Brothers seems to have genuinely believed that he was destined to repopulate Jerusalem with the Jewish race, many of whom he discovered were living in England without realising their heritage. It may have helped his beliefs that he was born on Christmas Day, but in fact his early career seems to have been spent comparatively sanely in the Royal Navy. It was only when he settled in London in 1787 that his visions began, and, during a spell in a poorhouse, he began writing down the revelations he had received. The resulting books swiftly became best-sellers.

Brothers became especially prominent during the 1790s. A supporter of the French Revolution and fervent opponent of the war with France, he gradually attracted a sizeable and loyal following. The hardship caused by the war, and a series of poor harvests and tax increases, made his predictions of the imminent Apocalypse all the more convincing.

Although he often wrote to the leading politicians of the time, warning them of the folly of pursuing a European war, it was only in 1795 – or by Brothers' calculations the 5914th year since Creation – that he found a voice in Parliament, in the form of the M.P. Nathaniel Halhead. The two men are cited in the caption Gillray's print.

After predicting that London would topple on King George III's official birthday, 4 June 1795 – the same day that Gillray's print was published – and that he himself would succeed to the throne, Brothers was arrested, charged with treason and confined to a lunatic asylum where he spent the next eleven years.

It is his fiery, apocalyptic rhetoric that lies behind Gillray's imagery, and it is perhaps the prophet himself who is represented cowering behind the knee of Fox – detail left.

The Prophet of the Hebrews, -the Prince of Peace, conducting the Jews of the Promis'd Land
The Prophet of the Hebrews, -the Prince of Peace, conducting the Jews of the Promis'd Land

Another cartoon by Gillray, The Prophet of the Hebrews..., above [P.336-1948], is devoted entirely to this bizarre figure. Brothers, fiery horns sprouting from his head like some latter-day Moses, leads a crowd of paupers towards the Gate of Jerusalem. Squeezed into a sack on his back, marked 'Bundle of the Elect', are several anti-war politicians. Like Pitt in Presages of the Millennium..., Brothers brandishes a fiery sword and tramples his opponents underfoot. In the corner of the print, St Paul's cathedral topples into a burning City of London.

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