Leap Year, or John Bull’s Peace Establishment


Leap Year, or John Bull’s Peace Establishment


Charles Williams
British, active 1797–1850
Published in March 1816 by Samuel William Fores
British, 1761–1838




Although a prolific artist, little is known about the career of Charles Williams beyond the report that he worked almost exclusively as the leading caricaturist for the noted London publisher S. W. Fores between 1799 and 1815. His Leap Year, like the etching by George Cruikshank, focuses on the family of the future George IV, who early in 1816 begrudgingly acquiesced to the marriage of his only child, Charlotte (named after his wife), to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld. Shortly before the print was engraved, Parliament had agreed to give Charlotte a £60,000 dowry, grant the couple an annual income of £50,000—in today’s currency nearly $4,000,000 per year—and purchase two estates for their use. Thus the additional strain on John Bull, the personification of Great Britain, upon which Charlotte and Leopold ride, no doubt oblivious to the weight they add to the country’s financial burdens, toward one of their new homes: Camelford House, on Oxford Street in London. To the right, an equally clueless Prince of Wales, whose dragon-shaped crutches reference his own profligate spending on the exotic redesign of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, cheers on the soon-to-be-weds. Like father, like daughter.

The title relates on one level to the settled state of affairs that the union between Charlotte and Leopold brought to the country. Because she was the only legitimate grandchild of King George III, Charlotte’s marriage, critical to the line of succession, was viewed as a matter of national security. Williams cleverly plays this resolution against one bill in particular from the stack accompanying the couple atop John Bull. The “Army for Peace Establishment” refers to the occupation force, 150,000 strong, England needed to maintain in France in order to ensure the particulars of the Treaty of Paris, signed on November 20, 1815, which brought an end to the Napoleonic Wars.


Palmer Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania State University




This image is posted publicly for non-profit educational uses, excluding printed publication. Other uses are not permitted.


Etching, hand-colored; image: 8-11/16 x 12-7/8 in. (22.1 x 32.7 cm), 10 x 14-3/16 in. (25.4 x 36.1 cm)