John Bull
John Bull

Real Name

John Bull

First Appearance

Law is a Bottomless Pit (1712)

Created by

Dr. John Arbuthnot


John Bull originated in the creation of Dr John Arbuthnot in 1712, and was popularised first by British print makers. Arbuthnot created Bull in his pamphlet Law is a Bottomless Pit (1712)." Originally derided, other British writers made Bull "a heroic archetype of the freeborn Englishman." Later, the figure of Bull was disseminated overseas by illustrators and cartoonists.

Starting in the 1760s, Bull was portrayed as an Anglo-Saxon country dweller. 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). Britannia, or a lion, is sometimes used as an alternative in some editorial cartoons.

As a literary figure, John Bull is well-intentioned, frustrated, full of common sense, and entirely of native country stock. Unlike the later Uncle Sam, 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. Arbuthnot provided him with a sister named Peg (Scotland), and a traditional adversary in Louis Baboon (the House of Bourbon in France). Peg continued in pictorial art beyond the 18th century, but the other figures associated with the original tableau dropped away.

Later stories by Arbuthnot also told of John's skittish former wife and his remarriage to a more sensible one - this being an analogy for changing parliaments.


Bull is usually portrayed as a stout, portly 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, used by supporters of Whig politics which is part of what John Arbuthnot wished to deride when he invented the character. By the twentieth century, however, his waistcoat nearly always depicts a Union Flag, and his coat is generally dark blue (but otherwise still echoing 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.

See Also