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From Britannia to Maggie: The Fall and Rise of John Bull's Descendants

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Roy T Matthews and Peter Mellini argue that the last 100 years have brought mixed fortunes for Britain’s family of national symbols.

At the height of Britain’s world power in the mid-nineteenth century John Bull’s family, the symbols that personified the nation and its national character, were ‘manufactured’ or ‘improved’ by artists as part of the complex process of inventing traditions to mould a national society. By the height of the Victorian era, Britannia had evolved into a matronly battleaxe. She personified Great Britain, and certain virtues, such as Truth, Justice, Bravery, and The Empire. Like the mature Victoria, with whom she was often confused, she radiated decorum, respectability, and to our eyes, kitsch. On occasion, she, like John Bull, was victimised by her friends and enemies abroad.


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