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John Bull

Updated on June 13, 2013

Yeoman of England

John Bull is the cartoon portrayal of the typical English Yeoman. Bluff, hearty, down to earth and from good, solid English stock. He is shown to be a portly, red faced man, who wears a Union Jack on his waistcoat, and is accompanied by his dog - a Bulldog. He was created by Dr. John Arbuthnot in 1712, and was used in cartoons, magazines and leaflets, often decrying politicians for their policies and bringing them down a peg or two. He has survived over the centuries by his pure, no - nonsense attitude, his love of good, English Ale and his wealth of common sense.

George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playright and author wrote a play called 'John Bull's Other Island,' a comedy. It's a play about two builders who go to Dublin to develop some land. The play was produced and acted in England after being rejected by Dublin impresarios as being too long. A command performance was given for King Edward 7th in London and the king laughed so hard that he broke his chair. This incident was widely reported and—after more than a decade of playwriting—Shaw's name was made.

John Bull

The real John Bull

I'm sure there have been many real men called John Bull down the centuries, but the one who had the attention of Kings and Queens, Archbishops and noblemen was the John Bull who was born in Queen Elizabeth 1st's time. He was a musician and composer and he was organist in Hereford Cathedral in 1582, and also appointed to be the 'Master of the Children.' This was a title awarded to an adult musician who was in charge of the musical training, and general education of choirs boys and girls. This was quite appropriate for Bull as he had been a choir boy himself in this cathedral.

In 1586 he was honoured twice. He gained a degree from Oxford and he became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. The Chapel Royal is a group of choristers and priests who look to the spiritual needs of their sovereign.

In 1596 he became the first professor of music at Gresham College having been recommended by none other than his Queen, Queen Elizabeth 1st, who was a great admirer of his. There were rumours that the Queen sent Bull on spying missions all over Europe which may have been the reason he was missing for eighteen-months on a trip to the continent in 1601-2. He said at the time that his extended stay abroad had been for health reasons, but he never said where he'd been exactly, or what the health reasons were. When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, he joined the service of her successor King James 1st. The king tolerated John Bull and he was able to continue at Gresham College in his musical career, publishing volumes of keyboard and organ music. The Archbishop of Canterbury was not a fan of John's as John tended to like the ladies and was forever in trouble, fornication being his greatest sin. The Archbishop was quoted as saying, ' the man hath more music than honesty, and is as famous for the marring of virginity as he is for fingering of organs and virginals.'

Things came to a head in 1613 when Bull incurred the wrath, not only of the Archbishop of Canterbury, but of the king himself when he was caught commiting adultery. This was a heinous crime in those days and Bull fled the country. He went to the continent where he was sheltered by the English envoy, William Trumbull. Early the next year Trumbull wrote to the king on behalf of Bull, begging his forgiveness and admitting all charges of fornication, adultery and other grievous crimes. He was not forgiven so he stayed in the low countries. Whether he turned over a new leaf or the European laws against fornication were more lenient, he managed to stay out of trouble. In 1615 he was appointed assistant organist in Antwerp Cathedral, and later as principal organist. Bull wrote to the mayor of Antwerp, claiming that the reason he had left England was to escape religious persecution, as rumours had been spread that he was a Catholic and would not recognise King James as head of the church.

John Bull never returned to England, continuing his career as musician and composer until his death in 1628. He was buried in the cemetery next to Antwerp Cathedral.

The Real John Bull

John Bull goes to Paris


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    • scarytaff profile imageAUTHOR

      Derek James 

      5 years ago from South Wales

      Hi, Pool Of Thoughts. Thanks for commenting. Robin Hood could be a good idea but I'd hate to explode the myth, as we were all brought up on his exploits from childhood.

    • Pool Of Thoughts profile image

      David Steffy 

      5 years ago from Southern Ohio

      Nice hub! You should do one on Robin Hood ...was he fact or fiction? I tried that one in High School and fell short of any real information concerning him. You seem to be a great history buff though. Great article!

    • scarytaff profile imageAUTHOR

      Derek James 

      6 years ago from South Wales

      Thanks, Eddy. I look forward to reading more from you in 2012.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      Another great read to vote up.


    • scarytaff profile imageAUTHOR

      Derek James 

      6 years ago from South Wales

      Hi, nemanjaboscov. Glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks for commenting.

    • nemanjaboskov profile image

      Nemanja Boškov 

      6 years ago from Serbia

      This was fascinating stuff, scarytaff!

      I always enjoy reading interesting history-related hubs, and I see you have some more of them, my friend :)

      I'll be checking them out right away!

    • scarytaff profile imageAUTHOR

      Derek James 

      6 years ago from South Wales

      You're so right, CM. In those days you could be hanged for this terrible crime. Thanks for commenting.

    • CMHypno profile image


      6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Interesting hub scarytaff, as I had never really thought about whether there had ever been a real John Bull before. One way to empty the UK though if all adulterers and fornicators today had to flee to the Continent LOL!


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