No Happily Ever After – Nursery Rhymes and Political Cartoons


As a placement student at Abbey House Museum, I get to spend my time looking through their fantastic collections. I’m currently helping develop some initial ideas for an upcoming exhibition on Fantasy and Fairy Tales. Everyday I’m surprised by what I find here at Abbey House, and today I’m excited to share one of those discoveries.

One of the things that surprised me during my research is how characters, settings and stories from fairytales never stay where they’re supposed to. They’re forever popping up in unexpected places. One place I kept encountering them over and over again is within political cartoons. When we look at these cartoons, the well-known stories from our childhoods come back to help us understand the adult world we’re now part of.


(This photograph was taken for Leeds Museums and Galleries and is licensed under Creative Commons BY NC SA)


One of my favourites (pictured above) is taken from a publication called The Political Drama. It shows the French King Louis Philippe I, dressed to the nines in royal garb and … shaped like an egg. He’s sitting on a wall and his across his stomach reads ‘A Rotten Egg’.
We’ve probably all heard politicians and public figures described as “rotten”. However, the use of the Humpty Dumpty story tells us a bit more about the artist’s opinion of the King. Across the bottom of the page a rhyme reads “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, should Humpty Dumpty have a great fall, not all Europe’s armies, and double ten-score could put Humpty Dumpty up as he was before”. 

After the abdication of Napoleon, Louis Philippe returned to France from exile – in 1830 he was declared the new King of France. However, the reference to Humpty Dumpty in this cartoon reminds us that things, once broken, are not easily mended. The Bastille and the guillotine – great icons of the anti-royalist French Revolution – loom over King Louis’ reign. Can things ever return to normal after such a great fall, the cartoonist asks? 

By Anna Turner, Work Placement Student at Abbey House Museum

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