John Bull

30 Jun, 2022 940 History of Europe

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origin of this personification of the English everyman and his development as both British and Britain in the following centuries. He first appeared along with Lewis Baboon (French) and Nicholas Frog (Dutch) in 1712 in a pamphlet that satirised the funding of the War of the Spanish Succession. The author was John Arbuthnot (1667-1735), a Scottish doctor and satirist who was part of the circle of Swift and Pope, and his John Bull was the English voter, overwhelmed by taxes that went not so much into the war itself but into the pockets of its financiers. For the next two centuries, Arbuthnot’s John Bull was a gift for cartoonists and satirists, especially when they wanted to ridicule British governments for taking advantage of the people’s patriotism.

The image above is by William Charles, a Scottish engraver who emigrated to the United States, and dates from 1814 during the Anglo-American War of 1812.

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  • Judith Hawley 13 episodes
    Professor of 18th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Miles Taylor No other episodes
    Professor of British History and Society at Humboldt, University of Berlin
  • Mark Knights 3 episodes
    Professor of History at the University of Warwick

Reading list

  • The History of John Bull
    John Arbuthnot (eds Robert A. Erickson and Alan A. Bower) (Oxford University Press, 1976) Google Books →
  • Satire, Lies and Politics: The Case of Dr Arbuthnot
    Conal Condren (Palgrave Macmillan, 1997) Google Books →
  • Defining John Bull: Political Caricature and National Identity in Late Georgian England
    Tamara L. Hunt (Routledge, 2003) Google Books →
  • Representation and Misrepresentation in Later Stuart Britain: Partisanship and Political Culture
    Mark Knights (Oxford University Press, 2006) Google Books →
  • The Power of Laughter and Satire in Early Modern Britain, 1500-1820
    Mark Knights and Adam Morton (eds.) (Boydell & Brewer, 2017) Google Books →
  • Englishness Identified: Manners and Character, 1650-1850
    Paul Langford (Oxford University Press, 2000) Google Books →
  • The English National Character: The History of an Idea from Edmund Burke to Tony Blair
    Peter Mandler (Yale University Press, 2006) Google Books →
  • Beef and Liberty: Roast Beef, John Bull and the English Nation
    Ben Rogers (Chatto and Windus, 2003) Google Books →
  • John Bull and the Iconography of Public Opinion in England c.1712-1929
    Miles Taylor
  • Georgian John Bull
    Adrian Teal

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Auto-category: 941 (British history)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, John Bull, Louis Baboon and Nicholas Frog first appeared in 1712 in a pamphlet that satirised the funding of the War of the Spanish Succession.