Who is "Britannia"?

Who is Britannia?

I know she’s a symbol of the United Kingdom, just as Uncle Sam is a symbol of the USA.

But who is she supposed to be?

Here’s a picture of her.


What is the origin of this national symbol?

More data, as well as better images, would be very welcome.

Also, do other nations, like France or Italy have personified national icons?

France has “Marianne” and I beleive they update the image every so often, using a well-known actress or model.

Now I don’t think “Britannia” is meant to be anyone in particular, just a symbol. I can’t now recall who was the first model for her, if that is what is wanted - have a feeling it was Frances somebodyorother - will try to check that.

OK The model for the image of “Britannia” was Lady Frances Stuart, DUchess of Richmond and Lennox, and (allegedly) a lover of King Charles II.

http://www.britannia.com/history/articles/francesstuart.html is adequately interesting but I warn you t is mre aboutFranes Sturart than about Britannia.

Where does John Bull fit in?

It reminds me of this statue of Boadicea in London.

I believe that John Bull is a generic name for a single Englishman, and so might be compared to Yankee Doodle.

Hmm. And yet he does appear in all those old political cartoons with Uncle Sam himself. Like here and …

Hmm, I see many of them featuring both J.B. and U.S. but can’t find the famous one where John Bull was lazing under an English tree while laissez-faire enabled Uncle Sam and various other national icons were picking its fruit.

This isn’t really a hijack but you see I thought that it was John Bull who was England or Britain personified and Britannia that was the spirit of the people personified but I never really studied icons so hoped to toss him into the ring for a more complete explanation.

John Bull is indeed the “generic Englishman” - he was dreamt up by John Arbuthnot at the end of the 17th century, and is an equivalent to the American Uncle Sam.

Have a look here for a look at John and Sam’s interactions through history.

Britannia, on the over hand, is just Britain personified - a symbol a British nationalism, I suppose.

all i know that Brittania and Germania (germanic form of Brittania) were supposed to symbolise the strengths found in those native to Germany and Britain (warrior-like who would crush the agressor)

both were used extensively in WWI propaganda. e.g. “God Punish Britain” with a Aryan-looking Brittania underneath was a popular poster on the homefront in Germany. hope that helps

I would go with the whole spirit of the nation thing. But not in the same way as Uncle sam… he is the personification of the country where as Britania is the spirit.
We tend to see the queen as figure for the nation… ‘For Queen and country’

Celyn is correct to say that the usual answer to the question asked in the OP is that she depicts Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox. There is no doubt that the image was popularised and fixed by John Roettiers’ design for the 1672 halfpenny which featured a depiction of Britannia loosely based on the Duchess. Roettiers had first depicted her as Britannia five year earlier on the ‘Peace of Breda’ medal and there are two other medals, also dated 1667, which also show her in this way.

However, Britannia as the personification of Britain, whether the country or the island, was older and there are a number of pre-1667 depictions in which most of the elements of the later iconography are already present. This is a print from 1652.


As this print illustrates very well (it’s the frontispiece to an edition of Selden’s Mare Clausum), she has always been particularly associated with the idea of British naval power.

Well, she was apparently around in the 2nd century AD:

Other support for this:

Ancient Impressions Attribution

I realize this isn’t MPSIMS, but there is something that I have been wanting to share for a while now. Did you know the U.S. has a female personification too? Her name is “Columbia”–after Christopher Columbus, of course. You used to hear more of her in the past. Here is a statue of her.

I’ve known of Britannia for some time now. I am an amateur coin collector of sorts, so I’ve seen her image on British coins from time to time. This penny version of her is the best I think (look at the shamrock, rose and thistle on the bottom–representing Ireland, England and Scotland respectively). You will also notice old coins from England aren’t inscribed in English, but Latin. After all, why should they be in English hundreds of years ago–most people couldn’t read anyways. People told the value of coins by their size and weight only.

Hope this all has been informative :slight_smile: .

Indeed, current coins are inscribed in latin too - at least, the 1 Pound coin is ‘decus et tutamen’ or ‘honour and protect’.

Nitpick: “Decus et Tutamen” means “An ornament and a safeguard” according to The Royal Mint.

While John BUll and Uncle SDam may be used for similar things, the meaning of Uncle Sam, I think, sounds FAR closer to Brittania. Thats what I’m getting off of this board. Uncle Sam personifies America, but not just “Joe Average”.

Is this nhow it comes off to you too?

John Bull was “The Generic Englishman” in the context of Arbuthnot’s pamphlets. As a symbol, however, he rapidly mutated into something very close to “Uncle Sam”, sprouting the Union Jack vest. Most contemporary uses of the character are as a personification of the nation of Great Britain, not of a typical citizen. A person not aware of the history is certainly going to think of “John Bull” in those terms.

Usually, Uncle Sam is used to personify the federal government.

I always thought she was the goddess of weather; you know,“Hail, Brittania!”

Long may she rain …