John Bull

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World War I recruiting poster John Bull - World War I recruiting poster.jpeg
World War I recruiting poster
An earlier John Bull in which he is depicted as an actual humanoid bull. WilliamCharlesJohnnyBullAndTheAlexandrians.jpg
An earlier John Bull in which he is depicted as an actual humanoid bull.
John Bull holds the head of Napoleon Bonaparte in an 1803 caricature by James Gillray. Buonaparte, 48 hours after landing.jpg
John Bull holds the head of Napoleon Bonaparte in an 1803 caricature by James Gillray.
An 1897 editorial cartoon with John Bull, Uncle Sam, and a dog symbolising Japan from the newspaper the Hawaiian Gazette. The dog follows the "Hawaii" sausage in Uncle Sam's pocket. Uncle Sam and the Alluring Sausage of Hawaii.jpg
An 1897 editorial cartoon with John Bull, Uncle Sam, and a dog symbolising Japan from the newspaper the Hawaiian Gazette. The dog follows the "Hawaii" sausage in Uncle Sam's pocket.
A 1904 British cartoon commenting on the Entente cordiale: John Bull walking off with Marianne, turning his back on Germany. Germany GB France.gif
A 1904 British cartoon commenting on the Entente cordiale: John Bull walking off with Marianne, turning his back on Germany.

John Bull is a national personification of the United Kingdom in general and England in particular, [1] especially in political cartoons and similar graphic works. He is usually depicted as a stout, middle-aged, country-dwelling, jolly and matter-of-fact man.

National personification fictional character used to represent a country and its people.

A national personification is an anthropomorphism of a nation or its people. It may appear in editorial cartoons and propaganda.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom (UK), officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and sometimes referred to as Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north-northwest. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea lies to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.



John Bull originated as a satirical character created by Dr John Arbuthnot, a friend of Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Bull first appeared in 1712 in Arbuthnot's pamphlet Law is a Bottomless Pit. [2] The same year Arbuthnot published a four-part political narrative The History of John Bull. In this satirical treatment of the War of the Spanish Succession John Bull brings a lawsuit against various figures intended to represent the kings of France (Louis Baboon) and Spain (Lord Strutt) as well as institutions both foreign and domestic. [3]

John Arbuthnot Scottish physician, satirist and polymath in London

John Arbuthnot FRS, often known simply as Dr Arbuthnot, was a Scottish physician, satirist and polymath in London. He is best remembered for his contributions to mathematics, his membership in the Scriblerus Club, and for inventing the figure of John Bull.

Jonathan Swift 17th/18th-century Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, and poet

Jonathan Swift was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and cleric who became Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

Alexander Pope English poet

Alexander Pope was an 18th-century English poet. He is best known for his satirical verse, including Essay on Criticism, The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad, and for his translation of Homer. He is the second-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations after Shakespeare.

Originally derided, William Hogarth and other British writers made Bull "a heroic archetype of the freeborn Englishman." [2] Later, the figure of Bull was disseminated overseas by illustrators and writers such as American cartoonist Thomas Nast and Irish writer George Bernard Shaw, author of John Bull's Other Island .

William Hogarth English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic, and editorial cartoonist

William Hogarth FRSA was an English painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist, social critic, and editorial cartoonist. His work ranged from realistic portraiture to comic strip-like series of pictures called "modern moral subjects", perhaps best known being his moral series A Harlot's Progress, A Rake's Progress and Marriage A-la-Mode. Knowledge of his work is so pervasive that satirical political illustrations in this style are often referred to as "Hogarthian".

The concept of an archetype appears in areas relating to behavior, historical psychological theory, and literary analysis. An archetype can be:

  1. a statement, pattern of behavior, or prototype (model) which other statements, patterns of behavior, and objects copy or emulate.
  2. a Platonic philosophical idea referring to pure forms which embody the fundamental characteristics of a thing in Platonism
  3. a collectively-inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., that is universally present, in individual psyches, as in Jungian psychology
  4. a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting, or mythology. In various seemingly unrelated cases in classic storytelling, media, etc., characters or ideas sharing similar traits recur.

The rights of Englishmen are the perceived traditional rights of citizens of England. In the 18th century, some of the colonists who objected to British rule in the British colonies in North America argued that their traditional rights as Englishmen were being violated. The colonists wanted and expected the rights that they had previously enjoyed in England: a local, representative government, with regards to judicial matters and particularly with regards to taxation. Belief in these rights subsequently became a widely-accepted justification for the American Revolution.

Starting in the 1760s, Bull was portrayed as an Anglo-Saxon country dweller. [2] He was almost always depicted in a buff-coloured waistcoat and a simple frock coat (in the past Navy blue, but more recently with the Union Jack colours). [2] Britannia, or a lion, is sometimes used as an alternative in some editorial cartoons.

Waistcoat garment for the upper body, usually sleeveless, extending to near the waist

A waistcoat, or vest, is a sleeveless upper-body garment. It is usually worn over a dress shirt and necktie and below a coat as a part of most men's formal wear. It is also sported as the third piece in the traditional three-piece male lounge suit. Any given vest can be simple or ornate or for leisure or luxury. Historically, the vest can be worn either in the place of or underneath a larger coat dependent upon the weather, wearer, and setting.

Frock coat mens formal knee-length coat

A frock coat is a man's coat characterised by a knee-length skirt all around the base, popular during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. The double-breasted styled frock coat is sometimes called a Prince Albert after Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. The frock coat is a fitted, long-sleeved coat with a centre vent at the back, and some features unusual in post-Victorian dress. These include the reverse collar and lapels, where the outer edge of the lapel is cut from a separate piece of cloth from the main body, and also a high degree of waist suppression, where the coat's diameter round the waist is much less than round the chest. This is achieved by a high horizontal waist seam with side bodies, which are extra panels of fabric above the waist used to pull in the naturally cylindrical drape.

Union Jack national flag of the United Kingdom

The Union Jack, or Union Flag, is the national flag of the United Kingdom. The flag also has official status in Canada, by parliamentary resolution, where it is known as the Royal Union Flag. Additionally, it is used as an official flag in some of the smaller British overseas territories. The Union Flag also appears in the canton of the flags of several nations and territories that are former British possessions or dominions, as well as the state flag of Hawaii.

As a literary figure, John Bull is well-intentioned, frustrated, full of common sense, and entirely of native country stock. Unlike Uncle Sam later, he is not a figure of authority but rather a yeoman who prefers his small beer and domestic peace, possessed of neither patriarchal power nor heroic defiance. John Arbuthnot provided him with a sister named Peg (Scotland), and a traditional adversary in Louis Baboon (the House of Bourbon [4] in France). Peg continued in pictorial art beyond the 18th century, but the other figures associated with the original tableau dropped away. John Bull himself continued to frequently appear as a national symbol in posters and cartoons as late as World War I.

Uncle Sam personification of the United States and its government

Uncle Sam is a common national personification of the American government or the United States in general that, according to legend, came into use during the War of 1812 and was supposedly named for Samuel Wilson. The actual origin is by a legend. Since the early 19th century, Uncle Sam has been a popular symbol of the US government in American culture and a manifestation of patriotic emotion. While the figure of Uncle Sam represents specifically the government, Columbia represents the United States as a nation.

Yeoman Small farmer

A yeoman was a member of a social class in England and the United States. It is also a military term.

Small beer

Small beer is a lager or ale that contains a lower amount of alcohol by volume (ABV) than other beers, typically between 0.5% to 2.8%. Sometimes unfiltered and porridge-like, it was a favored drink in Medieval Europe and colonial North America against more expensive beer with higher alcohol. Small beer was also produced in households for consumption by children and servants.


Bull is usually depicted as a stout man in a tailcoat with light-coloured breeches and a top hat which, by its shallow crown, indicates its middle class identity. During the Georgian period his waistcoat is red and/or his tailcoat is royal blue which, together with his buff or white breeches, can thus refer to a greater or lesser extent to the "blue and buff" scheme; [2] this was used by supporters of Whig politics, which was part of what John Arbuthnot wished to deride when he created and designed the character. By the twentieth century, however, his waistcoat nearly always depicts a Union Flag, [2] and his coat is generally dark blue. (Otherwise, however, his clothing still echoes the fashions of the Regency period.) He also wears a low topper (sometimes called a John Bull topper) on his head and is often accompanied by a bulldog. John Bull has been used in a variety of different ad campaigns over the years, and is a common sight in British editorial cartoons of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Singer David Bowie wore a coat in the style of Bull. [2]

Tailcoat most formal version of evening wear

A tailcoat is a knee-length coat with the front of the skirt cut away, so as to leave only the rear section of the skirt, known as the tails.

Breeches knee-length trousers

Breeches are an article of clothing covering the body from the waist down, with separate coverings for each leg, usually stopping just below the knee, though in some cases reaching to the ankles. The breeches were normally closed and fastened about the leg, along its open seams at varied lengths, and to the knee, by either buttons or by a drawstring, or by one or more straps and buckle or brooches. Formerly a standard item of Western men's clothing, they had fallen out of use by the mid-19th century in favour of trousers. Modern athletic garments used for English riding and fencing, although called breeches or britches, differ from breeches in ways discussed below.

The Whigs were a political faction and then a political party in the parliaments of England, Scotland, Great Britain, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Between the 1680s and 1850s, they contested power with their rivals, the Tories. The Whigs' origin lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute monarchy. The Whigs played a central role in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and were the standing enemies of the Stuart kings and pretenders, who were Roman Catholic. The Whigs took full control of the government in 1715 and remained totally dominant until King George III, coming to the throne in 1760, allowed Tories back in. The Whig Supremacy (1715–1760) was enabled by the Hanoverian succession of George I in 1714 and the failed Jacobite rising of 1715 by Tory rebels. The Whigs thoroughly purged the Tories from all major positions in government, the army, the Church of England, the legal profession and local offices. The Party's hold on power was so strong and durable, historians call the period from roughly 1714 to 1783 the age of the Whig Oligarchy. The first great leader of the Whigs was Robert Walpole, who maintained control of the government through the period 1721–1742 and whose protégé Henry Pelham led from 1743 to 1754.

Washington Irving described him in his chapter entitled "John Bull" from The Sketch Book:

The cartoon image of stolid, stocky, conservative and well-meaning John Bull, dressed like an English country squire, sometimes explicitly contrasted with the conventionalised scrawny, French revolutionary sans-culottes Jacobin, was developed from about 1790 by British satirical artists James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson and George Cruikshank. (An earlier national personification was Sir Roger de Coverley, from a 1711 edition of The Spectator.)

A more negative portrayal of John Bull occurred in the cartoons drawn by the Egyptian nationalist journalist Yaqub Sanu in his popular underground newspaper Abu-Naddara Zarqa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. [5] Sanu's cartoons depicted John Bull as a coarse, ignorant drunken bully who pushed around ordinary Egyptians while stealing all the wealth of Egypt. [6] Much of Sanu's humor revolved around John Bull's alcoholism, his crass rudeness, his ignorance about practically everything except alcohol, and his inability to properly speak French (the language of the Egyptian elite), which he hilariously mangled unlike the Egyptian characters who spoke proper French. [7]  

Increasingly through the early twentieth century, John Bull became seen as not particularly representative of "the common man," and during the First World War this function was largely taken over by the figure of Tommy Atkins. [8]

John Bull's surname is also reminiscent of the alleged fondness of the English for beef, reflected in the French nickname for English people, les rosbifs, which translates as "the 'Roast Beefs.'" It is also reminiscent of the animal, and for that reason Bull is portrayed as "virile, strong, and stubborn," like a bull. [2]

A typical John Bull Englishman is referenced in Margaret Fuller's Summer on the Lakes, in 1843 in Chapter 2: "Murray's travels I read, and was charmed by their accuracy and clear broad tone. He is the only Englishman that seems to have traversed these regions, as man, simply, not as John Bull."

In 1966, The Times , criticising the Unionist government of Northern Ireland, branded the region "John Bull's Political Slum."

In fiction

In Jules Verne's novel The Mysterious Island a character calls some unseen adversaries "sons of John Bull!", which is explained with: "When Pencroft, being a Yankee, treated any one to the epithet of 'son of John Bull,' he considered he had reached the last limits of insult." [9] In another of Verne's novels, Around the World in Eighty Days, an American colonel refers to the English protagonist as "a son of John Bull." [10]

Some John Bull imagery appears in the first volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. John Bull is visible in the illustration accompanying the foreword, on a matchbox on the comic's first page and in person at the bottom of the final panel.

In the Japanese anime Hellsing Ultimate , Alucard refers to Walter, the Hellsing family butler, as "John Bull" on a few occasions, often in mockery.

In the Japanese anime Youjo Senki , the main character Tanya Degurechaff references soldiers from the Allied Kingdom (a fictitious analogue to the United Kingdom) as John Bulls.

In the Clint Eastwood film Unforgiven , a character by the nickname of "English Bob" (played by Richard Harris) is derisively called "John Bull".

See also

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  1. Taylor, Miles (2004). "Bull, John (supp. fl. 1712–)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/68195.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion," Metropolitan Museum of Art (2006), exhibition brochure, p. 2.
  3. Adrian Teal, "Georgian John Bull", pages 30–31 "History Today January 2014"
  4. "The view from England". The Fitzwilliam Museum. 2007-07-03.
  5. Fahamy, Ziad "Francophone Egyptian Nationalists, Anti-British Discourse, and European Public Opinion, 1885-1910: The Case of Mustafa Kamil and Ya'qub Sannu'" pp. 170-183 from Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Volume 28, Number 1, 2008 pp. 173-175.
  6. Fahamy, Ziad "Francophone Egyptian Nationalists, Anti-British Discourse, and European Public Opinion, 1885-1910: The Case of Mustafa Kamil and Ya'qub Sannu'" pp. 170-183 from Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Volume 28, Number 1, 2008 pp. 173-175.
  7. Fahamy, Ziad "Francophone Egyptian Nationalists, Anti-British Discourse, and European Public Opinion, 1885-1910: The Case of Mustafa Kamil and Ya'qub Sannu'" pp. 170-183 from Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Volume 28, Number 1, 2008 pp. 174-175.
  8. Carter, Philip. "Myth, legend, and mystery in the Oxford DNB". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  9. Verne, Jules (1875). "The Mysterious Island".
  10. 1828-1905., Verne, Jules (1996). Around the world in eighty days. New York: Viking. ISBN   9780140367119. OCLC   34726054.

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