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.
Professor of 18th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London
Professor of British History and Society at Humboldt, University of Berlin
Professor of History at the University of Warwick
Producer: Simon Tillotson